The Austin Maxi 1750

Posted on December 16, 2010

I saw an Austin Maxi today, which must be rarer than seeing a Swallow in January, it is the first one I have seen for years, and it was pretty immaculate. If you are wondering what the relevance of this unusual sighting is, the Maxi, (if you discount a Mini I wrote off a week after purchase) was my first proper car, handed down to me by my Father shortly after I passed my test at the third time of asking on my 20th birthday.

The Austin Maxi 1750
The Maxi as a car was allegedly ahead of its time as it featured fold down seats that could create a double bed, and a five speed manual gearbox. That’s if you could find fifth gear of course as changing gears in a Maxi was like stirring a wooden spoon in a bowl of porridge, it was a total lottery and fifth gear could easily become third or even first gear which could be very alarming and one presumes not good for the overall health of the car. It also had a steering wheel that had you breaking out in exhausted sweat if you tried anything like a three point turn. Power steering was unheard of in 1987.
Credit where credit is due though, this car was like a tank, it rarely went wrong in the three years I owned it, and carried many passengers to Reading football matches around the country before it passed away in 1990, the most memorable being a trip back from Cardiff on a winters evening in 1988-89. In the car with me were regular Reading followers Mark Cunningham (Cunni), Derek Watson (Del) and Gary Cullimore (Cudsy). Drink driving was still a calculated risk then and ashamedly we all did it except Cunni who wisely delayed taking lessons until his mid twenties. Del was already banned and Cudsy and Cunni couldn’t drive so it was up to me to run the gauntlet.
When we got back to the car after narrowly avoiding a hiding in the valleys, I was relatively sober and ready for the journey back down the M4. All was going to plan until Cudsy lit a joint and gave me a share of the action. If you have never driven under the influence of Marijuana you should try it…..actually no, don’t try it. What happens is that everything around seems much faster and you slow right down without actually knowing the chaos you are creating around you. Our other friends Kev (Mitchell), Hutch and Darren Hall were in another car and had left after us and on the M4 they had battled their way through an hour long tailback presuming an accident had occurred. When they eventually got through it, it dawned on them that the pandemonium had been caused by me driving at 20mph in the middle lane. How the Hell I wasn’t arrested I don’t know, but I suppose there were no mobiles back then for someone to report me with. It took us about four hours to get home.
By now my car had assumed the name Joe Le Maxi by all my pub mates as it was around this time the sultry singer/actress Vanessa Paradis had a hit single name Joe Le Taxi and after a while it was simply known affectionately as Joe. As time passed Joe started developing minor but not fatal complications and to start him up I had tap the starter motor ever so lightly with a hammer to release the sticking brushes, which could be embarrassing if I stalled it at traffic lights or junctions. Around early 1990 a light kept coming on on the dashboard, and for a while I just looked the other way and pretended it hadn’t happened, but it became more persistent so I put a fag packet in front of it to block it from my mind. The truth was, Joe was ill and I was in denial.
Joe’s death was untimely, it happened half way up a hill on the Tadley to Basingstoke road near the hospital in the early morning rush hour. There was a bang a hiss and a combination of steam and smoke, it was a sudden and dramatic end. My Dad, to his utter delight, came to the rescue to tow me home and on arrival he flipped open the bonnet to inspect the damage.
“Bugger me, when did you last change the Oil and water?”
Mutter, grunt, shuffle.
I had to lie, I couldn’t let him find out that I had never done it before.
“About a month ago”
He fell for it, probably because not even his useless Son would neglect putting oil and water in a car.
“Oh bugger, if that’s the case you must have had a leak, the head gasket and the water pump have blown.”
“Oh no really, bloody thing” I said trying to disguise the fact I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about.
My first and only attempt at fixing a car
My Dad, to his credit, spent the evening flicking through a Haynes manual, and even got me under the bonnet (above) for a while to remove the broken parts that might be able to be replaced, but the damage was pretty extensive, and Dad broke the news to me a bit like a an ambulance driver trying to convince his mate that the defibrillator wasn’t working on a heart attack patient. It was over, Joe was dead! A local scrap dealer gave me £20 for Joe and I watched as he was towed out of Shyshack Lane and out of my life forever.

Gone, but never forgotten.

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