By Lauren Ferrone
Published: Tuesday, November 2, 2021
There are 130 known classic Bean cars left in the world. Among those is reportedly the oldest Bean 14 – a vintage beauty parked right here in 91-year-old Jim Thompson’s garage in Glenalta.
Jim Thompson’s jaw hit the ground when he first laid eyes on the “funny old car” – and not in a good way.
“It was nothing like a car. It was an engine on two wheels,” Jim laughs, reminiscing about his first encounter with the 1923 Bean 14 nearly 40 years ago.
Despite Jim’s initial shock at the mangled metal in front of him, he handed over $100 and loaded it onto his trailer.
Many people who saw my wife Margaret shopping the next day in Blackwood had seen the trailer and asked if we were going to the dump with a load of rubbish.
The odd bits and bobs sat in his driveway for about three months before he decided to embark on a mission to re-build the Bean.
Unbeknown to Jim at the time, his beloved vintage car would later become the oldest Bean 14 in the world, according to the UK’s Bean Car Club.
Confessing he “didn’t know the first thing about cars,” Jim got to work buying a few tools and enrolling in night school to learn how to use them.
For the next seven years Jim researched the Bean and tinkered away in the garage, piecing together different parts like a jigsaw puzzle.
He learnt that the Bean 14 was the second model to be manufactured by A.Harper Sons & Bean Ltd. in 1923.
Originally powered by a 13.9-horsepower engine and fitted with a four-speed gearbox, the first Bean to hit the road was timid.
By the time Jim was done in the garage, his Bean could reach speeds of up to 80km/h. It did, however, take a lot of hard work and long hours to get it up to speed.
“I was lucky to pick up a copy of the original Bean 14 parts manual,” Jim says. “What a great find that was.”
Jim installed electric windscreen wipers to replace hand-operated ones, hunted down spark plugs at a swap meet and built the car’s engine and steering wheel from loose parts.
While Jim’s Bean may look a pretty picture today – worth an estimated $25,000 – it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride to the finish line.
The first time I drove it was at the Bay to Birdwood in 1988. It turned out that we had to get RAA to bring it home as the radiator leaked.
His fondest memory behind the wheel of the Bean is driving his daughter to church on her wedding day in 1990.
From cherished moments like these to long nights wondering if it’d be easier to throw in the spanner, one thing has always been certain: it may not have been love at first sight, but one man’s trash sure did turn into another man’s treasure.