By Scott Hardy
This is a continuation of the story Scott shared during week 10 of the Corona Challenge. Click here to read Part 1.
In the first installment, I introduced you to LBC III, our 1972 MGB, and his spiritual predecessor, LBC 1, my mother’s 1967 MGB GT. This episode highlights some of the many misadventures of LBC 2, the 2007 MINI Clubman that I bought for my wife, Trish, for her birthday in August 2007. Despite the 40 years and significant design differences separating these cars, they had much more in common than one might expect – namely, they both demonstrated an appalling indifference to their owner’s desire to be used on demand. Let me explain…
My early experience with British cars had demonstrated that 1) they were cute and quirky and lots of fun to drive, and 2) they were unreliable, rust-prone, and had a pronounced aversion to actually turning over and running. Admittedly, many of them were basket cases before I ever saw them, being owned by my teen-aged friends. But during my young adult years, the general trend remained the same, even as the cars I knew became newer and nicer. I am reminded of my friend who owned, in succession, an MGB, an Elan, and his crowning glory, a TVR 2500LM, before throwing in the towel and buying a Camaro Z28. The British car industry in the 70s and 80s did not cover itself in glory. Caught between currency and labor crises, the entire industry wracked, heaved, and finally contracted with the passing of many storied brands.
Around the turn of the century, many automotive giants hovered over the carcass of the British industry to pick off the best of the morsels remaining. One of the tastier bits was the legendary Mini, owned by the Rover Group in the 1990s. The Mini had been one of the brightest stars in British automotive history since its introduction in 1959. While the car was stale and technology challenged by 1994, the brand appeal of the name was still strong, so after BMW acquired the Rover Group in 1994, they discarded the entrails and introduced MINI as a BMW designed, British manufactured car line. The first models were offered for sale in 2001. While not universally loved, the new model payed pronounced homage to both the style and the driving/handling characteristics of the original. BMW had a minor hit on its hands, and MINI dealers sprouted adjacent to their BMW brethren.
By 2007, the second-generation MINI had been introduced, including a new Clubman model with a longer wheelbase, a third door, barn doors on the hatch, and a somewhat more commodious interior. This practicality appealed to me, and I figured that a good injection of German engineering and production expertise had probably banished many of the ills of the previous generations of British cars. Also, we were in desperate need of an automotive upgrade from our non-descript econobox, so I decided to order a Cooper S model, which was delivered on Trish’s birthday.
Almost immediately, things started to go wrong. Automotive malfunctions were seriously compounded by a dealer service department that was comically inept, which is why oil changes took five days (out of filters) and the installation of roof rack cross bars was performed using rubber mallets and a Sawzall. Seriously. At first, we focused on the failures of the service department, but it soon became clear that the car itself was a true throwback to the Lucas, Lord of Darkness era.
Emblematic of the troubles we had with LBC 2 was the time that Trish arrived back to the Light Rail Transit parking lot after a day at work to find that both windows were down and the sunroof was open. Knowing that she had not left the car in that state, she assumed that she had been the victim of car vandals. However, in what must surely count as a minor miracle, nothing was missing from the car. So she started the car and drove home after closing all of the open apertures.
She had barely left the transit parking lot when the sunroof opened and the windows lowered – all on their own. Which happened twice more on the five-minute drive home. She was worried about actually making it home, but she did, so she shut off and locked the car. As she left the garage, she heard a noise, and turned to watch the glass stubbornly retreating once again to the open position. That particularly strange malady required another week in the shop to fix.
The most persistent flaw, and one of the only dynamic flaws, was a stubborn engine knock. The noise was most evident in third and fourth gears when accelerating from relatively low rpms. We mentioned this to the dealer every time we saw them, which was to say, quite often. They investigated it every time, and their answer was always some variation of, “You’re not driving the car properly,” or “You’re not using the proper fuel.” Needless to say, the noise never went away.
Actually, I just misspoke. The noise did go away, in a most spectacular fashion. We were on vacation in British Columbia, driving on a rural highway, when a loud BANG! shook the car and the engine immediately lost power. It did not entirely stop running, but it clearly had suffered mortal damage, and an orange Check Engine icon was glowing on the dash. We gleaned from the manual that orange meant to proceed at slow speed to the nearest dealer, which we discovered was in Kelowna, still over 60 miles away. So we made our way there as best we could while running on no more than two cylinders.
A couple of nail-biting hours later, we pulled into the dealer, where we learned the next day that there was a hole in a piston. Fortunately, we were a scant 3,000 miles short of the 50,000 mile powertrain warranty, so this mechanical outrage was covered. Ultimately, the last drive we ever made in that car was to drive it back to Calgary to trade it in (at a criminally low exchange) to the dealer where we had bought it. Thus, the conclusion of our frustrating experience with LBC 2. And for us, a question of how we would get our automotive jollies in the future. So stay tuned for the story of LBC III.
Part 3 of the story coming soon...