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Awakening the new year, ClassicLine’s resident road tripper, Ben Coombes, fires up the project Mini and rolls her out of the garage for a very symbolic first drive.

The drive may not be the stuff of that Instagram dreams are made of, but I’d been waiting twelve years to make it happen.

I recently wrote a blog post describing my favourite drives of 2022, and looking back, it really shows the past twelve months to have been a time full of memorable motoring.  From bossing the Stelvio Pass to cruising the vineyards of Burgundy, it’s been a year to remember.  And when I wrote that blog post, I didn’t think of 2022 as having many more behind-the-wheel memories to make.  But it turns out I was wrong.  Despite having spent a glorious summer cruising Europe at the wheel of a TVR and the ClassicLine Volvo 240, the best, the most memorable drive, was still to come. 

It wasn’t what you’d call a classic choice for a standout drive, though.  It lasted less than two minutes, it never even went as far as a road, and it took place in a vehicle with no bonnet or windows. 

However, as with so many things, context is everything. 

The drive may not be the stuff of that Instagram dreams are made of, but I’d been waiting twelve years to make it happen.  And for the past two of those years, turning this drive from a distant dream to a reality had became somewhere between a part time job, and an obsession. 

I am, of course, talking about the first drive of my project car – Daisy the Mini. 

The story of Daisy is the story of many a project car around the world.  I’ve owned my 1974 Mini for 15 years, but it’s been off the road for the past twelve of those, thanks to the rust addiction possessed by so many British Leyland products of the 1970s.  But with Covid came opportunity – in this case, the free time to get Daisy driving again.  And that 120 second drive was the culmination of two years of work towards the goal. 

It wasn’t what you’d call an exhilarating drive.  I fired up the engine, drove out of my workshop, completed a few turns and checked out a few of the gears, parked next to Kermit for a photo, and then headed back under cover to check everything over.  And it wasn’t even a completely successful drive.  The brakes needed further bleeding before they’d truly come to life, and the steering was loose as I’d forgotten to tighten up the mounting bolts for the steering rack after its final adjustments.  But that’s missing the point. 

It was a symbolic drive. 

It was a drive which embodied the results of years of hard work, a drive which showed that I really wasn’t being hopelessly optimistic when I declared I was going to bring Daisy’s rusty shell back from the dead.  It was the first time I’d driven a Mini – let alone my Mini – in over a decade, and it brought back memories of the past.  Memories of rolling into Turin behind its wheel on New Year’s Eve fifteen years ago, and of heading to Mongolia in my first-ever Mini.  It was a drive which was a direct connection to the past, and one which, I hope, will usher in a whole new series of adventures for Daisy the Mini. 

I guess what this drive meant can be summed up by the fact that on the evening after, a celebratory beer was in order to mark Daisy’s promotion from endless project, to potential transport.  As fun as crossing the Stelvio or twisting along the Black Forest High Road is, they don’t shout out the need to be marked in the same symbolic way. 

Since that first drive, Project Daisy has been progressing well, and provided nothing unforeseen occurs, the Mini will be back on the road in time for the spring.  I’m sure there are many more memorable drives in the little car’s future, but it’s hard to imagine any of them feeling like more of an achievement than that initial potter around the car park.