Blog : Snow fun… or ’sno fun?

Prendergast Sweedlepipe gives it both barrels at snow drivers, and recounts how he got out and honed his skills whenever things got bad out there…

Mini in the snow – what fun!

Keith’s blog about Britain being frightened of snow struck a chord with me. Time was when I used to go out in snow just for the fun of it. An empty snow-covered car park was just the place to practice at being Paddy Hopkirk, with handbrake turns and reverse flicks. If anyone objected, you could always claim that it was safety training, enabling you to gain the skills to control skids and get out of dangerous situations.

Which was true. Not enough people, even in those pre-ABS days, knew how to respond to skids, and it’s much worse today because we’ve had so many years of mild winters. We have two generations of drivers who just don’t understand the need to feel carefully for traction and steering, with or without electronic assistance.

Back in the late 1960s, I once ran a Zodiac Mk III – not noted for its traction in snow, though a paving slab or two in the vast boot seemed to help. I shared a cottage high on the Lickey Hills with a fellow student from Aston University. One morning, we found ourselves well marooned in six inches of snow, but decided to have a go at getting into Aston as a challenge, if nothing else.

Exploiting a Zodiac

The Zodiac had a phenomenal heating and demisting system (probably one of the most powerful ever fitted to any UK-built car before or since) and had de-iced all its windows within minutes of starting up, even before the choke (remember those?) could be dispensed with. But it simply couldn’t find the traction to start off up the hill that the cottage was on.

The only option was to go to the bottom of the hill and up another hill, turn round and storm it, using momentum to get up the difficult bits. We decided to try this – and, if we got stuck at this early stage, we’d just take the day off. However, it worked a treat, great tail-wagging fun, and we got to the main road.

Thereafter, we found that we could pretty well keep going everywhere, except where someone else had got stuck, blocking the road. So, many, many times, we had to turn round and try another route. A journey that normally took an hour, creeping in normal Birmingham traffic, took us two and half hours, but we felt some sense of achievement in actually reaching our destination, where, unusually, there were plenty of parking spaces! Of course, hardly anyone else had made it, so the odd few lecturers who were in decided to shut the University for the day anyway.

Mini triumphs over the elements

Another triumph over the elements that I’m proud of was one Friday evening when I’d gone to a pub with two mates in a Mini. The pub was at the bottom of a valley with steep hills either side. While we were in there, a blizzard blew up, and, in common with everyone else trying to leave the pub, we found that there wasn’t enough traction to go up either hill.

Since the road was, perforce, empty, we tried a different approach – going up backwards. This way round, the Mini was as good as any VW Beetle, and we got to the top of the hill just fine, turned the Mini around and went home facing the normal way from there.

This is always an option with one of today’s front-drive cars, except that rear vision in most modern cars (unlike the dear old Mini) is pretty abysmal, so driving any distance in reverse is hairy.

Keith Adams
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  1. I agree with your point about the view out of modern cars. Try the Peugeot 207 SW (I don’t have one of these but I went in one recently.)
    Rear view is like looking through a telescope.

  2. I call modern car’s windows ‘letter box’ windows… awful design, Im sure accidents are caused by them, in some cars I can hardly see anything out them!

  3. The comment on rear view reminds me of going out with my brother in his Simca 1300 on a muggy Scottish day. It stalled near the top of a hill, so Rick tried to bump start it in reverse. The rear window was large, but misted up (1966 car – no HRW); so we ended up on a grass verge. The battery was so flat it would barely turn the engine over, and slowly, but surely, the car slid down the verge until it was solidly lodged in a ditch. Tea was on the table 5 miles away, I lay down on the bench seat with my slippers against the passenger door, and the dog sat on my legs, whimpering. I knew just how he felt. Rick walked to the nearest farm – no-one home. At the second farm, he found a farmer with a tractor and a suitably hefty towing chain. The look on the farmer’s face when he found us was priceless.

  4. I taught myself to drive in the snow in the mid-1990s using the time-honoured snow-bound/deserted car park trick, standing me in good stead this winter 🙂

  5. oooooh its still going on these days!

    This is my Mini, my first car, playing (I mean practicing) in the snow over the last few weeks.

    And this is me and my Mini on one of the highest roads in England (on my way home from work and also a bit of practice and fun) talking to the Police and the snowplough driver about how people cant drive in the snow these days. You can just see some larger, modern cars marooned behind the tractor.

    The police were amazed at me and my preparedness with snow tyres (I work in a remote area, they come in handy and are actually cheaper than normal tyres!) and a specially shortened shovel in the boot. The snow was blowing around so the man with the plough was more than happy to lead me though the drifts once I’d convinced him it was up to the job!

    I just had time to grab this photo:

    Oh and i’ve just remembered. When the snow was really coming down the other week I went off to the usually packed pub quiz (this is in Consett, Co Durham so about 300m up and notorious for snow) and found it almost empty. The only cars to enter or leave the car park that night were a Range Rover and my 48 year old Mini. I dont fear the snow!

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