Thursday, 12 March 2015

Meet Charlie - my new R53 MINI

So the day has finally come and I've bought a new MINI. I've had Bruce, my 1991 classic Mini, since 2007 and he had been in regular use up until late 2013 and a stellar trip to Italy - see the Italian Job issue.

If you had read about our escapade you would know that Bruce's engine died just weeks before the trip and I had to buy and emergency family vehicle in the form of a Vauxhall Astra. After givng Bruce a well-deserved rest, a run out found some areas of work to be looked at and rust had eaten away at the wings underneath the sponsor stickers, so he's just sat on my driveway whilst I figure out how I'm going to get him repaired. The run of the mill Astra was a £500 slave and had a happy two years under my control, but when this year's MoT came for renewal the question I asked myself was; at 34 years old, do I want to continue driving cheap unreliable bangers acquired for a song and heavily abused, or invest in something more worthwhile and in the long run useful for my career editing love:mini? After checking how much money I could scrape together, the obvious result is I opted for a new MINI. In all honesty, I didn't go about buying it in the right way, as in the way it would be advised to buy a used car, but then I was on a budget of £3,000 and only had until the MoT expired to find another car. 

Whilst I'm no expert on MINIs, I knew I wanted to be looking for a Cooper S or at least a really nice Cooper, but with just £3k the options were going to be limited. Googling away on the internet I had a look at MINI dealerships and independent garages who seemed to be asking for quite a pretty penny, so I had a look on eBay where there were quite a few. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the money to come through and kept an eye on a few and saw some coming back up for sale again and again. Once the money was in my account I went for a viewing of a black 2002 Cooper S with lots of JCW bits, exhaust, callipers, spoiler, intake etc, but when I took it for a drive it felt flat, lifeless and without any sort of grunt or kick. I've driven a few MINIs, albeit mainly brand new press cars, but needless to say I was disappointed - had it driven as well as it looked, I probably would have bought it. The guy selling it said he had taken it in part-exchange for an Audi R8 and the guy whose MINI it was drove up from Bristol and that's pretty much all he knew. He said "well he drove it from Bristol, so it must be alright." Yeah, I didn't follow that one up.

With time ticking on, and me having looked at loads of MINIs, I realised I was becoming more picky about the one I wanted. You can see how addictive it is when buying a brand new MINI to customise it so much to your own preferences. But essentially I understood the most important thing to consider is how the engine was, as everything else is pretty much cosmetic and changeable anyway. My girlfriend had been having her input too, and we agreed that we liked the blue ones the best for some reason, but I was also open to other colours schemes if I thought they looked right. So back to the hunt and there were a couple of people who contacted me through Facebook about their cars, but the problem I had was with distance viewing them. With two kids and limited time to view the cars, my options were again limited. 

So far most of the local cars I had looked at were pre-2004 Cooper Ss, and then one day a blue 2004 S came up, about 15 miles from me. I had always known the MINIs to have the three-spoke steering wheel and when I saw the two-spoke I was a bit non-plused, so was excited that this had shown up. It had a fair old mileage though at 123,000 and they wanted £2995, but it looked tidy so I got in touch for a viewing.
The young couple said it was his wife's car and she had been using it whilst they were waiting for delivery of her new BMW. She had owned it since mid-2014 and they had had no trouble with it. Apparently she was also looking to sell it pretty quickly as she had family wedding to attend in Pakistan and she wanted some spending money. I took it for a little spin and immediately I was forced back into my seat - the engine was certainly nippy! After the previous disappointing viewing I finally had that familiar Mini smile on my face. 

Now I'm not the most impulsive of people, and when it comes to spending a whole heap of money I'm not used to having I consider things for a quite a while. So after dropping the car back off we headed home and kept our eye it whilst looking for others to try. Over the next few days I noticed the price had been reduced by £100. I was still waiting to hear on some other viewings which never came about, and as the MoT deadline drew closer, this little blue MINI seemed to be choosing itself. My girlfriend had already memorised the numberplate and I had managed to find a favourable insurance quote from Direct Line - everything was falling into place.

I contacted the owners again and asked if they had had much interest and they said they had some more viewings in the next few days, so I arranged to go and pick it up. Logistics-wise it was going to be awkward as my girlfriend didn't drive and I had no one else to come along. So I would have had to drive to pick the MINI up and then scrap the Astra for about £100 and drive the MINI home. Once I'd got there the three of sat down to discuss the deal. They had some paperwork and part service history. The husband owned his own garage business and said he had done some work on the car himself and gave me a receipt for that too. I'd got £3000 in cash and in my mind I knew I wanted to get the car taxed for that price too. At around £260 for the year it's not particularly cheap, so they wanted £2895 as an asking price, I wanted £280 tax thrown in, and then as we were talking I mentioned I'd have to scrap my Astra. As the husband had his own garage business he offered to take the Astra off me for £100 to use as a courtesy car, so that sweetened the deal, saved me the hassle of scrapping it and I handed over £3k and took home a fully taxed MINI. 

On the way home I took it easy and just got a feel for the car - it's a lot different to the Astra! The suspension is the first thing that immediately jumps out at me as every little bump is felt, but then it just started reminding me of driving Bruce. I could feel the car pulling to one side so contacted the husband who said to call if anything came up. He said the tyres might need some air as it had been sat for a little while, and he was right. Some air at the next garage had it sorted and my face was beaming as I pulled up home.

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