A thing of beauty is a joy forever: lyrical words penned by John Keats in his epic poem Endymion almost 200 years ago, but they describe perfectly the feelings Simon Crowfoot has for the Mini 1000 he bought for £1,050 in 1974.
The purchase was a wise move indeed, even though it was made on April Fools Day, because almost 43 years later he still has the car and he still loves it dearly.
“I never set out to grow my own classic car. I had the advantage of having a succession of company cars during my career but I couldn’t bear to part with the Mini so I kept it. We are stuck with each other till the end!” said the 60-year-old from Poole, Dorset.
The original Mini, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, is considered an icon of British popular culture, the classless motor equally at home in high society and on the school run.
It was immortalised by the Italian Job, the 1969 film about a Turin gold bullion heist in which the star Michael Caine was upstaged by three modified Mini Coopers, which were used to escape with the stolen treasure.
The breath-taking chase scenes showcase the Mini’s muscle, manoeuvrability and magnificent durability as they make mincemeat of the hapless Italian polizia.
In 1999 the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Model T Ford. High praise indeed.
The epitome of inexpensive, basic motoring
Simon is candid about his reasons for choosing a Mini: “I learnt to drive in 1973 and passed my test a couple of months after my 17th birthday. I had six lessons at £2 each and my first car was a two-tone Ford Anglia 1200 Super, but it kept breaking down. Hence the Mini purchase.
“At the time the Mini was one of the cheapest new cars available and the epitome of inexpensive, basic motoring.
“It was Damask Red with a red ‘Spanish Rose’ interior. It was very basic but being a 1000 model it has the three dial binnacle and inertia reel seatbelts.
“It was love at first sight. I remember the deep red paintwork had a slight orange peel effect in places.”
And, after four decades, “the Min” as he calls it, is just as important in his life as it was when he purchased it with money loaned from his father: “I was lucky to own a new car at 17 and the fact I had to pay my father back every penny made me look after it!”
The car bears the registration XPR 52M (PR being the old Bournemouth registration code) and Simon takes pride in the fact that it is exactly the same today as it was on the day of its purchase, even with 82,000 miles on the clock.
The Min has never been “thrashed” but Simon has made some exhilarating trips to the beautiful beaches that adorn the Dorset coastline – bringing the best out of the car’s incredible handling.
The harsh bouncy ride is what a Mini is all about
He also took friends on many trips across the Severn Bridge to Wales and up to the “bright lights of London” along the newly completed M3 motorway but, he admits, the car wasn’t really built for comfort. “The harsh bouncy ride is what a Mini is all about,” he added.
It is only driven on special occasions nowadays (Simon’s day car is a VW up!) and the Mini definitely “never goes out in the wet”.
Being a simply engineered car, the Mini was always good to work on: “I did basic maintenance many years ago but now tend to leave it to the garage. It was easy to change oil, points and plugs but it’s getting harder these days to find mechanics who know how to adjust points!”
The Min is a regular at a Poole Quay classic and custom rally and it has twice won the car of the night award.
The British Mini Club described the Mini as the greatest car of all time. Simon, a computer technician, qualifies the commendation: “The greatest car of all time is a very emotive and subjective choice. I personally think it is the greatest because of its efficient use of space, its economy, utilitarian aspect and the fun factor. It’s a true British icon.”
And what five words would Simon use to describe the “greatest car of all time”? He opts for enduring, constant, defining, special and fun.
Small children point and lots of people ask about the car
Fun being the key, his face lights up just talking about his pride and joy: “I can get in my Mini now and it’s like being 17 again, the go-kart handling, being close to the ground and the shake, rattle and roll of it still makes me smile.
“People of a certain age wave, small children point and lots of people ask about the car. It seems most older people had a Mini, learned to drive in a Mini or knows someone who had a Mini!
“Throughout the decades it’s had rolling sympathetic restoration. It still has the same Motorola radio cassette I put in 43 years ago, the same seats, the carpets have been replaced but still the same original colour and I’ve even put on new Dunlop Aquajet tyres, the same as it came with on April 1, 1974.
“It was Ziebarted from new [rustproofed] which has helped it survive better. I think the fact that it is a standard Mini which was built in the mid 70s when British Leyland was notorious for its strikes and dubious build quality, and the fact that it’s still running and in pretty good condition, is no small achievement!
“It’s not in concours condition, it’s not worth a fortune, it’s not a Ferrari, but it’s my classic car.
“At what point it became a classic I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s been a source of pride, enjoyment and fun for almost 43 years and I hope it will be for many more years to come.”
Do you have a car with a story that you’ve owned for 30, 40 or 50 years? Leave a comment and let’s talk.
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