Once upon a time in my twenties, the joys of having once owned a Mini.

South African definitions:  blerrie- bloody (curse) or, that is a blerrie nice car.


I want a tight car because I run a tight ship.” Like Miss Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, this is what I should have said when I purchased my first (and by the looks of things, my only car).
I managed to find and purchase a car that was the most liberated from its nuts and bolts and any other part that held its inner workings together. There wasn’t a car this side of the equator that managed to throw itself with wild abandon at any mechanic as much as it did.

I loved it the moment I sat in its springy suspension shot bucket seat.
The seller, a Mini enthusiast (be aware of enthusiasts of any kind) asked if I wanted to take it for a test drive. I almost laughed at him, as if he was trying to sell a motoring experience, but I got in anyway, minus the driving gloves, and felt the sure throaty roar of its engine. The gears stuck a little (they were downright unresponsive really) and if my friend had not been in the passenger seat to assist me in grinding and slamming the stick into third gear I might still be whining around the block, the neighbours begging that I be towed away forthwith.

I could not be helped, and nothing could be done, I was smitten and named it Tallulah and I had big plans for her. She had even bigger plans for me and she was hell-bent on seeing them come to pass.
From a modest purchase price of R6000, she managed to run up a R12000 bill within a year, just to keep her on the road and keep her moving.
She failed her road worthy test miserably. I am still adamant that she ground her brake pads down to nothing, as we waited for our turn, cut the wires to the brake lights and indicators, leaked oil from her innards and got herself all hot under the collar when there were none of these signs before the test.

I found a Mini specialist (be aware of this word too) to perform the necessary repairs.
He found other problems of course and launched into mechanic speak, mentioning cylinder heads and pistons, skimming the linings…
“You will need a new gearbox too,” he added that last bit in all casual-like.
I tried to be casual too and gave him the green light and waited a week to get back behind the steering wheel. He had worked on her some, I could stop now when I needed to, without having to put my foot through the floor, she even seemed faster and zippier. I left luxury cars in my dust, people smiled and waved at me. They could have been laughing at me, it is sometimes hard to tell.

I drove into a Spar parking lot on the way home feeling pleased that I had a car that doubled up as a little rocket.
When I wanted to leave it all changed in a downhill sort of way, as smoke started to billow from the engine and into the car, through every rusty orifice. I tried to turn off the engine but she would have nothing of it and kept on starting herself. I was sufficiently alarmed and jumped out, thinking she was about to explode in the parking lot.
I had drawn a small crowd by now and men armed with 2litre cokes and bottles of brandy peered into the engine, showing me the grey glob that was once the electrical system.
“Something must have shorted.”
Well I could never have guessed.
“I know a guy, Frikkie, he’s good with wires.”
So I collected another number scribbled on a cigarette box.
I phoned my mechanic and in the friendliest tone I could muster, asked him, “what the #$%#! did you do to my car?”
He arrived within minutes (faster than the police, I give him that much) and towed Tallulah back home, who by now had managed to stop starting herself but refused to start again.
I phoned Frikkie who said he would be there first thing in the morning.
He arrived wearing a muscle shirt that hung on his thin tattooed frame. He had the jitters as though he had been shocked too many times by unruly wires and uncooperative connections. He sported a snor that bristled in all directions, the obligatory mullet hairdo blowing in the slight breeze. He spoke about falling on hard times as I kept up a steady stream of strong black coffee.
“Hell girl, I have never seen a mess like this.”
“Can it be fixed?”
“Ja, Frikkie can fix anything, but it will take time, maybe the whole blerrie day!”
He had only been with Tallulah for five minutes and already he was grumpy.
The time dragged on into the afternoon, I expected Frikkie to tell me that the engine had fallen out or she had gone up in flames.
“Ja, she’s running now, replaced some wires but the whole thing needs to be rewired, and electricians, hey, they know how to empty your pockets.”
I took this as a subtle hint that he wasn’t going to be the one that would be emptying my pockets. Tallulah was a mess too much for him.

