THE FACT I WAS STILL ALMOST TWO YEARS AWAY FROM LEGALLY BEING ABLE TO DRIVE THE THING DIDN’T SEEM TO PUT MY PARENTS OFF. OR ME ... WE RALLIED IT, RACED IT, HILL-CLIMBED IT AND DRIVE-TESTED IT.
My first car was a little red Mini that my parents helped me to buy as they were worried I was going to go down the motorcycle route. I was certainly intending to do that, but being the pillion passenger on an Ariel Leader 250cc and ending up in the local baker’s shop window, just a little bruised and battered, without using the front door to gain entry, made my parents think my plans were not so good. So, I had some money, they helped with some more and along came my beautiful little red Mini which proceeded to become a local identity, being known as “Bobbie Mac’s Hack” from the letters on the number plate, BMH 272A. It was a 1963 850cc version, ex demo with low mileage. This all happened in England and the fact I was still almost two years away from legally being able to drive the thing didn’t seem to put my parents off. Or me obviously. My little Mini became the focus of my nascent car-tuning and competitive world. We rallied it, raced it, hill-climbed it and drive-tested it. It once even ploughed into a muddy field when my rally navigator called the approaching road junction “straight and flat” when it was in fact a dogleg. We crashed at unabated speed through a farmer’s hedge and proceeded to have a “discussion” about just who was to blame for sitting stranded up to our doorsills in mud. It also became a “courting” car that ultimately led to the aforementioned navigator becoming my wife. I lavished a staggering amount of time and money on the car, increasing the engine capacity from 850cc to 998cc and then to 1098cc. It was probably a lot cheaper to buy a Cooper or Cooper S but then I would have had to pay massive insurance premiums. Big wheels, tyres, straight-through exhaust, lowered, competition brakes, special brackets on the seats to lower them and oh boy, the lot. That’s why the little red Mini from Napier that recently travelled to the United States struck a chord. This particular little 48-year-old Mini, originally a 1964 model, was aiming to achieve 175mph (280km/h) on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. The team and the Mini already hold the record of 235.9 km/h — set back in 2012 — but that further 40km/h is a huge step. The Project 64 Team is supported primarily by Mike Pero Real Estate and Mini NZ, with driver Nelson Hartley in the hot seat, father Bryan as the engine designer and Nelson-based Victory Motorsports owners Gary Orton and Guy Griffith as the attempt masterminds. Nelson is an accomplished race driver in his own right in New Zealand, having driven single-seaters, saloons and Speedway Sprint cars and has younger sibling Brendon as a Porsche factory driver. From my own experience I can tell you that doing 130km/h in a 1963 Mini is a frightening thing, but 280km/h! The speed would have been reached and the record broken with the help of a specially built turbocharged engine which produces a very healthy 260kW. Prime sponsor Mike Pero knows a thing or two about speed as he still holds the New Zealand land speed record for a 350cc motorcycle at 239km/h, set in 1979. Unfortunately the Bonneville Speed Week that was scheduled to take place between August 8 and 15 was cancelled for the second year in a row. The reason? No salt, or at least not enough of the stuff. Despite the raging drought affecting the western states of the United States, rain had fallen heavily on the salt flats and caused the surface to break up, and that, combined with mud on the surface and heavy mining and commercial salt extraction, has left the very future of the fragile salt surface in doubt. Over the past 50 years the salt crust has gone from 60cm to 90cm thick to just 5cm to 8cm. It looks as if the little Mini will never have its own record broken on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It is now resting quietly in the USA hoping that one day in the near future it will get a chance to show just how fast it can really be, again.