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Mini Cooper

Published: 7th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper

Buyer Beware

  • The Mini body may be small, but that also means every panel is vital. Unfortunately they also rust readily, and need to be checked carefully.
  • Inner and outer sills rust quickly. Replacement panels are cheap, but fitting them can be skilled and pricey.
  • Noises emanating from the rear subframe can be the result of rust or wear. Check particularly the floor beneath the rear seat, which takes the stress of the rear subframe and can be weakened/bodged as a result.
  • The central crossmember rusts from the outer edges inwards, and its condition is vital for the shell’s rigidity.
  • The A-panel ahead of the doors is a common rot spot, but by the time you see any sign of this, the structure below will be well shot.
  • The rear quarters are cheap to buy, but expensive to fit. Doorskins and bootlids are usually cheaper to replace than to repair properly. Roof gutters can rust behind shiny trim if this is fitted, and are very difficult to replace but de-seaming was a good old boy racer trick!.
  • Rust below the windscreen rubber is always worse than it looks (especially on 1990s Minis), water in the front footwells may mean the inner scuttle panel is holed and the bottom of the side rear window openings often rusts away unseen.
  • Original Cooper, Riley and Wolseley trim can be very hard to find. Other stuff is more readily available, but there were a huge number of variations produced over the years so originality may prove a bind to preserve.
  • Clicking form the front wheels on lock means that the CV joints need renewing, more of a bargaining point than anything to get worried about.
  • Engines are durable and cheap to repair (except some Cooper variants). Timing chain rattle is common, as are oil leaks, smoking and noisy tappets/camshafts.
  • If the engine pops and bangs on the overrun, suspect a burnt exhaust valve. If the exhaust manifold is leaking, often the cause is a worn engine stabiliser, allowing the engine to rock - and fracture the manifold.
  • Transmissions aren’t quiet even when new, but whining is usually down to worn bearings.
  • Leaking driveshafts could be caused by worn seals, but they in turn might have been destroyed because the driveshaft bushes themselves are worn.

Fast Facts

  • Driving: 5/5

    More smiles per mile than anything around. Frugal with it

  • Usability: 4/5

    Still one of the most practical runabouts - for urban use

  • Maintaining: 4/5

    Only awkward engine space robs car of five stars

  • Owning: 5/5

    These cars can cost literally pennies if you shop around

  • Value: 3/5

    Bargain Minis are bangers - you need to spend to get good one

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Indisputably one of the most important designs of last century, the good old Mini is still just about the most fun you can have on four wheels reckons Simon Goldsworthy

There have been some pretty durable designs in the history of car production, and throughout that history it has been the basic ones that have proved the most long-lived. Think Model T Ford, Volkswagen Beetle, Citroen 2CV - all were created to provide cheap transport to mobilise the masses and excitement was not on the original spec sheet. To that list, you could also add our very own Mini, designed at the instigation of BMC’s Leonard Lord to drive the rash of bubble cars off Britain’s road in the wake of the 1956 Suez crisis and lasting in production right through to the 21st century. The product of Alec Issigonis’ fertile mind, fun was never a part of the Mini’s design brief either. All Issigonis wanted to provide was proper four-seat comfort in the smallest possible road space. To do this, he famously turned BMC’s A-Series engine sideways and put its gearbox underneath in the sump to save room. He also shrank the wheels to an unheard of 10in diameter, and used a rubber suspension system designed by his buddy Dr Alex Moulton to save both weight and space. The rest, as they say, is history. After a shaky start in the marketplace thanks to the British public’s dogged conservatism, the Mini was adopted by the great and the good of London’s high society and became the ultimate fashion accessory. It also turned out to be a natural born racer, sticking to both road and track with astonishing tenacity and delighting the world with its giant-killing exploits. By the time the competition had finally caught up with the Mini a decade or two later, the buying public had warmed to the cheeky chappie so much that they saw off several attempts to kill it off, even helping the Mini to outlast the Austin Metro that was supposed to replace it.

Which model to buy?

This could be perhaps your biggest dilemma. Although there is no such thing as a duff model, there is a huge variety in what is basically the same shape. Even leaving aside the luxurious and booted Wolseley and Riley versions and the stripped out oddball Moke, you can choose between saloon, estate, pick-up, van and convertible. For most people, the saloon is the classic Mini shape, but even there you have choices to make. The most expensive options will always be the original Coopers and the S, for which you will have to pay a huge premium. A cheaper option is to buy one of the lesser variants and add your own tuning gear - there is no shortage of either go-faster gear or modified cars on the market and gains can be had cheaply even starting with an 848cc engine, although genuine period tuning gear from legendary names such as Broadspeed, Downton and Janspeed will still cost you dear. As with any car that enjoys a long production run, later cars had more goodies as standard; stuff like an alternator from 1973, inertia reel seatbelts (1974) and a heated rear screen from 1976 on some models (not until 1982 on the City E). There are anomalies though, such as base models that retained the classic (and basic) dash while special editions, the Clubman and Mini 1000HL move the clocks to more conventional position in front of the driver. Don’t forget that few Minis have remained unmodified, so go shopping with an open mind.

Behind the wheel?

