In 1980s Queensland, you could only get your learner’s permit at 17, but try for your licence just six weeks later. So on my 17th birthday, I got my mum to drive me to the local police station, where I answered five questions and received my learner’s permit.
I already knew how to drive – at 12, Dad had let me take his 1960s manual Toyota Corona around the local showgrounds (until the groundsman told us to leave). However I did take a couple of lessons with a driving instructor, mainly so when I turned up for the practical test in the driving school car, the official would see I’d had some “professional” instruction.
Six weeks to the day after my 17th birthday, I got my licence (after a close call during the test, where an ambulance, with lights and sirens on, burst out at me in the middle of an intersection – I initially hesitated to stop, but thankfully hit the brakes just as the tester did the same on his set of pedals in the passenger side).
So I couldn’t wait to get my licence – and that was partly because of the car I used to walk past each morning at high school, after parking my bicycle.
It was a Suzuki Mighty Boy – a red one – that I think one of the Manual Arts teachers owned.
Suzuki was a small car specialist in the 70s and 80s, getting noticed here for its tiny but very willing 4x4s, and also offering a cheap new car to Aussie buyers: the Suzuki “Hatch”. In 1985, it began importing a small utility called the Mighty Boy, which started out as a 2+2 sports car (the Suzuki Cervo) with the back seats and back roof/hatch removed. If you look under the parcel shelf behind the 2 seats in a Mighty Boy, you’ll see the footwells in the floor, for rear passengers in the 4-seat Cervo. The Mighty Boy was a “Kei” class car in Japan – limited in size and engine capacity, to suit the streets of Tokyo.
I’d seen Mighty Boys advertised new for around $7,000 at Zupps, which was way more than I could afford – but I knew I wanted one, even if the 543cc engine – and the car – were ridiculously tiny.
8 months after getting my licence, I used my Coles paypackets to buy my first car, a yellow Toyota Corolla for $3,000 or so.. which would ultimately prove to be a bad purchase.
Over the years I kept my eye on Mighty Boys – I tried to buy one I saw driving past in the 90s, but couldn’t afford the asking price. However, thanks to the internet, eBay was now telling me when it found them – and one day in 2013 it found what became known as the Mighty Smurf:
It was up for auction – or “buy it now” for $800. This 1986 model had a blown head gasket on an exchange 800cc F8B engine, but was otherwise in reasonable condition, with a bizarre two-tone “backyard” paint job. The one thing it had that I didn’t really want, was an automatic gearbox. However, after a quick discussion with my wife, I pressed “buy it now” and set about hiring a trailer, and hiring Dad to tow it.
With the car at home, I rolled it off the trailer – and discovered the brakes didn’t work at all. I just missed another car on the driveway, and steered into the garden to come to a stop. This tiny car was already turning into a bigger project than I had anticipated.
A mechanic friend replaced the head gasket at home, to get the engine running again, but it took over a year to have the car ready for the road (it needed everything from a new driveshaft to seat vinyl repair). In early 2015, the Mighty Boy was registered, and scooting around with its 2-speed gearbox (yep, just 2 speeds) prompting a busy hum in the engine. It was low to the ground and my head was close to the roof, but it was great to steer quickly. My 1980s dream had been fulfilled.
It certainly got noticed – a friend of my daughter posted a picture of it at the local shops on Snapchat, with a comment along the lines of “OMG I’ve never seen such a tiny car!”. That prompted my daughter to let her know it was her Dad’s car.
But after a year or so, I’d had my fun and it was time to recoup some of the money I’d put into it. I advertised the car in 2016, prompting a former owner to contact me, to explain that she’d painted it blue and white to resemble an esky.
It took a year to find a buyer who’d pay the price I wanted – it was a young mechanic with plans to repaint it and give it a new engine.
I’d buy another Mighty Boy – a manual – for the right price. Look me up in another 30 years.
POSTSCRIPT: It didn’t take 30 years – about 5 years after putting the Mighty Smurf up for sale, I bought a yellow manual Mighty Boy, called Daisy.
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