An evening at the Ace Cafe

 

Above: Minis’n’Mods evenings have quite a respectable turnout, and once you’ve checked out all the Minis there are Lambrettas and Vespas to investigate. Many are dolled up in period style with a couple of thousand mirrors. x

Above: Minis’n’Mods evenings attract quite a respectable turnout, and once you’ve checked out all the Minis there are Lambrettas and Vespas to investigate. Many are dolled up in period style with a couple of thousand mirrors.

 

Many years ago and slightly before my time, greasy blokes in black leather on hefty 650cc BSA A10s, with low and minimal clip-on handlebars and rear-set footrests, used to race from the Ace Café to the Hanger Lane roundabout and back, the idea being to complete the run before a 3-minute record on the jukebox had finished. Many of them made it.

100mph on a 2013 Triumph motorcycle is dead easy, but in the 1950s it took serious tuning and balls of steel. The brakes involved cables, drums and a mixture of delicacy and strength.

I chickened out of riding bikes after several of my friends broke bones hitting cars driven by idiots: my last bike was a minimal and nasty big BSA. I do still hold a full UK bike licence, and recently borrowed a large Kawasaki for a ride into London: it was horribly uncomfortable as I’m not built like a monkey. Quite nippy though. Top speed on a whizzy Kwacker is electronically limited to below 190mph.

I’m still tempted sometimes to the grey biker cliché, but Vancouver traffic is a hurtling, lawless shambles and I’d finish up as an organ donor before too long. It’s dangerous enough driving a Mini here, which is why I use an eighteen-foot-long, 3500lb, 1958 Chevrolet as a daily driver instead. Feel free to pull out in front of that, little Honda man.

The cure for motorcyclical temptation is to Google “youtube bike crash” for half an hour, which will inoculate you for another six months.

 

Pic Reg McKenna. The Ace Café has survived since 1938 although it hasn’t been a café continuously. Replica ton-up boys on Beezas with clip-ons still charge up and down the North Circular: you can still give it some welly once you know where the tax cameras are.

Pic Reg McKenna. The Ace Café has survived since 1938 although it hasn’t been a café continuously. Replica ton-up boys on Beezas with clip-ons still charge up and down the North Circular: you can still give it some welly once you know where the tax cameras are. Pic Reg McKenna

 

During my annual UK editor-lunching and chum-visiting tour, the two subsets of people being much the same thing, I took in a couple of good Mini events, or at any rate good events involving Minis.

An Ace Café evening was one such event: this has been enjoying a major revival of late, and is busy most evenings with club and themed events.

Minis’n’Mods is a regular event at the Ace, and well worth a visit for any Mini enthusiast.  Something like sixty or seventy Minis must have come and gone during the evening, and many of them were rare and interesting. MiniMag’s editor Jeff Ruggles drove up from Bath in his seriously nice brown Innocenti, in convoy with Alex and Susie of Minimal Motoring and Proper Job Garage fame.

For those hungry after a long drive – and in the more brutally modified of Minis, ten miles can be quite a long drive – the Ace menu is spot on. Its menu is mostly devoted to replica 1950s British food. This is proper old-fashioned greasy-spoon all-day breakfast biz, with the occasional rather limp-wristed foreign interloper such as lasagne, presumably provided for the Vespa and Lambretta owners who had spluttered up on their scooters, dressed as mods.

In proper traditional British style, the three communities represented – bikes, Minis and scooters – did not talk to each other. This is correct British car-club etiquette: if there is a MkII and a MkIII version of a car that has a club following, and two of them are parked next to reach other on a show field, a polite silence will reign.

It doesn’t work that way with Minis, though – nearly every Mini owner is sociable, interesting and flexible. There can be a division between Ministas who think originality and correctness is important, and those who regard a Mini as a blank sheet of paper on which to draw their own picture, but usually a beautifully executed example of either will win the grudging respect of the opposite camp.