She seemed happy enough for a while till the windscreen wipers stopped working during a downpour. My vision was reduced to a 1cent coin. I pulled over and waited for the rain to stop, thought I would fashion something from string and work the wipers manually from now on.
Tallulah would just have to wait or only be driven on clear days.
Of course she couldn’t wait. Having chosen a sunny day, a friend and I thought we would take to the countryside, we even opened the sunroof and this was the only part of Tallulah that worked properly. She started to boil ominously on the way back. We topped her up with water at every opportunity, trying to ignore the violent hissing that emanated from her murky and inexplicable depths.
There was nothing to be done but drive home, thinking she would cool off and all would be well in the morning.
Later, back at the friendly mechanic, I was told that the engine block had cracked and I would need a new one.
“A new what?”
I waited for the offer of tea that never came and maybe a chair to sit on.
This would take some thinking. Before I left, while no one was looking, I kicked her stubborn sky blue butt and walked home.

I remembered the good times, the times when nothing untoward happened and I experienced the pure thrill of the open road where adventure beckoned, and I couldn’t really manage without her. To the bitter end we would go and I would not consign her to the scrap heap just yet.
I tried to disguise the exhaustion in my voice and told the mechanic to do what needs to be done.
A month later and I was the proud owner of a new engine in a rusted old car.
There was no stopping us now, we took long trips to the coast, Marianne Faithful blared from the speakers. I thought about the paint job I might still get to.

I waved goodbye to my parents, they waved back with worry in their eyes.
I went over a rise or a bump, (could have been a pebble in the road) at a very normal speed and she started belching smoke again.
There was nothing she couldn’t throw at me and I looked nonchalantly into the engine, to see it covered in bubbling oil. I stared at the mess, doing my best to hide intensifying rage. I stared for a very long time in quiet disbelief. I got back in and carried on driving, a raging ball of blue/black smoke.
I gripped the steering wheel, the whites of my knuckles showing and went calmly onward, the immediate surroundings becoming more polluted on account of my car.
People pointed at Tallulah’s rear end, (as if I didn’t know) children laughed at me. I nodded and smiled weakly.

I had to find a mechanic as I had another daunting 300 kilometres ahead of me.
When I finally found one at an Ultra stop he stated the obvious.
“You have a major oil leak.”
Yes, suddenly and from nowhere as if by magic.
“Can I still drive?”
“Ja, well you will need to stop for oil every 50 to a 100 kilometres.”
Perfect, that was all I needed to know, we could do this, even if it meant that all I would be holding at the end was the steering wheel.
Ten pints of oil later and I was home, my nerves shot like the wires in my car.

I never had the oil leak fixed, it seemed to plug itself up, as if too by magic, the very next day.
I think I hated her, cursed her every time I drove her.
“So what is it today, Tallulah?”
She would surprise me and coast along happily, I would spoil her with a car wash.

Many repairs followed and I lost track of how many things I had replaced and restored, wheels that were seconds away from falling off, shocks weathered down to the metal when I had replaced them twice.
“But it has always made that clunking sound.”
Anyway, Mr Mechanic, what do you know about cars, this one has got in for me, I have nightmares, she is alive, the wheel will tighten itself when you aren’t looking.
Lights would conveniently stop working just as the sun went down and work again in the morning, even the sunroof started to leak.
By the time we went our separate ways Tallulah was a new car, there wasn’t a single mechanical part in her that wasn’t replaced. She would go like lightning and stop just as suddenly, her wheels turning inward, refusing to go any further till I had replaced the offending part.

Eventually I sold her to a young man who said he loved Minis. I felt awfully sorry for him, he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. I sold her for the princely sum of R3000.
Later when he dropped off the last of the money I noticed that he had tinted the windows and he had draped what looked like a piece of flokati carpet over the dashboard.
I shed tears and Tallulah said nothing to me, only glared at me with those round, plotting eyes of hers.


Copyright: Text and images: Megan Voysey.