A Mini adventure for Cumbria car lovers
Last updated at 14:14, Wednesday, 29 April 2009
The iconic Mini is 50 years old. So why are so many people still crazy about them
Craig McLean admits to being a bit of a perfectionist. So when he bought the shell of an old Mini Clubman for £300 he was determined to return it to mint condition.
The 23-year-old electrician from Cleator Moor saved every penny he earned during his apprenticeship to devote to his pride and joy.
And after four years and £18,000 worth of work he has finally got it just the way he wants it. The result was so impressive that it appeared on the cover of last month’s Mini Magazine.
Craig’s passion for Minis started early. “I’ve had a fascination with Minis since I was a kid, when my aunt and my granddad had them,” he admits.
“Something just clicked – I love them and over time that love has grown bigger and bigger.
“Then I went to a Mini show in Oxford, and when you see the quality of them and the work that goes into them, that was it.”
He got his first Mini nine years ago – even before he could take his driving test – and learnt to drive in it.
But four years ago he set about rebuilding another.
“The shell was an absolute wreck,” he remembers. “I got it for £300 but I had to replace 90 per cent of it. It had to spend six months in the body shop.
“I got some fancy wheels that are really lightweight but very high quality, and new tyres. That cost £1,000 altogether.
“I got a new engine made by a company down south, which cost about £4,000. They also provided a new gearbox which cost a grand alone.”
New seats, seatbelts and flooring and a re-spray in Le Mans green also followed. Craig says: “I’m really, really proud of it now.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist in whatever I do. I wanted to be able to say: ‘I built it.’
“It looks superb and it’s beautiful to drive, but the fact that I built it is to me the biggest achievement.”
After the work that has gone into the car, Craig is reluctant to take it out in the rain – but he is now busy rebuilding another, a Mini Cooper Sport, for more day-to-day use.
Kayley Holden is 22 but can trace her affection for Minis back to the age of just two. She is the owner of seven Minis and founded Cumbria Mini Cruisers Club four years ago – three years before she learned to drive.
“My dad used to own Minis so they were the first car I was ever driven around in,” Kayley says. “They are a British icon and people seem to love them. When you park your Mini people will stop and talk to you, and tell you how they used to have one.”
When she was 18 Kayley set up Cumbria Mini Cruisers to bring together past and present Mini owners, those planning to buy one in the future and anyone else who shares her enthusiasm for them.
The club now has 157 members who hold regular runs every month and often appear at vintage vehicle rallies around the county. Many of them will also be taking part in the “Splash Dash” event at Thirlestane Castle in Berwickshire over the three days of the Bank Holiday weekend, which includes a 200-mile sponsored Mini run around southern Scotland in aid of cancer research.
Kayley is busy restoring one of her Minis to be a show car at the moment, and estimates that three-quarters of her salary as deputy manager of an off-licence goes towards her passion.
“The classic Mini is just such a fun car. Anyone who’s got a passion for them should come along to the club.”
More information is available from www.cumbriaminicruisers. co.uk
Jan and Cheryl Fialkowski first met as art students in Carlisle in 1965. And since the Mini is an icon of the sixties they have always had a special affection for it.
They married in 1969, and first bought a Mini van. Forty years later the couple, who now live in Cleator Moor, are on their fourth Mini.
Jan, 60, recalled: “The Mini van was in the price range we could afford at the time, and they were convenient. You could just throw everything into the back and head off and we travelled all around the south coast and up as far as Inverness in that van.”
He admits the Mini’s diminutive size can sometimes be a problem.
“It’s impractical if you have a large family, or if you want to move a television set or something.
“We have two grown-up lads, and we used to bundle them into the back of the Mini and go off for a drive in the countryside.
“We thought their screams were screams of delight, but we later discovered they were screams of terror as we went up Hardknott Pass in it.”
Jan and Cheryl also own a Renault Laguna and Renault Clio but still keep a Mini. Jan says: “When we stop in it we always get a reaction. People always ask about it and say they want first refusal if we ever sell it.
“I don’t think the Mini has ever lost its appeal to people. It’s like a big toy. Everybody seems to like them. I like other cars – but I love the Mini. I’ll always have one, as long as I can get in and out of it!”
It has been voted the second most influential car of all time, after the original Ford Model T. But to hosts of motorists across the world, the Mini is second to none.
It is by far the best-selling car ever made in Britain, first rolling off the production line of the old British Motor Corporation 50 years ago almost to the day.
It was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and was an innovation in having a very compact, front-wheel-drive layout, so that the engine didn’t take up much room, and four-fifths of its floor space could be used for passengers and luggage.
By the time production ceased in October 2000, an estimated 5.3 million had been sold. Nine months later the brand sparked into life again, this time known as MINI and now owned by BMW.
The new MINI was bigger than the old model and unlike the original was heavy on features, dividing Mini enthusiasts as to whether it should be seen as the logical successor.
In April 2007, the one millionth MINI rolled out of the Oxford Plant after six years of production, just one month longer than it took the classic Mini to reach the same total in March 1965.
The MINI is still in production today and all marks are a common sight on Cumbria’s roads.
Minis were first made at the BMC plants in Longbridge and Cowley, but later factories in mainland Europe, south America and Australia were allowed to build Minis and new versions such as the Mark II, the Clubman and the jeep-like Mini Moke were also launched.
There were also the sportier Mini Coopers, which competed in the Monte Carlo rally and won it four times during the 1960s.
The Mini proved popular among some of the biggest stars of the 1960s, including John Lennon, Ringo Starr , George Harrison, Peter Sellers, his wife Britt Ekland, Marianne Faithfull and Michael Nesmith of the Monkees.
In the 1969 film The Italian Job it was the Mini itself that was the star.
The movie features a famous car chase in which a gang of thieves drive three Minis down staircases, through drains, over buildings and finally into the back of a moving bus.
First published at 11:24, Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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