A doting grandfather has been killed on a dream ‘The Italian Job’ Mini car rally abroad – a 1600-mile adventure he dedicated to his late wife. Former Longbridge worker Keith Martin died when his classic 40-year-old Rover P5B Coupe (above) was struck by two lorries on a main highway linking Modena with Reggio Emilia in northern Italy.
And only fate prevented his 19-year-old granddaughter Coral Bruton perishing in Monday morning’s horrific accident, Keith’s heartbroken daughter insists. On the very day of the tragedy, Coral, who had driven to the rally with her grandfather, decided to switch vehicles and travel home to Redditch with her parents.
It was a decision that saved the teenager’s life. Last night, the 75-year-old victim’s family, who returned to the UK on Wednesday, were still struggling to come to terms with the horrors that followed last week’s International Mini Meeting, an annual global gathering for owners of the iconic, Solihull-built 1960s vehicle.
Daughter Angela Martin said ‘The only comfort we have is that dad died doing something he loved in a place where he felt close to my mother. My dad drove for 58 years and never had an accident. The last thing we thought was that he would die in a car crash. He was so careful. He did everything right. He never went above speed limits.’
It was only the second IMM gathering the family had attended. Their first was in Birmingham. The famed Mugello Circuit near Florence, last week played host at the event, which attracts 3000 Mini drivers. Organisers made the most of the Latin link by giving the rally an ‘Italian Job’ twist, with the iconic 1969 Michael Caine movie providing the running theme. The chosen slogan for this year’s gathering was: ‘The Perfect Italian Job.’
For the motoring-mad Martin family, the dream break that took 12 months to put together turned into their worst nightmare. Keith tagged along in his pristine P5 – catching a Friday morning ferry from Dover with Coral – because he wanted to re-trace the roadtrip made across the Alps with wife Anthea in 1972. She died 23 years ago. It was their happiest break capped by romantic nights in Venice.
Two days later he was joined on the trek by 38-year-old Angela at the wheel of a camper van, husband Keith Rolinson driving a Mini pickup with brother Ron and the couple’s other children, Declan, aged 13, and Ayla, eight. Keith’s lifelong friend, Ray Whitehouse, also signed up to the petrol pilgrimage, making the marathon in a Volvo Estate.
The party met up at a campsite near Berne, Switzerland on Sunday, 5 May before gathering at Mugello a week last Thursday. The accident happened on Monday less than an hour after the party had cleared their campsite and were driving home. Despite being only 30 miles from the crash scene, Angela was only given the tragic bombshell news via the British Consulate, which were handed the dead man’s passport.
‘When they told me, I was just numb,’ said Angela, who shared her home with dad. ‘It did not sink in. It has been a nightmare. The language barrier was the biggest problem. You can’t ask for directions, you are distraught. We were told to attend a police station, but we didn’t know where or when. The Italians who could speak English were very helpful, but were few and far between.
‘Having to identify the body was terrible. Having to leave dad in Italy tore me apart.’
Angela’s husband, Keith Rolinson, aged 42, said: ‘We found out later we could get a temporary death certificate from a coroner instead of waiting for five days. Thankfully, we all had very good travel insurance because we’ve had to pay for hotels, the flight home and the fee for having the vehicle scrapped.’
The simple fact that Keith – who served as an engine tester at Longbridge for 30 years – had the time of his life at the IMM Rally provides a crumb of comfort for the family. ‘He loved all the attention the car got,’ said Angela. ‘It was his pride and joy. He bought it six years ago and took it to a lot of meetings. He bought it for £6,000 but, with all the work he carried out, it was worth £10,000.’
And she’s been boosted by news from Italian authorities that her dad was not to blame for the terrible accident, which crushed the Rover beyond recognition. It was shunted from behind by an HGV then struck on the driver’s side by another lorry as it slewed into the middle lane before coming to rest in the central reservation. Keith was pronounced dead at the scene.
‘You always worry about elderly drivers at the wheel,’ admitted Angela. ‘But dad was in the slow lane in a classic car, slammed on the brakes…’ She bit her lip before adding: ‘He didn’t stand a chance.’
The tragedy has hit Keith’s pal Ray and granddaughter Coral particularly hard. ‘We phoned Ray in Switzerland,’ Angela winced. ‘He drove home in a daze. Coral keeps on saying she should have been in the car and blames herself. But I’m a great believer in fate. There is a reason Coral wasn’t in that vehicle. There is a reason we were only 30 miles from the scene. We could have been anywhere.’
‘Dad was stubborn,’ smiled Angela. ‘One of those stubborn old men, but he’d do anything for you – and he loved his grandkids, adored them.’ Her husband added: ‘In life, there are people who are given a job, spend an hour scanning the instructions and five hours trying to do it. Then they do it wrong. Then there are those who spend five hours going through every detail of the instructions and an hour doing the job – and the job’s perfect. My father-in-law was the latter.’
The Martins are well-known in motor club circles with both Angela and husband Keith being former members of the Redditch Mini Owners’ Club. Keith’s Rover took centre stage at many classic car meetings.
A club spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts are with Keith’s family following this terrible tragedy.’
He is survived by his daughter and his son, Derek, aged 39, and eight grandchildren.