Neminisis – a tale of a Mini well past its best…
During the 1960’s, BMC assembled Mini’s in Dublin to a standard not vastly dissimilar to that at Longbridge. Make of that what you will. It was from here that MZI 265 – a light grey Morris Mini Minor emerged in 1966. Republic-spec Mini’s straddled basic and De-Luxe models, having carpeting, a heater and duo-tone upholstery, if little else by way of comfort. I know little of MZI’s early history but it belonged to a succession of relatives before coming into our lives in the wake of a determined campaign waged remorselessly upon my long-suffering father. Believing that it would prove the lesser of several evils, dad capitulated. The things you do for your kids. The downside of sainted parenthood was the unenviable task of driving it to Cork. Dad recently told me he recalls little of the journey – on balance, it’s probably just as well.
Once home, our initial examination wasn’t promising. The driver’s door was held in place with rope – and probably the occasional decade of the rosary. It refused to stay in gear without physical force, the engine pumped out blue smoke and the offside door sill, boot floor and rear valance was composed primarily of air. On the upside, it sported a full-width aftermarket dash filled with non-working instruments, attractive sports wheels and a duo-tone paint job. Consumed with fantasies of Cooper replicas, I blinded myself to its more obvious failings and threw myself into a grand delusion, armed with a budget of approximately £1.57. We really should have sourced a better bodyshell, or just started from scratch with something less clapped-out, but very little can hold a candle to the obsessive devotion of a smitten sixteen year-old.
With no budget to speak of, we pulled in some favours and sourced a later-specification 998cc engine, but were forced to use an older 850 gearbox – which did interesting things to the gearing. With the hinge panel welded up, the driver’s door no longer fell off. It still dropped though. The remainder consisted of blood, sweat, some tears, and vast quantities of filler. To be honest, it was a death trap, but it’s worth remembering there was no vehicle testing at a time when half the cars in Ireland were held together with bailing twine. And don’t for a moment think I’m kidding either.
Like most skin-deep restorations, it was fine as long as you didn’t get too close. However, once you did, near death experiences came as part of the deal. First the exhaust fell off, then the steering column served a formal separation notice with the rack one dark evening. The front hydrolastic suspension displacers then became chronically depressed, which combined with ancient remould tyres served to make the handling somewhat amusing – to say the least. But driving it was always an adventure even if it arrived home on the end of a tow rope more times than I’m willing to admit. The subsequent arrival of an even more decrepit Alfasud saw all efforts and available funds redirected and MZI consigned to the parental garage, slowly disappearing under gathering detritus. Years passed. I would occasionally look in on the poor half-buried thing on trips home and turn my shamed face away.
One day, a passing enthusiast stopped past and after a brief negotiation with my dad, the Mini was his. It would be comforting to imagine the dedicated restoration that ensued, but I suspect the truth is less cozy. And given the ensuing thirty years of automotive orphans, waifs strays and miscreants that have found a home at my door, it’s abundantly clear this rollercoaster Mini adventure taught me nothing.
An abridged version of this piece originally appeared on Car Magazine’s website.