There were several impressive examples of both Mini approaches at the Ace Café, so it’s recommended for a visit. Check out their website at www.ace-cafe-london.com

 

3 Fibreglass-bodied Mini Sprint, nicely executed. Gerry Hawkridge of Hawk cars started making GRP Sprint replicas in the 1990s, but had to stop when he was sued by BMW after they invaded Poland. Did I say invade Poland? I meant Rover.

Fibreglass-bodied Mini Sprint, nicely executed. Gerry Hawkridge of Hawk cars started making GRP Sprint replicas in the 1990s, but had to stop when he was sued by BMW after they invaded Poland. Did I say invade Poland? I meant annexing Rover.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Jeff Ruggles of MiniMag drove up from Bath in his cute Innocenti. Quite a drive, but a proper Minihead enjoys every minute, albeit sometimes with gritted teeth.

 

xxxxxxxxxxx

The interior of Jeff’s Inno is seriously nice. Somehow Italians are genetically incapable of being unstylish. Opening quarterlights are a feature on Australian and Italian Minis.

 

xxxxxxxxxxx

Cool and imaginative treatment of the number plates , in an Italian style. Legal Brit plates are on the back shelf, in case Jeff runs into a cop who is both knowledgeable and nasty.

3 Fibreglass-bodied Mini Sprint, nicely executed. Gerry Hawkridge of Hawk cars started making GRP Sprint replicas in the 1990s, but had to stop when he was sued by BMW after they invaded Poland. Did I say invade Poland? I meant Rover.xxxxx

Cool monochromatic period-looking paint job disguises the fact that this is a monster with a Japanese engine in the back. Opinions differ as to the propriety of such conversions, but until you’ve driven one. The resulting ear-to-ear grin is semi-permanent.

 

xxxxxxxxxx

The fuel tank goes in the front. It’s an unusual styling detail to have the fuel cap visible, but it’s practical as well as interesting, because the front “boot” and therefore the interior will be less fuel-stinky.

 

 

xxxx

Naca ducts suggest the radiator is in the back along with the engine. In that case it’s probably a bike engine . Yamaha R1 and Suzuki Hayabusa are the favourite bike engines for Minis.

 

xxxxxxxxxx

Speedwell-equipped ’65 also has Lucas tripod headlights, usually reserved for posh motors like Bentleys.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Speedwell sold uprated cylinder heads and carb sets, although they were involved with Neville Trickett’s Sprint Minis as well. Graham Hill was at one time a mechanic at Speedwell. Is the Speedwell badge on the bonnet as cool as an “S”? Way cooler, actually. BMW’s indiscriminate splattering of “Cooper S” all over their Dodge-Neon-engine fashion statements has devalued it to worthlessness.

  

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

If that rocker cover is the real thing, it’s very nice detail to have on a Mini. If the rocker cover is also bolted to a Speedwell head, so much the better.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Nice to see a Mini Miglia car on the street rather than on a trailer. It’s illegal to have race number on a car on the street because that means you’re racing. But fortunately the strip of tape safely prevents the car from racing. Phew.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Dramatic wheel arch kit neatly avoids the problem of what to do when the front edge of the door wants to foul the extended panels. A tidy-looking car.

 

xxxxxxxxxxx

Custom job tends towards the rudimentary. GT33 suggests it’s 33″ high. Somebody had a lot of fun welding that spaceframe together, and the same or another somebody is having a lot of rather draughty fun driving it.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Neat styling job in pearl yellow is nicely finished with black-and-polished Revolution four-spokes – you can’t go wrong with a set of those fitted. The car’s for sale at a reasonable 2500GBP, on 07851 425779.

 

xxxxxxxxxxxx

The owner is apparently unenthusiastic about BMW, a view that he expresses clearly and succinctly. Sadly, he has put the car up for sale, which means the wasps must already be up his arse: we didn’t hear any fresh screams during the Ace evening.

 

xxxxxxxxx

Mokes may be changing hands for silly money now, but kit-built Mokalikes aren’t – they’re still available for a few hundred quid.  This is an SMC Scout, which was also the AEM Scout, and it compares to a Moke much as an anal wasp-sting compares to an anal bee-sting: not exactly the same, but pretty close.