My driver takes the Daimler home at night and leaves me the Mini

FIRST-HAND Jeffrey Archer deplores Rover's plans to redesign his favourite car

I THINK the idea of redesigning the Mini is disgraceful, repeat disgraceful. The Mini is one of the great British inventions, a British institution like Cheddar cheese, fish and chips and the last test at the Oval. One mustn't let the Mini go.

I've had Minis on and off for 20 years. I clearly remember in my youth that it was by far the most popular car, but it wasn't until I bought one that I discovered what they were all raving about.

When I went under in 1974 with debts of about half a million pounds I had to sell my Jaguar, so I bought my first second-hand Mini, which was the car I lived with for the next seven years while I paid off my debts. When Kane and Abel was published and I was wealthy again, I bought both a new Daimler and a new Mini because I had realised what a wonderful car the Mini was.

Someone told me that you could have them hand-made, so I got in touch with Wood and Pickett who very kindly made my Mini for me to my specifications.

I must confess it is great fun having a one-off car. When you get into it there is a glorious smell from the red leather upholstery, all the panelling is in chestnut wood, it has electric windows and an 1800cc engine - in fact all the things you would find in a big car. It's a crimson colour, a dignified crimson not red - my other car is blue. I have a stereo in the car, which is tuned to Radio 4. It has no stripes or motifs - good heavens no, my Mini doesn't need that. I feel very lucky to have it. Indeed, I was at a traffic light the other day when someone rushed out of a restaurant and said: "Where can I get one of those?"

Usually my driver takes the Daimler home at night and leaves the Mini for me, parked in the House of Lords car park. This means that Mary and I can go to the theatre, dinner, we can park outside on a sixpence and walk straight in and out. Last night, for example, we went to the Poussin exhibition and then on to dinner, parking outside both places with no difficulty at all, whereas large cars were searching for parking places for ages.

Luckily I have never been clamped or towed away, although I think that the clamp would be bigger than the car. Taxi-drivers tease me like hell, they tend to stop me and say: "Fallen on hard times have you, Guv?" But sometimes I get my driver to drive me to an official function in the Mini.

This means that either people see the chauffeur standing outside the Mini waiting to meet me, or people are busy saying, "This Mini is in the way, get rid of it, can't you see that there's a Rolls-Royce behind you?" when my chauffeur hops out, runs around the car and opens the door for me. I often give people lifts in my Mini; they are a bit surprised to see it but they end up loving it.

However we had to stop using the Mini for Baker trips. We often go to the theatre with Kenneth and Mary Baker, and the first time we picked them up Kenneth grumbled, making comments about tin-openers and that sort of thing. Kenneth offended poor little Min so much he's not been allowed in it since.

Of course the Mini is now considered by the young to be out of date, but I think it will be everlasting. I'm not surprised that it's a popular raver's car because it's low to the ground, it accelerates, and it has a real sense of speed - even at 30 it feels fast. I intend to go on having Minis in London for ever.

Interview by Katie Sampson

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