It was a dull grey late winter morning when the tyres started turning
on the tarmac heading towards Portsmouth from Northamptonshire. The
engine was ticking over nicely as we hummed along the A roads towards
the motorway. I was feeling happy at the adventure about to unfold
and wondered if anyone else had been stupid enough to drive the
horrific mileage from the UK and across the whole of Spain.
The mileage ticked by in the relaxing uneventful way that a good long
distance drive tends to do leaving your mind to ponder on other
issues you have in this short existence of ours while the window
screen wipers thump rhythmically clearing the light rain that was
slowly but continually falling. I was quite content watching the
trees and fields pass by whilst being overtaken by just about
everything else on the road. No rush though I just wanted to enjoy
Up ahead the gantry signs flashing warning of a road closure that
would affect my planned route but even as I was leaning forward to
see exactly what the problem was through the mist I had planned an
alternative way in my mind. It was about twenty miles longer but
motorway miles are easy miles and the ferry wasn’t sailing for a long
time. I am a bit of a stickler for being anywhere I am going to
early. I hate being late with a vengeance. Yes yes it’s a very
British thing but if you can’t make the effort to be on time I think
it says a lot about the sort of person you are.
So I diverted onto a different motorway clocking up more relaxed
mileage when I noticed a two mile marker sign for a service station.
‘A coffee maybe?’ I thought to myself while thinking about how badly
a stop this far away on a diversion would effect my arrival time.
Turns out a coffee stop and the time it would take to queue up to buy
it and have a quick trip to the loo were the least of my worries as
about ten seconds later there was an almighty explosion of red hot
coolant and steam coming out of the front and sides of bonnet!
It covered the windscreen as instantly as it exploded making me jump
out of my skin and having me pull onto the hard shoulder braking
What went through my mind at this point? You may think it was ‘What
the hell happened there?’ or ‘Was there anything else on the hard
shoulder where I am pulling up blind?’ but no that wasn’t what went
through my mind.
What I was thinking was ‘Shit that’s a fresh respray now covered in
boiling coolant!!!!!! Got to wipe it off got to wipe it off as
quickly as possible!!!’
Literally as soon as I stopped I was out of the mini pulling my shirt
off and wiping the bodywork down trying to get the awful coolant off
of that fresh paintwork. Thankfully it was still raining so that was
helping. Only once this was done did I realise that I probably needed
a change of underwear from the bang and panicked blind emergency stop
of the side of the motorway.
‘Best see the damage then’ I said to myself whilst opening the bonnet
and looking into the tiny engine bay through squinted eyes not
wanting to actually see how bad it was under there.
Surprisingly only the radiator cap was missing which was nice but
what the hell had caused the extremely quick overheating? I had been
keeping an eye on the temperature gauge for most of the journey
seeing as the old girl had been parked up for a good while before I
bought it and nothing had seemed amiss, so whatever had caused this
now was fast, I mean really fast and it was clear that I was not
going to source the problem standing on the side of a motorway in the
A quick call to the breakdown service and within the hour I was on
the back of a flatbed heading back to the mini hospital to get Dr
Bob’s help on this one because I had called the ferry company
explaining the problem and they agreed reluctantly to move my booking
to the next boat out in two days time. I then spoke to my friend who
was going to be expecting me at the south side of Spain in a few days
to say it would be a few days longer.
He seemed to have a lot more confidence in me than I had in myself to
sort the problem quickly and get Spain side still in time for his
Wife’s fortieth birthday, the day after I was now going to arrive.
No pressure then.
It was early evening when I got to Dr Bobs so we decided to meet back
up first thing in the morning to get the little mini back in order.
At first light Dr Bob said to me ‘You didn’t run it around for the
couple of weeks before you took it on this expedition of yours did
‘No Bob, sorry’ I replied whilst looking at the floor feeling like my
Dad had caught me up to no good. Again.
‘Idiot’ he said with a smile ‘Best get it sorted then eh’ and with
that we dived into finding the problem.
The problem turned out to be one of those ‘What the Hell I have never
seen this before’ kind of moments. You see what had caused the rapid
overheating was the heater matrix. It had collapsed and I mean
completely collapsed internally. Classic mini’s heater matrix’s have
over the years got blocked up causing you to have no heating then
needing either a really good back flush or replacing but this little
heater had just bypassed that stage completely and disintegrated
internally chucking bits of rust metal and crap throughout the
It was a nightmare cleaning it all out. The matrix was replaced
after back flushing the engine time after time ensuring the crap was
cleared. We then ran it up to temp, drained it all off and did the
whole thing over again. Finally later that afternoon the plucky
little mini was sat there ticking over sweetly once more acting as if
nothing had ever been wrong with it.
‘Now go and run it. Run it hard and run it far. Make sure it’s OK
before you head off tomorrow Nick’ Bob said looking at me like he was
my Dad again.
‘Yes Bob’ I replied sullenly feeling chastised again.
I did run it though. I ran up nearly eighty miles on the longest
drive home I have ever done because I knew what was at stake now. I
had no more breathing room I had to get this little mini to southern
Spain or the surprise would be ruined. So I headed home and crashed
out into an exhausted sleep rising to the sound of my early alarm
which felt like it was going off about five minutes after I had got
I washed got dressed and grabbed my holdall. It got thrown into the
passenger foot well and I fired up the little burgundy mini took a
deep breath thinking ‘At least the suns out now’ while looking at the
wall to wall deep clear blue skies.
With that I stuck it into first gear and headed of on the long drive
to the port for the second time.