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Mike

The other two? - They can identify make, model and statistics just from seeing a glimpse of some minor body detail. Don’t get me wrong, they can hold almost normal conversations too and go relatively unnoticed in a crowd - except perhaps for a slight whiff of oil.

I can’t compete with that, I don’t have petrol in the blood and can’t recite the colour and trim choices for cars long since converted to bean tins. My father wasn’t in a trade allied to the motor industry so after a Hillman Avenger he had a clean run of VWs then Volvos. I do get a grin from the sound of a V8 though and am a dedicated follower of form. After family, my great love is for the visual effect of curves whether the rolls and dips of the Pennines, the rear wing of an Aston or, well...I think you know where I’m going with this.

So during my formative years the big idols, after the Pirelli calenders, were the designs from Pininfarina, Bertone and their ilk. I still have the photographs I took on a visit to a Birmingham Motorshow 25 years ago and they all pour bodywork over the scrapbook from Cobra to the Countach.

American television became very popular too in my youth and I’m not the first to have had my head turned by the appearance of a Firebird in my small UK home town after seeing a few episodes of the Rockford Files. It must be that kind of gut reaction that draws me still to the classic American Muscle cars to this day - that and the excessive application of V8s and large cubic capacities.

So you would be forgiven for expecting an impressive list of past possessions, sadly dreams always remained just that until I bought a Buick 3.5l V8 engine tucked inside the decaying body of a Classic Range Rover. I soon learned that the high fuel bill was a kind of rent on happiness, always worth the £5 it cost just to put my foot down. I had other Land Rovers before that but finally learned my lesson and ended the marque loyalty as yet another chassis turned to dust.

Before the Landies, and an embarrassing term with a Volvo 340GLS (for lots of motorway miles, honest), I kept Minis. I learnt my post-license version of how to drive properly in my 1978 1275GT. All through getting my driving license, and well beyond, I was preparing the GT for the road. I bought it when it was 7 years old but already the floorpan, valence, rear subframe and more had all rotted away (bit of a theme there). So I spent 2 years rebuilding it and took the opportunity to freshen up the engine too by polishing the ports, changing the single 1½’’SU carb to twin 1¼’s from an MG (plus K&N filters), adding a large bore Peco exhaust with LCB manifold. I finished the car in a deep, shiny black paint and added WolfRace Alloys. The following 2 years were driving heaven, I felt wholly responsible for the quality of grip and vicious acceleration, British Leyland had nothing to do with it anymore. The exhaust popped and crackled on the down-shifts as I practised twisting my right foot between brake and gas pedals.

The guys who helped me rebuild the Mini already had cars instead of corpuscles in their veins and I guess their enthusiasm wore off on me. Both of their fathers had teamed up together as semi-professional Rally drivers and they had taught car handling techniques to their sons at an early age. Added to these skills one of my new friends was also a very gifted mechanic with a natural affinity for the art - a good friend to have on any project. So between improving the GT we spent endless hours on the twisty back-lanes learning the Swedish flick and how to avoid understeer. I don't do that kind of thing anymore of course - and would frown upon anyone who did...

Mike.

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