STILL IJ-CRAZY AFTER ALL THIS TIME!
My name is Thew, John Thew, and I’m an Italian Job-aholic.
The Michael Caine film has always been a favourite of mine so, as soon as I saw the advert for the first Italian Job run, I had to get involved. I did the first four runs, including 1993 which was only a fortnight after my honeymoon. It was already booked. I think that Nat, my brand new wife, understood!
I’d hoped to do the 1994 run too but our daughter Maddie was due that December, so it wasn’t really on for me to continue. I thought I’d be back much sooner, however it’s not Nat’s type of holiday and suddenly it’s 20 years later! Maddie’s now 18 so I bought a 2009 MINI Cooper from Cooper Tadworth to have some fun with and, when Maddie passes her test, I’ll let her drive it too. We’ve called it Max III.
I can still remember the excitement of those early IJ trips.
After the 1990 run, which I did in a fibreglass mini (image above) from Domino Cars, I wrote an article for Kitcars International enthusing about how much fun it was and announcing we’d be taking “the long route” the following year. I struck a deal to borrow an early Cooper from a London classic car garage, which they’d been expecting to accept in part-exchange for an AC Ace. Annoyingly, their buyer pulled out, so I had to find a last minute replacement. A colleague at Reader’s Digest (where I worked at the time) offered to sell me her mini 1000 – which she called Max – for £300 so I bought that and the name stuck. It was two-tone, Vermillion orange and rust.
So, in October 1991, we caught the ferry from Dover to Calais, turned left and drove as far as Berlin before heading south through Dresden, Prague, Salzburg, etc. and finally into Italy – in the £300 Max! We had no mechanical issues until I was driving a little too enthusiastically in a convoy down a mountain and overheated the brake fluid, losing the brakes on the approach to a corner. Some gear grinding and last minute use of the handbrake got us out of that one.
Anyway, Max was never going to pass an MOT so we had a lot of work to do to get ready for 1992. Mark Nicholas, fellow Jobber from 1990-1993 and my co-driver in 1992, did most of the re-build work and I bought a Racing Green body shell, four spoke Revolution alloys, 13” wheels, black leather Jaguar XJS seats (scrap yard), and all the rest of the parts. I lost touch with Mark over the years but intend to sort that soon.
Max II was incredible until we blew the head gasket, tried to drive on through the Alps with just two cylinders and, finally, shattered the clutch before limping in to Munich on Friday 13th. Max II came home on a flatbed but, apart from that, we had a lot of fun. Mark worked wonders again and Max II returned in 1993, span on black ice on a mountain road, nearly taking us over the edge and went on to help us win second place on the Regularity Drive.
The Italian Job’s continued to be a recurring theme in my life over the years and Nat organised a showing at the Charlotte Street Hotel for my 40th Birthday in 2005. My brother-in-law, Chris White, and I discussed doing the run again that very night and, only eight years on, we are.
I’ve missed the camaraderie, general mini madness, closing off towns and so on. I love driving through the back roads, especially the Alpine passes, almost as much as I love Italian food and wine. It’s a shame not to get the crisp October mountain air this time but lining up this year’s run with the International Mini Meeting just outside Florence makes up for that. And there’s always 2014!
Chris and I are planning to visit as many racetracks as possible on the way to Rome and back, drive the Brenner Pass and visit a few locations requested by sponsors.
Our sponsors this year include Signs Express, who’ve very kindly provided the door decals for all of this year’s entrants – free of charge – plus Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), who I must thank for the design of my sponsor decals and, finally, Further, the search, content and social media agency I run in Norwich.
I’m Thew, John Thew, and I’m an Italian Job-aholic!