A model has told how she cheated death by FOUR seconds when her Mini Cooper exploded in a fireball.
Antonia Knowles, 23, was driving home from a shopping trip when the car started making a strange ‘clunking’ sound.
She stopped and called a garage who agreed to look at it but on the way there thick black smoke and flames started billowing from the engine.
Terrified Antonia – who regularly carried three children she babysat in the car – pulled to the side of the road and leapt out and then watched in horror as it burst into flames.
The fire completely destroyed the 10 year-old Mini and left nothing but a burnt-out shell.
Teachers at a nearby nursery school raised the alarm and two fire engines rushed to the scene in Burnham, Bucks.
It took more than an hour to put out the flames and the road was closed for four days because the car had completely melted into the tarmac.
Antonia – who famously got sloshed on a live Celebrity Big Brother show earlier this year – said a fireman and police told her the blaze was probably caused by an electrical fault.
Antonia, of Ascot, Berks., a physiotherapist, said: “I was driving to the garage when smoke started appearing.
“It was grey at first so I carried on driving, thinking it must just be steam.
“But then I saw flames coming out of the bonnet as I was driving and a warning light flashed up on the dashboard.
“It took me ten seconds or so to pull over – it was the longest ten seconds of my life. It was horrendous.
“I got out of the car and just as I put my foot on the pavement it blew. The whole car literally burst into flames.
“At first it was flames coming out of the top bit but within seconds the whole car was in flames.
“The flames grew and grew and all of the glass smashed out of the windows. It was terrifying.
“I could feel the heat all over me. I was covered in ash and I stank of smoke.
“I felt so sick. I babysit for three kids and I was just thinking that if they had been in the back of the car they would have died.
“One minute I was driving and using my hands-free talking to my friend and the next minute the car was up in flames.
“The only thing in the whole car that survived was my Mulberry handbag which was in the boot.”
Antonia said she bought the black 1.6 model for just under #10,000 in 2011 – but was offered #4,000 compensation by Mini Cooper.
She added: “I would have kept that car for years had it not exploded.
“Instead, I had to pay out #2,000 out of my own pocket for a new car because I didn’t feel safe getting another Mini.
“The worst thing of all is that no real apology has been made by Mini, nor have they tried to fix the problem. Their customer service has been disgusting and inhumane.
“They literally only paid me for the car. There was no remorse at all.
“What if I had passengers and they couldn’t get out? What if I hadn’t got out? The story could have had a very different ending.”
In 2012 BMW recalled 30,000 Mini Coopers made between 2006 and 2011 after reports of fires due to an electrical fault with the water pumps.
The manufacturer reassured customers they could keep driving the cars even if the recall work had not been carried out, due to a very low chance of failure.
According to BMW only one incident of fire had been recorded in the UK.
The company said they were unable to conduct an investigation into Antonia’s fire as no forensic evidence was supplied by her insurance company.
A spokesman said: “In light of no forensic evidence from Ms Knowles’ insurance company or further information about the events leading up to this incident, it is not possible for MINI UK to conduct a technical investigation.”
Antonia added: “I was told by fireman at the scene, the police and the recovery that it was an electrical fault that caused the problem.
“I do not know why the insurance has not informed Mini that this was the case.
“My car had a full MOT, full service history and no warning lights came on prior to the event therefore this was a technical fault from Mini which needs to be addressed
“I nearly lost my life and there could have been three young lives lost too.”