At the 70th and the 80th, there were not so many Mini driving on the streets of Budapest, but if somebody were on a day long sightseeing tour, 3-4 Minis were able to be seen. On the other hand, if you were nearby a garage of a Mini mechanic, the complete product line of Austin-Morris had been recognized.
But how did it happened that, the English BMC/MLMC manufactured cars arrived to the opposite side of the iron curtain? At the time, the one and only Hungarian car seller state owned company was Merkur, and as far as Hungary were the member of the COMECON, it was only possible to buy Ladas and Trabants or maybe for those who knew the „right” person a Fiat 850, or VW Beetle, but just in special cases. For those who wanted to have something different and they had relatives migrated to the western world, there were Konsumex. The state owned foreign trade company were it was possible to have everything but just for USD. You could ask it why is it so unique? Because at that time it was illegal to have USD or any other „western” foreign currency at home. So, the relatives were allowed to send one Mini from abroad, or diplomats were allowed to bring cars back home from the place they worked during they stay for years. No matter how did it happened, but today, 30 years later we would like to express our thanks to everybody who were chosen the Mini to bring home! Of course we do this now, because we drive these Minis today, for sure after at least two full restoration. As far as it was difficult to have a car like this, some Hungarian celebrities, famous sportmans, actors were driving the Minis, like the Beatles in England.
As you remember, the above mentioned Merkur were sold cars to all over the country, but if you open the old Grey registration booklet (don`t give it away it is rare to find it now days) of the little English car, for sure you will find registered addresses of the former owners just in the capital, not in the countryside. In this booklet the purchasing price is also shown. The regular price for a Mini in 1974 were 161.000 Forint, which is about 550EUR now, but at that time it was the whole salary of a young worker for approximately 200 month. I talked about the present service already, but I did not explained how did the Minis arrived to Hungary? Maybe directly form England? No! From Austria. It was easier to pay it, and bring it to the country. Mr. Eduard Symon, the chairman of Austin later Leyland von Stahl enterprise, were able to solve every upcoming problems. The author met him in Vienna at 1985, and he appeared to be a real gentleman, with perfect reputation and good connections. Later on when Honda bought the Rover, Minis appeared to be not so important anymore, but the office`s walls in the Heister and Johannes gasse and in the saloons, were still covered with Rally Mini posters for long.
The VW had an official workshop in Budapest, but the Minis and Austins or Morrises were without garage. What does a Mini owner did? Did the brought their cars to Austria? No, maybe just for the first time, but later on it was possible to do the maintenance in Budapest as well. Famous Hungarian Mini race car drivers had their own workshops and like this the cars were in good hands. The name of Kotán László, (his son is well know on the international rally cross scenes) Tóth Imre or Murányi Levnte, were well know in the neighbouring countries as well, and the Minis were completing the Škoda, and NSU race cars, and looked great in 1970, just like the tuned Minis with flip fronted highlights in the last edition of the Mini Magazine.
This running „doghouse”, and his son`s appearance on the rally cross scene, with an 1275 Clubman GT helped a lot with the acceptance of the Minis in Hungary. Anyway, if we mention the Hungarian Mini history several old rally experts raced with Mini Coopers like Béla Balzsay, János Klink, János Kesjár or the Kiss-Rugyai team. Several former Mini mechanics and garage owners are well know now days as Jaguar or Rover experts in Hungary. Mr. Imre Toth`s garage was the lost paradise for the author, the majority of his photo collection has been made there.
The books and the one and only magazine the Auto-Motor were helping to find the right way at that time to choose the vehicle of dreams. In the former Russian era, as it has been described before, just the Ladas, Wartburgs, Trabants and the old Skodas were common, and besides the few exceptions it was impossible to find any exotic cars on the streets. So we watched the books and an the tests of the few Hungarian writers, and after a while when we opened our „bible”: The Auto-types we reached the point of no return! Lets talk about the Minis of the 70th.. Since than, my club-mates are trying to keep those cars alive, and running in mint condition. My first „shoot” about the Minis were dated to 1975. „ We had spent our holliday in Eger (nice city in the heart of Hungary with beautiful hills and very good wine) with a travel voucher granted by the government and the Union, and stayed downtown in a hostel in front of the national car repair enterprise`s (the AFIT`s) garage. I have spotted from the window a super fast orange Austin Mini with Minilite rims driving around the poles in the building – the mechanics might have played there....Seeing this I decided finally that I want to be a mechanic, and it did happened! :) He said with a bit of pondering on. He is a bit confused explaining this, because he remembers a Racing Mini matchbox with the start number of 29 on it`s sides from his early childhood, so this has to be the second observation! :)
Anyway, after this started to recognize the Minis day after day. A dark blue in Eger, and later a black Cooper in Budapest, and so on. Yea after year he has visited the Budapest National Fair, and the used car market was nearby. That place was the consummation for a young student like him, because there were 3-4 minis there for sale. His old Russian camera „The Smena” were glowing due to the fast exposures. There were quite a few new MK III.`s there in red, but at that time the black body and the golden painted rims were trendy. The „Rally Sport” or Mini Cooper” stickers or the Cooper stripes were common, but if somebody wanted to be extremely „hip” he put chrome fog-lights, bamboo antennas what not a lot of people were able to afford. It is interesting that lot of Minis had alloy rims. Besides the ATS, Mille Miglia, BWA, or Cosmic products, it was possible to find Mamba`s as well, which were unique just as now days.
There were not so many tires on the market neither. The Semperit, Michelin, and Dunlop was the option for the Mini drivers in just one shop in Budapest, when a normal driver were about to dream of a new set of Stomil diagonal tires. As far as Shell was the only western fuel company, the oil what a tender driver put to his car was Shell or sometimes BP, if the foreign trades were about to buy any, on the big free market for dollar. Later on, by “Interag”, the big foreign trader state owned enterprise, it was possible to buy good quality parts and extras as well like Boge or Koni shocks, or Hella, and Raydiot fog lights.
At the end of the 80th. just after the Berlin Wall had been broken down, the market had been opened, and it was allowed to keep foreign currency at home and import cars too. At the beginning of the 90th just after the new type of license plate had been introduced, we can calculate the new age of the Hungarian Mini „world”. With private import a lot of Mayfairs from mid eighties arrived to Hungary and the new 12” rim Minis were sold in saloons as well. New garages were opened and there were several new companies selling parts too. The Hungarian Mini Club found two good and reliable partners the AMERO-R Ltd. and Bárdi Autó Ltd. As the time passed more and more owners decided to refurbish their Minis, and try to keep it in mint condition for the future. After 16 years of Mini driving the complete restoration would be the target, because the time will come soon when a classic mini will be unique.
And one more thing! The Mini is an oldtimer, so keep it original! No matter what you plan, the end will be this!
Translated: Gabor Varga `Gojo`