My First Car: Minis to fore as family favourite

Jim Barnes-Phillips, third right, with his Mini and three others owned by his family.

Jim Barnes-Phillips, third right, with his Mini and three others owned by his family. - Credit: supplied

Jim Barnes-Phillips tells how his Mini, one of four in the family, put him on the road to rallying.

Like many teenagers in the 1960s my first car was a Mini – a light blue 1963 model with a basic 850cc engine.

I acquired it from my mother when she bought a new Mini in 1968 with a 1000cc engine.

Nothing unusual about any of this until you realise that my brother and his wife had a Mini – another 850cc, but in dark green, and so did my sister and her husband – their's was a grey Mini Countryman so they had room for their dog.

This picture shows the four Minis, and their owners, lined up outside my mum's flat.

The eagle-eyed will spot that mine – 248 RAF – has spotlights. That was because, in early 1970, I took part in my first rally – a sport I was to be involved in for the following 22 years.

As well as those spotlights, the headlights were upgraded, a sump-guard fitted and a navigator's map-reading light – so very low tech, in comparison to modern rally cars.

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I also used that poor car in many autotest events – with quite a bit of success – and hill climbs. I even took part in one autocross event where my fairly basic Mini was totally out powered.

After that Mini, I moved on to Mark I Ford Escorts, first a 1300GT then an Escort Mexico which I used in the Mexico Challenge Rally Series in the late 1970s.

By then I realised that successful rallying was for those with far more cash than I had so, when I could afford to drive, I did. Otherwise I took to the left-hand seat and navigated/co-drove. It was on that side of the car that I achieved my best result finishing in the top 10 of a national status event in Scotland, even beating Roger Clarke – only because I interpreted the rules of that event the same way as the organisers, while his co-driver misinterpreted them.

Other cars that I drove in rallies included a Mard I Ford Cortina that I imported from Guernsey and latterly a bright green Chrysler Sunbeam Ti, which cost a lot of money to build, and which I crashed on its first outing – ouch!

So what follows a life with rally cars? I competed in my last event in 1992 and sold everything, Sunbeam, trailer and spares to a guy from Wales for a fraction of what it had cost and bought a 1972 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. At last, here was a car that my wife could associate herself with and, 25 years later, we still have it. If you think that rally cars are expensive to run, don't even consider an upmarket Classic – ouch again!

You never forget the adventures you had in your first car. It doesn't matter how old it is, just email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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