I always heard about the stories of owners of old British cars getting stranded, or about the Lucas electricals, or the constant fluid leaks, but you really don't get an appreciation for it until you have one of your own. And for car lovers, it's not hard to understand the attraction ... our friends across the pond have made some of the most beautiful, engaging, and affordable sports and sporty cars in history, despite their reputations for reliability.
Although we own a much newer British car as well, we got bit by the classic Mini bug about three years ago by some friends in the local Mini car club. I found what appeared to be a fairly authentic 1967 Morris Cooper S on Ebay of all places, and took a chance on it. It turned out to be an Australian made model, and while I have been told by friends in Australia that the Zetland plant records have all been destroyed, our club mechanic and Mini guru has helped to determine that everything appears to be correct for a genuine S, from the details of the engine block, to various mounting holes, the original wet suspension, and other minor details. It took him several months of work and help and convincing me to understand that it's ok if a little oil falls out. Old cars do these things, and after a while you do become accustomed to it. With a classic you drive as often as the weather allows, you just get used to checking everything you can before hitting the road.
But, with a car getting near 50 years old, and for a first time classic owner, there's always something for which you are not prepared. There's been more than one such incident during my time with "Bean" (he looked like a kidney bean when we took delivery, and he made some funny smells too, hence the name), but this was the first.
Our club president works at a graphics and signage shop in Georgetown Texas, not the one in the background of the photo incidentally, and they happen to do an amazing job with cars ... stripes, gfx, etc. Since Bean's paint isn't the greatest, I thought adding a couple vinyl stripes, similar to what I'd seen in photos of old Australian racing Minis, would be cool until such a time when I have the car more fully restored and have a good opportunity for painted striping. Plus, everyone knows that stripes make cars faster. During the drive to Georgetown, with my lady, Tisha, in her 2010 Clubman following me to give me a ride home, I noticed Bean was showing signs of distress getting into and out of first gear. A couple days later, we returned to Georgetown to collect Bean in the afternoon, with plans of going straight home. This plan changed.
When I started up Bean at the shop, he would not go into gear, not at all. Aside from pushing, I could not move him. The clutch pedal was really soft, and just the weekend before, I had replaced all of the clutch hydraulic system. A few of the shop folks were still around, including our club president and the gentleman who installed the stripes, and everybody pitched in to help using what tools I carried in my kit as well as what the shop had. Even our club mechanic was on the phone trying to help me out remotely (we joked afterwards about setting up an escrow account to keep him on retainer). Nothing worked, and being relatively new to old car ownership and inexperienced mechanically, I was running out of options fast.
This would turn out to be my first encounter with the vehicle towing coverage I have with Hagerty, as illustrated in the picture of Bean getting loaded onto the flatbed. But, the picture here tells more of the story. The afternoon had passed and sunset was approaching quickly. At the bottom of the picture, you should be able to see part of a white table and a brown paper bag. While I was waiting for the tow, Tisha graciously went out to get us some dinner from a wonderful Mexican restaurant nearby. Before she returned I was able to talk more with and get to know the folks at the shop. We then we shared a nice dinner outside on the shop's back patio at sunset.
The issue with the clutch turned out to be a simple bolt that adjusts the position of the clutch arm. This required the tow to my mechanics house later that night, and an uphill push into his garage that the two of us managed with his wife guiding behind the wheel. But the lesson I learned was that having a Mini, or any other classic I imagine, isn't about just the car and what it looks like or how it runs or even that it doesn't have all the modern safety devices. The car becomes an experience conduit, unlike any other if you've never had one. The conduit opens wider upon accepting that the car can sometimes define the journey and the destination for you. Without Bean, I likely would not have had these little experiences, or had the chance to make friends with good folks I may not have otherwise met.
A few months ago, around Halloween of 2014, I received word that the gentleman who installed Bean’s stripes, and spent the better part of his evening helping us work on Bean that memorable day, had passed away at far too young an age. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled across that poor quality picture of Bean getting pulled onto the flatbed buried in my phone. I saw the paper bag and was instantly reminded of the fun we never planned to have, and the good people we got know a little better. That simple picture that I now look at from time to time makes me thankful for the friendships and experiences that a simple little car from Australia, sometimes with an iffy clutch, helped to enable.