‘Having a classic Mini isn’t that easy over here’

Kenyan Mini Lovers

 

Although Kenya doesn’t seem like the typical place for driving a Mini because of all the potholed roads, too steep speed bumps and the pretty aggressive driving style, dozens of the classic car do actually drive around. Passionate Kenyan Mini lovers even founded their own club.

Text: Andrea Dijkstra            
Photography: Jeroen van Loon

Nairobi – ‘Everybody is always looking at you’, Pascal Maithya says with a laugh, while stepping on the gas of his 1968 cool red Mini Saloon. The long convoy of brightly coloured Minis is on its way to Kajiado in southern Kenya. With this ride they celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Mini Lovers in Kenya club. A Mini in Europe will draw plenty of attention, but in Kenya people really don’t know what’s just hit them. Astonished pedestrians nudge each other while smiling and waving to the cars. Oncoming trucks honk and flash their lights. And when we make a short stop on the emergency lane due to a leaking radiator, people immediately approach the owners to ask for a ride.

Making an impression

Like many Kenyans, Pascal previously thought Minis were slow and couldn’t drive very far. But when a friend took him for a ride, he immediately fell in love. ‘It was all about the speed; how it drives through the curves.’ The 29-year-old Kenyan, dressed in trendy jeans, shirt and sneakers owns three Minis now. ‘Playing around with them’ he likes most. ‘My first one, a light blue Mini saloon from 1974, I decided to convert into a white sporty two-seater - something like a Mazda MX5. As there are already many blue saloons in Nairobi, I wanted to have something different.’

Together with a befriended mechanic, he cut off the rear and side windows, scaled the roof and created a ‘butt’ by putting the rear window more forward. He did the whole thing in his own backyard, even the painting. ‘I use a tent which I put over the Mini’, adds Pascal. ‘I put lights inside, I sprayed the car and left it to dry for two days.’ In this manner, Pascal also painted one of his other Minis orange a few weeks ago. They had to take out the engine first because it needed fixing, but they did the job by hand. ‘We used a rope and a metal bar which leant on our shoulders as we pulled it out’, Pascal explains.


Lack of parts

Moses Ndegwa inherited his Mini from his grandfather, like many local Mini fans. ‘My grandpa bought it from a white settler in the 1970s’’, Moses says, leaning against his red 850 saloon. The 1972 Mini, which looks comparatively narrow without arches, appears to have some starting problems. After a small break at a restaurant, all of the guys push the Mini through rough terrain while Moses manages to start the engine again. ‘In the 1970’s, Minis were fairly normal cars in Kenya, imported by our former colonial power, Britain’, the young Kenyan explains later. But due to lack of parts many of those Minis are now in poor condition. This certainly is the case for the 1976-built red Mini with black roof that the 29-year-old Eric Muiri took over from his grandfather. ‘Because of a broken engine, the car had been parked for more than ten years under a nylon cloth. I had to start from scratch to renovate it step by step’, he says.

Finding knowledge

The big problem for all Mini owners is finding qualified mechanics. ‘Many Kenyan engineers don’t know anything about Minis’, Kevin Okech explains. Seven years ago he bought a 1975 Mk3 from a cousin who had emigrated. The Mini was in very bad shape and Kevin didn’t have a clue how to fix it. ‘That was until I bumped into a Mini in perfect condition at a petrol station.’ The owner was a mechanic who was willing to help Kevin, but unfortunately he didn’t turn out to be very reliable. After one year, Kevin’s Mini still couldn’t be started and several parts appeared to have been stolen. ‘While I had to work, he switched my new drum brakes for old ones. In total I lost more than 200.000 Kenyan shillings (more than 1500 Pounds) on my Mini. But I still love the car and I’ve clearly been infected by the Mini-virus!’ Kevin chuckles.

     

Fortunately the tall 28-year-old Kenyan started to meet more Mini owners and a year ago they together decided to found the Mini Lovers in Kenya. The main purpose of the club is to help each other find good and reliable mechanics and to solve the huge shortage of parts. ‘It’s especially because of this problem that having a classic Mini isn’t that easy over here’, Eric, wearing a black polo-shirt with the club’s logo, emphasizes. ‘You can only buy used parts in Kenya, often they are low quality but still insanely expensive, as traders are aware of the scarcity.’ For that reason the Mini Lovers in Kenya now also import parts itself, but that’s pricey as well.


