Successful getaway – Care hire firm supplies Italian job minis

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For anyone who wants to blow the doors of their weekend in London these Minis are just the ticket.

The old Mini Coopers come with 60s outfits that match Michael Caine’s from the cult classic The Italian Job, as well as a bar of ‘gold’ hidden in the boot.

It’s possible to hire out the cars and live a fugitive’s life in London for the weekend.

Robert Welch accidentally stumbled on the idea when struggling to find a job in the financial crisis and taking tourists for a spin in his car.

It proved to be most lucrative money earner he had at the time so he fought to register his mini as a proper taxi.

He has since grown it into the business Small Car Big City with a fleet of 10 cars.

The foundations for the company were laid on Robert’s 17th birthday, when his car-mad dad bought gifted him a 1974 Mini.

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That car, Jules, was smallcarBigCity’s first ever car and is still part of the fleet.

Robert said: “It was a fantastic birthday present. I was the envy of all my classmates.

“I developed a real kinship with that car, and I even went to Monaco with a friend in it.

“When I moved to London for university the car obviously came with me. As I was driving it around and parking it, I noticed people kept waving and taking photos.

“I soon realised there was a deep connection between the car and London. It was a car for everybody, and so people have such fond memories of them.”

Robert originally wanted to go into finance, but having graduated at the height of the banking crisis in 2008 he struggled to get a job.

As a way to make a bit of money, he began offering tourists a spin around the city in his Mini from St Paul’s and Covent Garden.

He said: “I wouldn’t charge them, but just ask them to leave a tip afterwards if they enjoyed it.

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“I started getting about £100 per hour, and thought, ‘wow, this is really lucrative’.

“It was a lot better than trying to scrape by working at Starbucks or delivering pizza.

“I got together a couple of friends who were really interested, we scraped together for two more cars, and launched the idea from there.”

Robert says it took ‘ages’ to get the relevant permits to allow the minis to be used as taxis in the city, and ended up appealing to the mayor’s office.

He believes he hit upon the idea at the perfect time, however, as the city’s administration was desperate to help any entrepreneurs who were coming forward in the wake of the financial crash.

Small Car Big City finally received its permits and launched on the 26 August 2009, exactly 50 years after the first original minis rolled off the production line at the company’s Oxfordshire plant.

Robert said: “It was really nice to hit that milestone.

“It was a really challenge at first. I didn’t know much about what I was doing. I had to Google how to write business plans.

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“We were really fortunate that we got rave reviews with Trip Advisor when we started. It bumped us up to the third best thing to do in London and it really just took off from there.

“When we got our first bad review, which was a misunderstanding over a voucher, it pushed us back down again and I didn’t sleep for a week. It was horrible.

“But fortunately we’ve been able to keep going, which is great, because I absolutely love it.”

The Italian job theme came later, following a discussion on how to inject a little more fun into the away days they offered.

Robert said: “I was brought up with the Italian Job and it just seemed to fit.

“We needed to offer something to the London market. People who live there don’t just want to be tourists.

“So we decided they could have an Italian Job experience. You can get dressed up and go around the city, solving clues and completing challenges.

“It’s such a great laugh. Someone once told me it was the best day of their life.”

Robert is delighted that his idea, which grew out of a need to earn money, is not far off its 10th year.

Despite the cars needing regular maintenance, he says the costs are remarkably small owing to cheap spare parts, and the fact that cars are appreciating in price.

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