Although I’ve never driven a Mini, as a child of the Sixties, I can’t help but be charmed by this iconic car design, with its distinctive personality. That’s why I chose it to take Juliet Morris on her life-changing journey in my romantic comedy novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes.
Writing that story also made me curious about why so many of my author friends have chosen to drive a Mini, hence this occasional guest post series in which one of them tells the story behind their Mini.
Today I’m pleased to welcome Lizzie Lamb, whose romantic novels are based in the Scottish Highlands, a setting close to my heart too. Over to Lizzie…
Hello Lizzie and welcome! Please tell us, why and when did you buy your first Mini?
My/our first Mini wasn’t a Mini at all. It was a Wolseley Hornet (posh Mini) which my husband’s family bought him when he went to teacher training college in 1969. The reason I was attracted to him was because he was one of the few students who had a car. (Just kidding). I stayed with him long after the car went to the scrap yard and spent most of my grant keeping it on the road. So, it must have been love. LOL.
Our second mini we saw advertised in a newsagent’s window. Its elderly owner had passed away and it was free to a good home. We took it home, looked after it and then sold it on to an enthusiast years later.
My car then was a Golf VR6 Automatic – a rare beast, and went like a rocket.
Our third Mini is mine, all mine.
We bought it from a dealership in the Fens and it cost £2,500. I wanted a Mini Cooper with all the bells and whistles but couldn’t afford a Cooper-S. This fitted the bill.
Please describe it in as much detail as possible.
The only extras were Mini mats and a shoulder strap to stop the seat belt from rubbing on my collar bone. It came with two electric sunroofs, CD player, climate control, CD stacker and somewhere to plug in our cool box when we go off for picnics. My husband likes tinkering with cars so he got the climate control, door locks and reversing sensors working properly.
Due to the massive hike in petrol prices, we now go everywhere in my Mini and keep his Nissan El Grande for towing the caravan and his Triumph Stag for high days and holiday when the sun comes out.
Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. What was yours called?
As a writer of romantic fiction, I felt compelled to name mine: Jilly Cooper.
I met Jilly in 2018 at an RNA awards ceremony and she was everything I hoped she would be, she signed my book and wished me well. #fangirl
What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?
I think because they are iconic, steeped in history and great to nip about it. They are reminiscent of The Italian Job, the Swinging Sixties and models learning to get out of them without showing their lingerie to all and sundry.
Mine is an automatic and, should I win the Lottery, I would probably upgrade to a Mini Cooper-S or a Countryman.
What do you most love about your Mini?
- How ‘nippy’ and economical it is
- Our original one could turn on a sixpence
- The fact that you can park it just about anywhere
- It fits on our very short drive
Oddly enough, two of our neighbours have almost identical Minis to mine and we kept saying that we’re going for a burn up on the A6 before we get too old.
What drives you nuts about it?
- It’s a very ‘hard’ ride, the side impact doors are heavy and difficult to close, and there is no handle above the front passenger or driver seats to help me in and out of the vehicle.
- Every time I push the front seat forward a warning light comes on and has to be reset or it’ll fail its MOT.
- The sunshade is pathetically small and I have to wear my ‘Bill and Ben’ hat to shade my eyes from the sun.
Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?
It was in our Wolsey Hornet, actually. As students, we drove from Grantham to Fort William, stacked to the gunwales with camping equipment and two passengers in the back. Happy days.
What was your most exciting trip?
Our trip round Scotland, because of how far we travelled each day and the sights we saw: Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Inverness etc. I love history and the fact that we were able to visit Marston Moor, the site of a Civil War battle, en route to Scotland made the trip for me.
Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?
We bought my Mini from a dealership on the Fens. When we took it for a test drive, we pulled into a layby to check out the controls etc.
A blacked-out Range Rover pulled alongside, a man lowered the window and offered us drugs. That’s what being in a Mini will lead to . . .
Once, when we travelling along a dual carriageway and yanked on the handbrake, it came off in our hands, and we hurriedly had to pull in to a layby.
Also, I have a huge phobia about wasps and that’s why I can’t drive a convertible. Even so, a queen flew in through the open sun roof and I nearly crashed the Mini in my panic to escape from it.
Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?
My most interesting passenger was our parrot who went everywhere with us in a large ‘cat box’. He would chatter away nineteen to the dozen and join in with the music I played on the CD stacker. Not real words, naturally, although he did sing along with ‘What you gonna look like with a chimney on you’. I don’t know why that song appealed to him but it did.
My most difficult passenger is someone I used to give lifts to. However, she was never on time and was often horrendously late, making me late in the process. In the end I stopped giving her lifts because, as a very punctual person, I found her behaviour disrespectful and highly irritating.
What car do you drive now?
I still drive my Mini Cooper. I bought personalised number plates when I had my VW Golf and I’ve put those on my Mini. LI7 VWG almost looks like Liz, right?
What would be your dream car if money were no object?
- For towing our 25 ft caravan, probably a Kia Sorrento or VW Tuareg.
- For everyday travelling, probably a Range Rover.
- As for Minis, a top of the range one with all the bells and whistle in either British Racing Green with go-faster stripes or purple like Mrs Morris’s.
If you’ve read Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of her Mini and of her adventure?
I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read Magical Realism before. I preferred her magic Mini’s sat nav to mine (I use Google Maps on my iPhone).
Her Mini was a dream and I’d quite like one of those.
I also fancy a purple mini as it would match my novel covers. My favourite part was at the end of the novella. I love second-chance love stories.
What most surprised you about your Mini?
The fact that most people seem to have a soft spot for Issigonis’s classic and are keen to share their Mini stories with me.
Lizzie, thank you for sharing YOUR story of many Minis with me!
For anyone interested in sampling Lizzie’s romantic fiction, all set in Scotland (perhaps inspired by her favourite trip in her Mini!), Scotch on the Rocks is a great starting point.
Ishabel Stuart is at the crossroads of her life. Her wealthy industrialist father has died unexpectedly, leaving her a half-share in a ruined whisky distillery and the task of scattering his ashes on a Munro. After discovering her fiancé playing away from home, she cancels their lavish Christmas wedding at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and heads for the only place she feels safe – Eilean na Sgairbh, a windswept island on Scotland’s west coast. When she arrives at her family home – now a bed and breakfast managed by her left-wing, firebrand Aunt Esme, she finds a guest in situ – Brodie.
Issy longs for peace and the chance to lick her wounds, but gorgeous, sexy American, Brodie, turns her world upside down. In spite of her vow to steer clear of men, she grows to rely on Brodie. However, she suspects him of having an ulterior motive for staying at her aunt’s Bed and Breakfast on remote Cormorant Island. Having been let down by the men in her life, will it be third time lucky for Issy? Is she wise to trust a man she knows nothing about – a man who presents her with more questions than answers? As for Aunt Esme, she has secrets of her own . . .