In 1964 (I think) I purchased a brand new 1071 Cooper S from McMillan and Saunders in Malton where I actually had a job with Hawker Siddely Canada. That job enabled me to finance the $1400 purchase price supplemented with a Jet Power Credit Union loan. This was my first ever new vehicle having flogged my Riley 1.5 to death with a couple of trips to Florida and back, by towing my Canada Class racer and competing in a few local rallies.
In March, 1965 I decided that Sandy and I would blast down to Sebring 12 Hour for our “honeymoon” in my little turquoise and white Mini. What a good sport she was!
We had to drive non-stop to get to the race on time. Needless to say, the Mini was a very unusual sight in the US in that era and it turned heads everywhere.
By the time we got to Georgia on Interstate I75, we were both pretty beat. Somewhere around Macon, I glanced in my rearview mirror to see a rapidly approaching early fifties Mercury that I could tell was well customized. As the driver drew parallel to pass me, he couldn’t take his eyes off the Mini, grinning like a character from “Deliverance.”
Naturally, I stood on the gas and in effect challenged him to a little contest. Of course the chopped and channeled Mercury gradually drew away but not ’till the Mini ran out of steam at 110 mph.
Quite a few miles later with my eyeballs slamming shut, Sandy took over the wheel. As could be expected she was just as tired. She entered that drowsy, droopy trying hard to stay awake, singing O Canada phase that most of us have experienced on long road trips. When she “regained consciousness” she was rapidly bearing down on the rear end of a multi-car transporter. With a quick thinking crank on the steering she swerved into the passing lane but then the Mini started to rotate. She over-corrected and slid passed the transporter sideways when the Mini “hooked up.” and dived under the front of the tractor. When I “regained consciousness” all I could see was the huge left front wheel about to roll over the Mini!
Instead of being crushed, the Mini just bounced off the tire and spun into the median. When the dust settled and our collective heart rates subsided, I got out and lifted the hood to appraise the damage. As a small crowd gathered and I had assured them that we were both OK, I heard the approaching rumble of a big V8 and sure enough here comes the nosed and decked Mercury complete with the requisite “Lake Pipes” and full bubble skirts. Upon spotting the damaged Mini in the median, he leaned on his drum brakes and managed to get the rod stopped in a few hundred yards. He then reversed along the shoulder and stopped just ahead of the Mini in the median.
The driver ambled over, stood looking at the engine compartment for a moment or two and then exclaimed (think Jim Nabors voice and accent), “Gaaallleee, you done hit that little ol’ car so hard, you done knocked the motor sahdeways!” Stiffling my laughing, I was able to explain that the designer had intended it to be that way.
His next response after a cursory “No sheeeit,” was to ask, “How big is that there motor.” I felt like holding up my hands to describe a small package but knew it was cubic inches he was after. I had to think for moment, rapidly converting 1100cc into cubes and realized that 65ci was close enough.
He then rocked back on his heels and blurted out (again invoke Jim Nabors), “Gaaaalllleee, I got me a big ol’ Lincoln 472 that’s been bored, stroked, balanced with a 3/4 cam and a big ol’ Holley four barrel…an’ you done damn near walked my wheels with that there little ol’ motor that ain’t much bigger than just my one of my cylinders!”
Off he went scratching his head and, I’m sure, headed to the nearest bar to regale his car buddies with a, “Yawl ain’t gonna believe what all I saw today.” In the meantime Sandy and I had the car towed to a nearby Chrysler dealership while we were driven in to Tifton where Sandy had to appear in the local court charged with “failing to yield the right of way.” Picture a movie set: slow turning ceiling fan, state trooper with his hat under his arm, judge/magistrate peering over a huge bench and two very intimidated “foreigners.”
Sandy was found guilty and fined $60 (quite a chunk of cash then and most of our travel funds). So I pulled out my Canadian bills and offered the requisite $60. The trooper took one look at the strange multi coloured bills and refused to accept them. A few minutes later said trooper is escorting me down the main street in Tifton to the nearest bank. I shoved the bills towards the teller requesting she exchange my bills for US currency. “No problem, Honey, jus’ “sahn’ each one,” as she pushed them back to me. I explained that these were Canadian dollars and actually worth more than US dollars and not travellers checks as she had assumed.
I’m beginning to sweat as the substantial state trooper is now rocking back and forth on his feet behind me and obviously looking forward to locking up at least one of these two “trouble makers.” “May I speak to the manager,” I managed to squeak. Manager, smiling, said he would call Atlanta for advice. In a couple of minutes, he returned to advise the teller to exchange the bills with a 10% premium (different time, different era, eh?).
The trooper somewhat reluctantly escorted me back to the court and accepted my payment. That done and with a huge sigh of relief, Sandy and I headed for the Chrysler dealership. With a few borrowed tools I was able to disconnect the damaged brake servo unit that sat up in the right front corner of the engine compartment, taped up the windshield and rigged a “running light” to replace the trashed headlight.
We missed the race, went to sit on the beach near St. Petersburg where Sandy suffered major sunburn and sunstroke…fun “honeymoon”, eh?
Within a few days of returning from the adventure the still damaged Mini was stolen from in front of our apartment at Avenue Road and Balmoral Avenuee. It was never seen again…although I’m sure it wound up on the race track!
Note: photo is not of Gary’s car, rather was taken during the Mini club parade at the 2009 VARAC Festival at Mosport by GG.
That’s how I recall it, anyway.