Issigonis built in road holding and stability at the design stage”

Issigonis built in great roadholding and stability at the design stage to make his Mini safe, but that also means they are tremendous fun to drive. The chassis can even take phenomenal amounts of tuning and still stick to the road. The steering rack is derived from the Minor, which is a great pedigree. In the Mini, it is so light that you may not appreciate just how precise it actually is. The original rubber suspension can give something of a choppy ride, an inevitable consequence of the car’s low weight and compact dimensions. Hydrolastic cars might be a little more comfortable, but the handling is not generally reckoned to be quite as immaculate as the dry cars and they tend to pitch as you step on and off the power. With independent suspension all round, the cars can soak up bumps well given their size. Cornering hard, it’s best to keep on the power, but lifting off only causes the nose to turn in a little more. Cars on 10in wheels are more likely to follow road irregularities than their bigger-wheeled cousins, but they are generally reckoned to handle better overall.Early Minis are not particularly fast, but they do feel quick due to low ride height, noise, low gearing and those gutsy A-Series engines which really do possess remarkable low speed pull. Automatics are also surprisingly nippy thanks to the use of four ratios (if all are still working that is), and are very well suited to city driving. Travellers are heavier, and noticeably slower than saloons but still good fun.

The Daily Option?

If you like your Mini and enjoy driving, it can handle the daily grind with ease

If you like your Mini and enjoy driving it, then it can handle the daily grind with ease. The earliest Minis were basic in the extreme, which helps to give them an amazing amount of interior space given the modest exterior dimensions. The upright steering column may be strange at first, but it is also easy to get used to and, even on the more comfortable and luxurious (in Mini terms) later cars, you’ll be able to get reasonably comfortable even if you are tall or well-built. There’s ample room to take three mates along too, although not much luggage space. The bootlid is designed to double up as a luggage rack when left open, but carrying too much weight ruins the handling (especially in Hydrolastic cars which then adopt a very tail-heavy attitude). It quickly knocks performance and adds more body roll too, and you are best advised to change the tyre pressures to suit dramatic shifts in carried weight. Vans and Travellers are amazingly practical; the latter makes a very useful family classic that ideal for school run and supermarket sweep. The visibility is excellent all round, particularly compared to other cars of similar vintage, although the central speedo location can be partially obscured by the steering wheel and switchgear can be difficult to reach. Refinement is not high on any of the models, so you can expect a lot of noise and harshness as part of the package, particularly on more basic, older specs.

Ease of Ownership?

The Mini is a genuinely compact car, which means that it is easy to store, easy to park and doesn’t take up too much room if restoration is your game. But this very compactness does mean that very most jobs are a bit of a fiddle, and a surprising number are easier with two people (one working from above and another from below) because access is so tight. The mechanical components are generally straightforward once you have made room to reach them, although there are inevitably one or two little quirks (such as the frail two inch bypass hose that can be temporarily replaced with a concertina item, but needs the radiator removed and the water pump to come off for a permanent fix) . Don’t forget, though, that the Mini is a 1950s design and neglecting the maintenance is not an option. Drum brakes need regular adjustment, there are grease nipples at both ends and you need to be generous with the anti-rust wax. The engine oil has a lot of work to do in keeping both the gearbox and the differential running sweetly as well, so 3000-mile changes are better than 6000 mile ones. On the other hand, spares remain very cheap, particularly if you shop around to get the best mix of quality and price.



Cars are built in volume from June to build up stocks prior to its launch on 26 August, 1959 as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. By the end of the year, the Mini chalked up its first class win (at Snetterton).


Half-timbered Austin Mini Countryman and Morris Mini Traveller arrive, as does the van on a four inch longer floorpan.


Mini Cooper goes on sale in both Austin and Morris guises, each one sold earning John Cooper a £2 royalty. Upmarket and booted Wolseley Hornet/Riley Elf duo are introduced, as is Mini Super (most of the Cooper's extras but without the power) plus a novel pick-up.


Cooper S is launched with 970cc race engine and 1071cc 70bhp in road trim. Elf and Hornet now get 998cc to cope with extra weight.


Saloons are changed to Hydrolastic ‘wet’ suspension. 1275cc Cooper arrives which soon becomes mainstay unit.


The millionth Mini is produced. New automatic gearbox is unveiled in May, but not ready for two years. All versions get key start and better 1.5in wide brakes


Mini MkII has larger rear screen, better trim, bigger rear lights and a 998cc Super DeLuxe variant of the saloon and estate. All get winding windows and concealed hinges. Cooper gains an all-synchro ‘box.


Elf, Hornet,Traveller, Countryman discontinued, Mini 1000 replaces the Super DeLuxe. All-synchro gearbox is standardised. Snub-nose Clubman intended to replace the original shape, with a mild 1275cc version that sees off the Cooper. The two millionth Mini is produced.


All cars switch back to the original dry cone suspension set up in June. Production peaks at 318,000 units.


Inflation pushes the cost of a new Mini to over £1000 for first time. The start of numerous limited edition runs helps keep consumer interest alive.


12inch wheels with low profile tyres solve clearance problems and make room for front disc brakes across the range (they had first appeared on the 1275GT in 1974).


The Cooper reappears as a kit, becoming an official model the following year when a limited run of RSP Mini Coopers (Rover Special Projects) tests the water for a despecced version in 1991.


The last Mini is built in October after a grand total of 5,387,862 cars with the last car driven off the Longbridge line by 60s star Lulu.

We Reckon...

After an incredible production run of 41 years, the Mini remains that rarity in classic circles: a car that makes total financial sense to buy and yet still delivers more smiles per mile than a pair of rocket propelled roller skates. Yes, you really can have your cake and eat it in a Mini - classic or modern.

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