Ron Cherry: A match made by Mini |

Ron Cherry: A match made by Mini

Glamour doesn’t always win awards. The unassuming Mini was runner-up for the Global Automotive Elections Foundation Car of the Century award, right behind the Model T Ford and ahead of the VW Beetle.
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Love triangles are normally a very bad idea. However, if one of the triangle is a car, it can work.

In fact, the car might even bring the two human elements of the triangle together. That was the case for Claire and Jack Holdaway. Living in SoCal at the time, Claire’s daughter bought an Austin Mini Cooper from a dealer who imported them from Britain.

Claire liked the car and bought one herself from the same dealer in 2002. It was a right-hand drive ‘69 Austin Mini Mk II. She had owned several Jags and an MGTC before and liked British cars, fondly remembering a ‘71 XKE 2+2 she once owned. However, not being a mechanic, she was not aware of some of the issues the Mini had.

“It had all kinds of problems, like no oil pressure,” she said. “I didn’t realize that was a problem.” It also had some serious rust issues, which is common for cars coming from the UK, especially older ones. A telling sign of troubles to come was when a faulty hood latch let the hood fly up on the drive home.

The hood latch problem and the English license plate on the car when she bought it helped Claire come up with a name for her Mini. The plate number was POK232G and she named it Pokey, after the horse in the “Gumby” stop-motion, clay animation series.

“Pokey is sort of a rascally character,” she said. “Since the hood flew open on the way home, I decided he had that kind of sense of humor.” When she got her California license plates, she even got personalized ones the same as the English ones they replaced.

As well as regular driving, Claire enjoyed driving her great-handling Mini in autocross competitions. The little car’s problems soon became apparent.

“When I popped the clutch, the engine would die,” she remembered. So the Mini got its first engine rebuild. While searching for parts for her vintage Mini, Claire found Seven Mini Parts in Auburn. She also found Jack, who worked there. It was a match made by Mini. Jack had been into Minis since going with his father to watch them compete and owned his first one at 16 years old. Since he was also a masterful Mini mechanic, both Claire and Pokey where happy to find him.

Once they got together in 2003, Jack set to work to rebuild and soup up Claire’s Pokey. He replaced the engine with a later-model, 1275 cc one that was bored to 1293 cc, running 10.5:1 compression and fueled by two oversize SU carbs. Exhaust ran through a Flowmaster two-chamber box. In the transmission, Jack changed to racing-type, straight-cut gears. One by-product was the distinctive whine those gears make. “They do make a racket. It keeps the deer out of the way,” he said with a bit of humor. For the suspension, he went for Koni shocks, competition-grade rubber cones and negative camber alignment. A set of 10” X 6” Revolution racing wheels finished it off.

While Claire did not take her Mini to the track (Jack does have a Mini for vintage sports car racing, that’s a different car and a different story), she used to do some rallycross racing. About five years ago, she was on a rough, mixed-surface circuit when Pokey’s rusted history came back to haunt her. “All the bouncing around caused the body to start separating from the subframe,” Claire recalled. “That’s when we started tearing into the body.” They replaced the sheet metal “from the door handles down.” The previously-installed functional leather straps to hold the hood down were retained, just in case Pokey might get too rascally.

Inside the Mini, there is a rollbar and Corbeau seats, a racing one for the driver. “They’re terrible,” Jack said of the seats. “They’re coming out soon.” But he hopes that will be the end of the rebuilding. “Every winter we did something,” he said. “I think we’re done for a while.”

Although Claire occasionally will run an autocross, Pokey is mainly her daily driver, including going 10 miles to and from work. But the loud exhaust has its drawbacks. “I can’t sneak up on my boss because he can hear me coming up from inside the building,” she said. Pokey is also great for shopping. “I can carry an amazing amount of groceries,” Claire noted, due to the Mini’s roomy interior design.

Claire and Jack have also taken her Mini on some long trips. In 2003, they took Pokey to Canada, hauling their camping gear inside. Their second trip due North was to British Columbia and included driving to the top of Mt. Lassen. That last trip was 2200 miles and Pokey performed without a hitch. “It’s loud, it’s uncomfortable. You just take your time,” Jack said. Classic car lovers understand. Just like they understand how a love triangle that includes a car will work.

Ron Cherry’s three books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. For more about his writing, go to

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