A Tale of Two Minis - here's the story behind our next trip car...
Above my desk, nailed crudely to the wall, is a numberplate. It’s absolutely filthy, and its surface is still splattered with bugs. A crack runs through it, hinting at past dangers on far-flung roads, while below the registration there is a sticker, applied by the car’s previous owner, which reads ‘my name is Daisy’ Really, it’s nothing; to anyone else, it’s simply a piece of old plastic. But to me it’s priceless, because of what it represents.
It represents the beginning of the journey.
For the car it was attached to – an indefatigable 998 Mini – was my first ever trip car and the vehicle in which I completed the Mongol Rally years ago. And it was bloomin’ fantastic.
For one month and ten thousand miles, that Mini had been my home. I’d surfed it through the sands of Kazakhstan and parked it in the shadow of history in Samarkand. It carried me through storm-laden nights in Siberia and across Mongolia’s rippled grasslands and eventually, against the odds, got me across the finish line in Ulan Bataar.
Daisy the Mini was more than a car for me. It was where it all began. And it changed my life.
Since those innocent days on the Mongol Rally, I’ve had adventures to last a lifetime. I’ve roared up onto the Tibetan Plateau in a Corvette and skated through the Arctic in an old Fiat. I’ve broken down in African tribal warzones at the wheel of a Porsche, and puttered among the Himalayas in an auto-rickshaw. And most recently, I drove a TVR somewhere. Can’t quite remember where though.
And all these memories are special; I cherish them all. But you can only do something for the first time once, and for me, that once was the barrage of new experiences which washed over me as I sat behind Daisy’s steering wheel.
I still miss Daisy more than any of the other long-gone trip cars – not even the Porsche, nor the Corvette, could hold a candle to its doughty air.
And now, all I have is the numberplate.
But the legacy of that Mini lives on with me in other ways, for in the course of the six months I had it, I went from not really ‘getting’ the whole Mini thing, to being a convert. And so, it was inevitable that on my return from Mongolia, following a brief fling with a Fiat 126 – which couldn’t hold a candle to Leyland’s finest – I bought another one, and imaginatively named it ‘Daisy 2’.
Now, Daisy 2 was rather a different beast. It’s orangey-brown paintwork and chrome overload drew heads everywhere, its suspension was slammed to the ground, its motor – while still a 998 – was far more roughty and, it has to be said, its bodywork general condition wasn’t quite up to the level of my Mongol partner-in-crime. I still took it on adventures though. Within a few weeks of picking it up, three of us climbed aboard for a five-day mission which saw us drive a 2,700 mile round trip to Spain’s Picos de Europa mountains and back, and climb ‘El Naranjo de Bulnes’ – Spain’s answer to the Matterhorn - while we were there. Later that year, we celebrated New Year by driving it to Turin, before completing a 4,000 mile loop on the way home, via the likes of Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary. Yes, we certainly got our money’s worth from Daisy 2.
But eventually, time and climate overtook her. Rust started to emerge from behind her dodgy paintwork, and the engine’s sweetness gave way to overheating. She went into the garage, and a gradual restoration was begun, as I dismantled her, and began to strip away the rust.
But I never finished it, because there was always something bigger demanding my time. Books to be written, trips to be planned and undertaken, businesses to be launched. And so for years, Daisy 2 found herself languishing in the back of a barn, partly dismantled, as the surface rust slowly took hold.
She was there for years, always a regret in the back of my mind. I drove the Corvette across Asia, the TVR to Patagonia, and I always said to myself, Daisy is next. After this latest trip, I’d give her the attention she deserved. But the moment never came; all the other cars kept stealing the glory. And there were trips to organise, books to write, other cars to fettle.
It was an ignimonious end to a car which, in the few short years I’d it had on the road, had covered 7,000 miles on international road trips, in eleven countries.
But as with all the best stories, this neglect wasn’t the end. It’s merely an intermission.
Last year, I had the idea for the Mini6000 Expedition – a drive to over 6,000m on the flanks of the world’s highest volcano, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Mini. I’d need a car, and it would have to be structurally sound, and highly modified. A blank canvas would be perfect, which I could shape into the perfect vehicle for the challenges ahead.
Daisy 2’s moment had arrived.
Last month, I pumped some air into her tyres and rolled her into the sunshine for the first time in 8 years. Fortunately, she had stayed dry, and structurally she’s better than I expected. All the parts I’ve stripped from the body are still there, and with the surface rust ground off, her shell is already gleaming with a newfound purpose.
I’ve built a workshop in which to take on the challenge, and over the next six months, I’ll be rebuilding her into an absolute badass, before shipping her to South America where 6,000m glory awaits. And while she's on the mountain, she'll be carrying with her the numberplate from her long-lost sibling, as Minis bookend over a decade of adventure roadtripping.
So watch this space, as the phoenix that is Mountain Daisy rises from the rust…