Sep 21, 2015
STILL FLYING AROUND THE WORLD.
It’s not easy to miss John Dorkins’ house. Two gleaming MINIs parked on a lawn in Carnegie stand out like…well two gleaming MINIs parked on a lawn in Carnegie.
Today, we chat to the British born engineer (over a cup of English breakfast of course) about his new MINI John Cooper Works and his beloved MINI Cooper S – the latter of which he’s gifted to his son, Adam in what can only be described as the greatest British hand-me-down since Kind Edward VIII abdicated his throne.
But, a weakness for British engineering isn’t the only thing that sets him apart. John Dorkins is also an ex-Royal Air Force pilot who has clocked up almost 20 years for his country. Naturally, we can’t wait to get started.
It’s not everyday we meet a pilot. Can you tell us about your Air Force days?
In about 1955-ish I went in as an electrical engineer. Then up to air traffic controlling. Then, because I’d invented a few things for them, they said we’re recommending you for pilot.
I started off in a Chipmunk, then jets, then DC-3’s. I had a couple of years left after that so I got into the Hercules so I could fly all over the world.
That’s a staggering career. When you weren’t in a cockpit what were you driving?
My first car was an Austin 7 Ruby – it cost me five shillings. Someone had brought it to a mechanic but didn’t want to pay the five-shilling to fix it. I said I’d pay for it because I was an engineer and could do the work myself.
Tell us about your MINIs?
My best friend owned one of the original MINIs when I was younger so I used to drive his a bit. I got it (MINI Cooper S) in 2005/6. I went to an auction to get some electronic bits and as a sideline they had some cars for sale. It was repossession and had only done about a 1000km. I put in my bid and got it - then I treated myself to the JCW tuning kit.
Could you notice a difference with the kit?
Oh yes, you do. With a lot of cars you put your foot down and the revs drops off. Once you’ve had the kit put in the engine goes straight up and hits red line. I think it adds a certain…je ne sais quoi.
Do any of your flying skills come out on the road?
When you start an aircraft engine it clocks up time. After every 100 hours you do a check. After every 1000 hours you do a really big check. So to save time after dropping men out of 12 or 15,000 feet I’d just pull up the nose and throttle off the engine. The propeller would keep turning so you instead of clocking up time so you could just glide down. I got so used to the aircraft I could land and freewheel up to refuelling bay without starting the engine.
(When pressed as to whether or not he uses this trick in his MINI, John declines to answer but gives us a wry smile).
Why upgrade to the new MINI John Cooper Works?
I just wanted something a little faster. And I like the concept of MINI. I’d actually say I’ve got more fun out of that than my first aircraft, the Chipmunk.
Did you notice a difference straight away?
I could answer that in few months. But, when I put my foot down I feel a difference. I’ve noticed that!
Do you work on the cars yourself?
I have in the past done just about everything. You could just undo the cylinder head and take it apart in 10 minutes. Modern cars you’re lucky to get a razor blade in. But I have replaced the brakes pads and oxygen sensor. I also put in the audio warning for approaching red line. That would be about it.
That audio warning sound interesting? Tell us about it.
When you’re driving you’re looking at the instruments. But when it hits red line the power backs off. So I went back to my flying days, when you’ve got all your instruments to indicate something’s wrong. If there’s a fire all sorts of things light up, but you also get an audio warning. So I thought why not add a little frequency switch? Now, I put my foot down when I’m “hypothetically” hooning and it goes, “beeeep” so you can change up or back off without losing throttle.
Very impressive. Any future upgrade in your sights?
If they bring out a 2.5 litre version I might think about it! But no, it’s got more than enough power for my needs.
We’ll keep you posted on that 2.5 litre. And finally, what it is about MINI that you love?
It’s just fun. It’s probably closest to the Chipmunk - you can do anything you like in it, but you can’t bend it. You can sit there and pull as many G’s as you want and you would black out first.
And as my children say: I’m senior hoon.
Interview was recorded Wednesday, September 9th.
We thank John and his family for their hospitality.