Wednesday April 17, 2019
Mr. Sam Spinks often finds that his 1960-vintage classic is a frequent cause of confusion for members of the public – ‘they go “ah, look it's a Mini and then they walk to the back and see the “Seven” and then start to question “is it a Mini?”’.
Such a response is understandable for prior to January 1962, the Austin-badged twin of the Morris Mini-Minor was officially known as the Seven. Regardless of the marketing policies of the British Motor Corporation, it is a prime example of one of the few cars that truly merits the description ‘iconic’.
Sam has owned YOR 601 for 2 ½ years – ‘I saw it for sale on eBay in September 2016’. He is a self-confessed fan of the Issigonis masterpiece and even as a child ‘toy cars were always Minis for me. When I was 14 I bought my first one for £250; I saved all my summer job money for a 1989 Mayfair’.
When Mr. Spinks first encountered the red Seven ‘I wasn't really looking for another Mini, but this one caught my eye - it was complete and very much an honest car’. The buying process did not prove entirely straightforward – ‘I was bidding, and on the last minute my internet went down, so I lost, but I had found that it didn't sell, so I rang the guy up and asked what reserve was - and then offered that!’
The Seven was not in the best of health but he (for this Seven ‘is a “he” although Sam has ‘no idea why!’) was a complete car – ‘very faded and ratty but everything was there minus the key’. Mr. Spinks is still trying to establish the history and has so far learned that the Austin was based in the Locks Heath area of Hampshire during the late 1970s. It came off the road in 1979, and one possible reason is that ‘I think he had a small collision on the passenger side’.
The car then resided in a barn until 2016 and Sam also points out that YOR 601 must have been suddenly taken out of service as ‘the door pockets were filled with parking tickets from the 1970s, the previous owner’s RAC member’s card with all of his details on it – and loads of old money!’
As a wonderful period detail, there was also ‘a wad of Green Shield stamps on the dash’, so perhaps the owner may have been saving for a colour television at the Southampton trading stamp outlet on East Street. As Sam notes, ‘it was a real time warp. I can’t stress enough that this car has only 19,500 miles on so it was hardly used! Hence why everything went back on him’.
In terms of condition, ‘he was rusty in places the front panel was scabby and part of the rear floor’. Furthermore, ‘when myself and my friend got him back, we started to realise that this is a very early car due to those features on him’. In fact it was made just six months into Mini production and so the full scope of the challenge began to dawn on Sam - ‘he is such an early car there are so many differences to a Mini built a year later’.
But together with his friend and his friend’s father – ‘I couldn't have done it without them’ – Mr. Spinks restored the Mini while retaining its originality. One tricky moment was in the ‘rebuilding of the radius arms. They were very different to normal radius arms as my ones do not have roller bearings’.
As De Luxe, the Seven came with two-tone upholstery, overriders, two sun visors, an adjustable passenger seat, windscreen washers and a chromium-plated petrol filler cap to further impress the neighbours.
There were also ashtrays and interior lamps in the rear compartment boxes, and Sam is keen to note that the last-named not only work, they still have their original bulbs. The standard equipment list also included a recirculatory heater that ‘works amazingly; the best one I've ever had in a Mini! And it's still got the original matrix in it’.
When on the road, Sam finds the floor-mounted starter ‘brilliant it's the original one as well and it starts straight away! It's funny because all new cars are pretty much push start now’. As for the transmission, ‘the “magic wand pudding stirring” gear stick is brilliant although friends do look at it and wonder “how the hell…”’.
To state that the Seven manages to cause a sensation whenever Sam goes for a drive would be a mild-understatement. ‘People point and take photos, and you get funny reactions when you’re on the motorway, but the one that gets me is when you park up, and an elderly couple both have got big Cheshire cat type smiles. Then they come and look at it and start asking questions and then tell me the stories of when they had one’.
And every detail of the Seven is enough to induce nostalgia to the power of eleven to those of a certain vintage. It could be the Austin’s “crinkle-cut” radiator grille, the button for the washers that needs a certain amount of force to operate or the black figures on the white-faced speedometer.
Sam thinks the sliding windows are ‘cool and because I’m a Mini person I'm going to be biased’. He also likes ‘the odd driving position’ and makes the interesting point that in his Seven ‘you have to be looking around you the whole time. How many people now in modern cars look over their shoulder - most of the time they don't even use their mirrors or indicators’.
For me, there is the additional fact that I almost certainly encountered YOL 601 when I was growing up – maybe he was parked outside the Middle Road newsagent in Park Gate or the VG Stores in Swanwick Lane. Most importantly, this is a car which serves as a reminder of how BMC forged an automotive revolution - 60 years ago Austin dealers were briefed that here was a car that ‘ushers in an exciting new phase in motoring for the masses’.
Sam finds his Seven ‘a joy to work on and drive, something you do not get now in cars., I always ask people - name me another car that you can have fun in doing the speed limit?’ A 1959-vintage brochure could not have put it better.