The Car I Brought Back to Life … and Vice Versa

My creative restoration therapy in lockdown

I've always loved cars, but the relationship didn't start well. 

My first car was a 1982 classic Mini. And I trashed it.

I bought it with £800 I made as the baby in classic British sitcom George and Mildred. My parents put the money away, and on my 18th birthday, the Mini was mine. It was immaculate. It may have been brown, but I loved it. 

My mates and I would squeeze into this tiny car and go everywhere in it. We drove too fast, on too many broken roads, and in the end, ran it into the ground. We put in my dad's garage, stripped it down and promised we would put it back together. But we didn't know how. It sat there for years, and eventually my dad got so fed up, he took it to the wrecker's yard and crushed it.

It's a painful memory. But in lockdown I finally got to put things right. I took another wrecked Mini and fixed it. And in doing so, found a dirty, physical creative outlet that kept me sane and reconnected me to my teenage son. Now it's an obsession.

The Mini is special. Small yet perfect. British to the core. Iconic. It stays with you. And always did for me. Eighteen years after that first car was destroyed, and with another significant birthday on the horizon, one of those old friends found my next Mini. For £800. The owner had been trying to rebuild it and only got so far, so it was bought as a "part-project." It was meant to be, right?

At first it was slow progress. (Learning to weld was a big step.) Then the pandemic happened. We were locked in and locked down. The car became more than a hobby. It was an essential creative outlet. It was meditation.

In our industry, you can rarely sit back after a hard day, look at what you've done and say, "Oh, that's better." When you're having meetings, especially virtually, you can't stick stuff to a wall and see how far you've come with an idea. During lockdown, I found huge satisfaction in going into the garage for an hour, standing back and looking at what I'd achieved. I could see it looked better. I'd moved it on, even fractionally, towards my vision of the finished product.  Rebuilding a car was therapeutic in a way I didn't realize until I really got my hands dirty. The mechanics of older cars are simple. I found huge pleasure in bringing it back to life. And was surprised at how easily, a lot of the time.   

I found a smelly, dirty zen. Something as simple as getting a bolt out of a hole after it's snapped is a very basic, infuriating, but rewarding experience. Navigating a client to what their CCI is for the next five years is satisfying, but you don't sit back and admire the chart you've built in quite the same way. 

The process of planning, sourcing and building was cathartic. It often gives you a little something to mull over between meetings. Learning how to do certain things on YouTube and asking others how to navigate trickier parts.

I shared my progress on Instagram and found a community. Lots of people were doing the same thing in lockdown, and parts were hard to come by. But when they arrived, my postman would smile, as he knew what I was up to. I built up a selection of tools. Found bigger jobs could be tackled with more confidence. I started talking with other enthusiasts, genuinely collaborating, happy sharing advice and progress. And after lockdown eased, I connected with this community in real life at car shows. They were generally thrilled with the progress and felt a part of it.

For some people, vintage cars are an investment. But for me, it's about the process. I've learned that building it is more fun than driving it. It's a good headspace to be in: away from work, focused, and even when you're not actually building it, you're planning the next stage. 

And it's mine. Nobody else would have built that Mini the way I wanted to, and I know every inch of it. I can maintain it, and if anything goes wrong, fault find and fix it again. You don't get that when you buy a vehicle. More than that, though, it brought me much closer to my 14-year-old son as we worked on it together. I couldn't always convince him to get in the garage during the winter months, but as the car got shinier, and the engine louder, he got more and more interested. 

I'm hooked now. The next project is a bright yellow VW Beetle. It's no more than a shell and is going to require every ounce of willpower to bring it back to life. 

The Beetle will be my son's first car. I have three years until he is 17. Plenty of time. I just hope he doesn't trash it. 

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