A dear friend who lives in the Highlands sent me an email yesterday and it got me thinking about the many trips I made to Lochgilphead in a wide variety of vehicles during the early 1960’s. I mostly rented cars in Helenburgh, not from your local Avis/Budget outlet, but rather from grubby back street garages. The cars were cheap and you really did get what you paid for. They were old, barely able to climbed the steep highland hills. Even more dangerous coming down the same hills with the absents of working brakes. They coughed spluttered and often need a push to start the engine. When it rained the wipers refused to work and when the red light started to flash it was time for more engine oil. However, on one occasion I pushed the boat out and rented a new Morris Mini in Glasgow, this was a marvelous little car and really fun to drive. At least it was until I reach the village of Arrochar. Arrochar is located at the base of the Rest and be Thankful, a huge highland hill, maybe some would call it a mountain? It was a very challenging and steep climb to the top then an equally challenging down hill race on a long winding road that ended at the little hump back bridge at top of Loch Fynn. Now, before I describe this journey ,I should explain some facts about the Mini. This was an early model and very basic, to start the car you turned on the ignition and pressed the starter button between the seats to fire up the engine. It came with no heater and no wind up windows, just little sliding glass panels, the opening was about twelve inches when fully open. The engine was transverse and the radiator drew air through the front left wheel well. The front side of the engine was directly behind the front grille. This was a revolutionary design with a few flaws still to be corrected as I was about to discover.
I headed out of Arrochar in torrential rain to begin the long climb to the top of the Rest and be Thankful. The car was new and I was full of confidence it would get me to my destination trouble free. The distance to the top was approximately two miles, then three or four miles down hill to the hump back bridge. At about half a mile into my steep ascent with the wipers losing the battle to keep the windshield clear, the engine began to miss and splutter. It could only be one of two things, wet ignition or not getting enough petrol. Considering the weather it was a safe bet it was the ignition. I stopped the car pulled my raincoat over my head and stepped out into the maelstrom of wind and rain to open the engine bonnet. Right away I could see the distributor was soaking wet, and why wouldn’t it be, it was directly behind the grille and the rain was gushing in through the slats. I dried the dist cap as best I could with my sparkling white hanky which then disappeared carried off in the wind. I jumped back inside and started the engine again. It was once more running smoothly, but I knew it wouldn’t last long. I reverse across the narrow road and began backing up the hill. This might sound like a reasonable solution and an easy method in which to reach the top. Well, it would have been but for a couple of new flaws in the design of this little car. In the heavy rain I could see nothing out of the rear steamed up window. The tiny sliding window opening in the door wasn’t big enough for me to put my head out and see where I was going. Bare in mind on my left was a sheer drop back to Arrochar. All I could do was watch that I didn’t go over the edge of the road as I eased the car very slowly up the hill. I don’t remember how long it took, I do know was my neck was sore and my hair, collar and shirt were soaking wet. At the top I returned the car to face the road and began a grateful descent. Fortunately I could let the engine idle in neutral and just coast to the bridge. Once on the other side of the Loch the rain eased a little and I made it into Inveraray. I stopped in the village to dry myself and find a piece of cardboard to secure in front of the distributor. As a side note, later Mini’s had wind up windows and a rubber cover over the distributor, even later they had heaters!!! But when you are young those things were easily overcome by drying out while sitting by a pub fireplace sinking a pint of best bitter. The Good Old Days Eh!!!!!
God Bless and keep reading