The Little Mouse that screamed

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I’m very excited to finally be able to share this work as it’s my first shoot for Street Machine, a magazine I’ve read since I was a student, longer ago than I’d care to remember. I’d never have guessed way back then that someday my images would grace the pages of one of my favourite mags.

And just to top things off, the shoot also made the cover of the magazine. To say I’m chuffed doesn’t even come close.

The photoshoot took place last September, which wasn’t actually all that long ago but, given the events of the last few months, feels like a lifetime. As the car is based fairly close to me in the West Midlands, I spent a few lunchtimes pounding the pavements of Birmingham city centre looking for the ideal backdrop. I narrowed it down to a few thematically different locations within a few blocks of each other to give me a few options on the day.

In the end, we only used the location you see in these shots, as the juxtaposition between the cutesy little car and the urban backdrop seemed to perfectly mirror the car and its split personality.

To the untrained eye, the car may look like just another beautifully restored old-timer, but look a little deeper and there are a few hints to suggest things may not be quite as they appear. That pearlescent red obviously-not-a-pre-war-factory-colour paint is the most obvious clue, as is the subtle nose-down stance. And, should you ever come across the car in the metal, the noise would – rather loudly – give the game away.

Because this 1937 Fiat Topolino – translation: ‘little mouse’ – is a proper sleeper. Implausibly crammed into that teensy-weensy engine bay is a 2-litre Zetec engine pilfered from a Ford Mondeo. And, as if that isn’t enough lunacy, it runs Kawasaki ZXR motorbike carbs because, well, why not. When the loud pedal is buried on this little pocket rocket, it screams like a pissed-off banshee.

The upshot of 180bhp in something that weighs about the same as a moccasin (and is roughly the same size) is that it’s an absolute riot on the road. As I can fully attest after a ‘spirited’ passenger ride around the centre of Brum, where the owner tried to separate me from my breakfast. This is, without question, one of the most entertaining cars I’ve ever almost thrown up in.

Anyway, back to the shoot. As we were using the bustling city centre as our set, it was vital to beat the commuters and shoppers into town. I rolled up at our pre-agreed location nice and early for one last pre-shoot recce, only to find the car and its owner sat eagerly ready and waiting. As it was still only just turned 7am, we were able to make the most of the golden early morning sunlight and get a head start on the hordes.

And it’s lucky we did, as we were joined halfway through the shoot by the owner of a showroom-fresh and flamboyantly-spoilered Honda Civic, photographer in tow, with precisely the same intentions as us. Despite being from the opposite end of the petrolhead spectrum, they were pretty smitten with the Little Mouse and stopped, awestruck, to find out more before moving off to find another location.

Now I come to I think of it, a drag race between the two cars would have made very interesting viewing, but would probably have led to one seriously flustered Civic owner digging out his receipt.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’m really pleased with the end result of this shoot. Street Machine has a very different visual style to most other car mags, so it’s been fascinating to see how my images have been used to tell the little Fiat’s story.

While a large majority of my photography centres around cars of a certain age – generally pre-war or thereabouts – it was great fun to shoot something that adds a unique and very contemporary spin on the vintage aesthetic. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of my journey documenting street machines, hot rods and custom cars, because I’ve kind of taken a liking to it.

Maybe next time, I’ll skip breakfast though.


Lockdown schmockdown – you can get this issue of Street Machine delivered direct to your door via the Street Machine website. If you prefer, you can grab yourself a digital copy here.

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