‘I’m currently negotiating with Mini Spares in England whether they can offer us a better price’, says Eric. A few years ago he imported a new 1275 cc Rover injection engine from Japan where according to Eric, the prices are lower than in the UK. His engine, for example, cost him only 50.000 Kenyan shillings (just over 380 Pounds), including transport, while in the UK the same engine would have cost him 1000 Pounds, excluding transport. ‘But parts like chrome mirrors, bumpers, door handles and fuel caps we can only get in England. And shipping and customs are extremely expensive’, Eric states. Recently, for example, with five others he ordered a package full of fuel caps, chrome wipers, brake shoes and plastic gutter trim for a total price of 50.000 Kenyans shillings (over 380 Pounds) in England. Shipping only already cost 75 Pounds and over 14.000 Kenyan shillings (more than 100 Pounds) was spent on customs in Kenya. ‘For one person this is way too much, but fortunately we can now get together to share the costs. Strangely enough, shipping from Japan to Kenya is a lot cheaper than from England.’
 
Only eating one meal a day to buy something for your Mini

‘Sometimes you eat only one meal a day because you want to buy something for your Mini’, Paul Kamwana says. The 36-year-old Kenyan extended the front of his red Mini so a Honda Vitex engine now fits in and the bonnet opens from the front. ‘In Mini magazines I read how in Europa they use carbon-fibre for this. But that’s too weak for Kenyan roads, so I decided to make it from steel instead.’

‘We sacrifice a lot for our Mini, Eric laughs. ‘Your entire salary sometimes goes to your Mini, you have fights with your girlfriend, who doesn’t understand why you spend so much money on your car. I always say: it’s a Mini thing, you wouldn’t understand.’ Because Eric likes this striking slogan so much, he even printed it on the banner he made for the Mini-club.

     

If the club manages to solve the parts shortages, Kevin believes many more Minis will appear on the Kenyan roads. Just like Kevin, quite a few of the other 45 registered members have a Mini that’s still not on the road because of the lack of parts. Shipping a complete classic Mini from England isn’t a possibility either, as it’s not legal to import cars more than eight years old into Kenya. ‘Maybe we can dismantle a couple of Minis in England and bring the parts to Kenya - that is allowed’, Kevin suggests.

Renting Minis for weddings

Despite the parts problems, the Mini Lovers do believe Minis in Kenya have a bright future. ‘We manage to repair more and more Minis to get them back on the road’, continues Kevin. ‘Also we are trying to make some income with our club. Five of our Minis, for example, were rented out for a wedding. We also want to give companies the opportunity to use our Minis for commercials or events.’ If the club manages to build a budget, Kevin would like to set up a garage together with the other members. ‘It would be a place where you’re sure your Mini is in good hands.’ Because the Mini Lovers also want to give something back to society, they have visited several orphanages. ‘Children love Minis’, Paul laughs. ‘They always call it a Mister Bean car - those TV series are also famous over here.’ The Mini owners don’t complain that much about the steep speed bumps and deep potholes either. ‘To cross the bumps you need to zig zag and I know all the potholes in Nairobi by heart’, Eric jokes. ‘Anyway, the roads in Kenya have really been improving recently. This allows us to make longer and nicer rides.’

Owning a Mini in Kenya also appears to a few advantages. When stuck in a Nairobi traffic jam, which unfortunately occurs quite often, everybody tells John Oduor to go in front. The 38-year-old drives a white 1992 Mini Moke. ‘They have never seen anything like it’, John chuckles, while leaning on his windscreen with a big sticker of ‘the Fresh Prince’. He laughs loudly when asked what to do when it suddenly starts to rain. ‘I remove my shirt, take out some soap from my Mini and enjoy a wonderful shower.’ An hour later it actually starts to rain, but rather than break out the soap we spot John rapidly putting on a long raincoat and covering the car seats with plastic bags. When he joins the convoy again, he’s still got a big smile on his face, though!



Inherit the passion for Minis

Eric managed to renovate his red Mini with black roof step by step. ‘The only thing I still want to buy is some new wheels’, he adds. ‘But shipping alone would already cost me more than 20.000 Kenyan shillings (more than 150 Pounds). In his renovated Mini, the 29-year-old Kenyan regularly visits his grandfather, who lives 24 miles north east of Nairobi. ‘Together we make small rides’, Eric chuckles. ‘My grandpa really loves it that a younger generation now inherits the passion for Minis.’


User Login Weblog



User Login Photofolio