Tight fit

Car Mechanics (UK) - - Dealer's Diary -

As we’re in the mid­dle of a clas­sic car sale fad, it’s as rare as a blue moon to see some­thing in­ter­est­ing and af­ford­able in a daily auc­tion. So when I tell you there was a tear in my glass eye at a re­cent fleet sale, I’m duty-bound to re­port it.

The car that brought mem­o­ries flood­ing back was noth­ing more ex­otic than a Toy­ota Aygo, that pe­tite car with the pan­to­graph wiper that was a peren­nial favourite with stu­dents and pizza de­liv­ery com­pa­nies. On a 15-plate, it was a 998cc five­door fin­ished in di­a­mond white, had cov­ered just 7000 miles and came with a ser­vice print-out and spare key.

There are hun­dreds of th­ese things be­ing driven through auc­tions daily, so why did this one tug at the heart strings?

Well, way back in the early 1990s, New­cas­tle’s Rover dealer, Buist & Bra­mall, de­cided it wanted to raise money for char­ity and get no­ticed among the farm­ing fra­ter­nity. If you were a Rover dealer, there was only one car you went large with: the Mini.

The Mini in this case was a suc­cess­ful Lim­ited Edi­tion called the Bri­tish Open Clas­sic. The USP of this par­tic­u­lar model was that it had a full-length can­vas sun­roof that re­tracted back­wards. As you rolled back this can­vas roof, so you rolled back the decades to the Swing­ing Six­ties... or so the dream was sold.

Now if Ted Con­nolly were still here, he’d con­firm that a pop­u­lar 1960s pas­time was see­ing how many peo­ple you could cram into a Mini. So what bet­ter way to raise cash and pub­lic­ity for the deal­er­ship, while ig­nor­ing H&S, than mak­ing an at­tempt to break the record of the num­ber of bod­ies mashed in a Mini?

Un­der the watch­ful eye of Grey’s Mon­u­ment in New­cas­tle, I was cho­sen to stand in the front footwell, head and shoul­ders above where the steel roof would have been. There were a dozen other peo­ple wedged on and across the still present back seat. They could only breathe be­cause the Mini has open­ing rear quar­ter-lights. The car was slowly filled with girls from the Young Farm­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion – stand­ing, sit­ting, hang­ing through the rolled-down win­dows. You could feel the poor car’s rub­ber cone sus­pen­sion com­press­ing un­til the sub­frames groaned against the bump-stops.

In a sur­prise turn, the Young Farm­ers’ rugby team ap­peared on the scene and pro­ceeded to clam­ber onto the roof of the car. The team as­sem­bled around the perime­ter of the open can­vas roof, hold­ing hands for bal­ance. By now, the Mini’s shell, weak­ened from the big hole in the roof, was start­ing to twist. You could hear the pan­els pop­ping as the press­ings and welds strained against the weight bear­ing down on them. Even­tu­ally we were as­sessed by The Guin­ness World Records and de­clared to be record-break­ers. The poor Mini might well have been as­sessed as a write-off had a loss ad­juster been present.

It was all ex­cep­tion­ally good fun and the Mini was sold off to an ea­ger cus­tomer – they had wait­ing lists for that model. In­deed, the roof be­came an ad­di­tional op­tion (£680.75 from mem­ory) for the stan­dard cars af­ter that. I dread to think how much that one ‘crabbed’ down the road af­ter its shot at fame.

Back to the auc­tion hall and what marked out this par­tic­u­lar Aygo was that it a full-length fold­ing can­vas roof, just like the long-ago Mini. On a white body, it looked neat, unique and fun. It un­doubt­edly was the rea­son be­hind the car mak­ing top book (£6400 + fees) in a sale where bot­tom book was the norm.

In­ci­den­tally, if you are in the mini-car mar­ket, the Aygo is a bet­ter buy than the equiv­a­lent Peu­geot-citroën ri­vals. It’s got bet­ter side press­ings, more sound­proof­ing and Toy­ota’s af­ter­sales as op­posed to a punch-in-the-face war­ranty.

‘On a white body, the Aygo’s fold­ing can­vas roof looked neat, unique and fun’

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