Monday June 10, 2019
Picture the scene – the year is 1963 it is wet, cold and your Hillman Minx Series III De Luxe has failed to proceed one October evening. After blaming everyone that you can immediately think of for your current plight – the Rootes Group,
Harold Macmillan, the entire cast of That Was The Week That Was and those long-haired Beatles – you contemplate the long trudge to the nearest ‘phone kiosk. Suddenly, deliverance is at hand in the form of an Automobile Association Mini Van.
When the AA (and the RAC) adopted Mini Vans, it marked as much as a change in their practices as the dispensing with salutes to members; 1961 with the Automobile Association.
They were not the first examples of four-wheeled vehicles employed by the organisation, for that honour goes to the Land-Rover, which were initially used for urban duties back in 1949. By the early 1960s motorway patrol L-Rs were common sights, but the archetypal AA patrol vehicle remained the motor-cycle sidecar combination until 1962 when the first Mini Vans entered service.
Of course, the AA did not immediately abandon motorcycle-combinations en masse, and they remained in service until as recently as 1968 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sorSjo0RksQ.
However, the major changing point was in March 1963 when 200 FGN was one of the first batches of Association Mini Vans departed Longbridge, an event celebrated in the AA publicity. From 1965 onwards the Mini became the standard patrol vehicle, and they often featured on the cover of member’s handbooks.
As to the AA’s choice of marque, according to Keith Mainland’s book Classic Mini Specials and Moke, the AA preferred Austin to Morris. This was celebrated in advertising campaigns – ‘AUSTIN-you can depend on it" says the AA " about their remarkably reliable fleet of Austin Mini vans.
And the AA know what they're talking about. AA patrolmen in Austin Mini vans go quickly to the aid of stranded motorist go quickly to the aid of stranded motorists on all sorts of roads, day or night.’
Of course, the mere sight of the yellow-liveried van was a BMC advertisement in its own right. Dinky produced exceptionally charming AA and RAC die-cast Minis, and from the driver’s perspective, it was a vehicle with many strong points. A Van could carry the spares and tools necessary for a variety of incidents, they were manoeuvrable, economical - and they were considerably more comfortable than riding a BSA M21 in the depths of winter. 200 FGN served the West Midlands region, and on retirement, it was placed in storage.
In 1984 the decision was made to embark on a full restoration, and some readers may remember seeing the Mini Van as one of the exhibits at the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.
By the early 2000s 200 FGN was acquired and refurbished by the West Country AA patrols Steve Neath and Nick Kirman. As a testament of the Mini’s durability, it took part in a drive from John O’Groats to Land’s End, raising £25,000 for children’s charities.
In the following year, the Van embarked on an even more challenging adventure – a run from Trafalgar Square to Red Square, a journey that encompassed seven countries and raised £28,000 for BEN - https://ben.org.uk/. One memory Nick has of this rather incredible achievement was the sheer heat inside the cabin – ‘even with the roof-top vent open!’.
Over the past few years, 200 FGN has ‘ taken part in many “Mini Run to the Sun” events’ and it has won many prizes such as “Best in Class” and “Best of Show”. At one Castle Coombe show the Mini Van was presented by trophy by none other Paddy Hopkirk and it has also starred in ‘many Lord Mayors parades over the years, only causing issues once!’.
Such Minis were phased out by the AA in the early 1970s and to see what is believed to be the only surviving example is quite an experience. And with its pre-1966 insignia and immaculate appearance, 200 FGN is, after 56 years, still ready to attend to the needs of the motorist who has lost the starting handle for his or her Morris Oxford.
WITH THANKS TO – Nick Kirman and everyone at the Automobile Association.