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Small Wonder Published: 5th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any original Cooper
  • Worst model: Basic 1970s/1980s cars
  • Budget buy: Basic 1970s/1980s cars
  • OK for unleaded?: No, apart from post-1992 cars
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): 3050mm x 1400mm
  • Spares situation: Virtually unrivalled
  • DIY ease?: No problem
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Only the rarities
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Good buy
Mini style lasted up to 2000 and although earlier cars are more 'classic' later ones more refi ned Mini style lasted up to 2000 and although earlier cars are more 'classic' later ones more refi ned
Later cars wore fuel injection and cats but A-Series as lusty as ever. Dead easy to maintain, repair and tweak Later cars wore fuel injection and cats but A-Series as lusty as ever. Dead easy to maintain, repair and tweak
Naturally the Mini still makes a fi ne classic race/rally machine that's competitive and inexpensive. Naturally the Mini still makes a fi ne classic race/rally machine that's competitive and inexpensive.
Clubman style not so popular; 1275 GTs fun though Clubman style not so popular; 1275 GTs fun though
Pick-ups are becoming coveted but are rare these days Pick-ups are becoming coveted but are rare these days
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Almost half a century since its launch, a Mini is as much fun and makes as much sense as it ever did but now as a classic buy

Pros & Cons

Fun to drive, cheap to buy and run, easy to tune, surprisingly spacious
Rots very badly, original cars scarce, especially poor crash protection

Affordable, versatile and fun to drive, no car erases class boundaries like the original Mini, which celebrates its 50th birthday next year. From the most basic late 1-litre car to the highly sought-after original Cooper editions, the Mini makes an unbeatable classic buy, thanks to the driving experience, the virtually unrivalled parts and club support – and of course the vibrant social scene. There’s also a huge array of models from which to choose; early 850cc editions are hard work, but Mokes are great fun, Coopers are still more agile than many more modern cars and you can also choose from various estate derivatives that offer practicality with style – although the woodies are now getting very costly in really good condition. However, buy a good example of the Issionis wonder and you’ll wonder how you ever managed without one.


Launched as the classic two-box saloon on 26 August 1959, the Austin Se7en and Morris Mini-Minor were powered by 848cc engines. Within six months a van was available and a year later the pick up hit the streets. In the meantime the Countryman and Traveller estates had been released and in July 1961 the fi rst Coopers went on sale. Three months later the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet appeared, then in January 1963 the 997cc engine seen in the Elf, Hornet and Cooper was replaced with a 998cc version. In March of that year the Cooper S arrived, with a 1071cc powerplant. This was replaced in March 1964 by the 1275cc Cooper S although the option of a 970cc version was introduced at the same time – but this was discontinued just 10 months later. 1964 saw the arrival of the Mini-Moke (which survived until October 1968) and the introduction of the MkII Mini was in October 1967. This meant larger rear windows and lights and the adoption of the lustier 998cc engine for Super De Luxe and estate models. It also meant the demise of the standard Cooper, although the (MkIII) Cooper S soldiered on until 1971.

In 1969 the Elf and Hornet bit the dust along with the Countryman and Traveller. In October of that year the Clubman and 1275GT went on sale complete with squarer nose, better trim, wind-up windows and concealed door hinges. The latter two modifi cations were standardised on the new MkIII Standard 850 and 1000 at the same time. The Morris and Austin badges also disappeared – from now on Mini was marketed as a marque in its own right. Production continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, although the competition increased all the time as one supermini after another was launched. The 1990s saw a mass of special editions, the re-introduction of the Cooper (in July 1990) and a cabriolet was unveiled in February 1991. Then on 4th October 2000 the fi nal car rolled off the line, after 5,387,862 had been built.


As long as you don’t crash it, you’ll love every minute behind the wheel of a Mini. You won’t fare very well in the event of a prang, but keep on the Tarmac and you’ll have a grin from ear to ear once you give the Mini its head. Thanks to the weight (or lack of it), the sort of agility you fi nd in a Mini is hard to fi nd anywhere else – especially with the frugality also on offer. In standard form your neck won’t be threatened by the available acceleration, but with a massive number of tuning options available from an equally huge number of specialists, the potential is endless for far stronger performance than standard.


You’re spoiled for choice here, because Minis have been modifi ed in every way imaginable since the car made its debut. While bucket seats, rolls cages and extra gauges are popular with many owners, there are plenty of more useful changes you can make, aimed at increasing usability, reliability and performance rather than simply personalising for the sake of it. Engines that are larger and/or tuned are the obvious first step, but a cheap way of gaining horses is to fi t a 1.3-litre Metro powerplant; a taller fi nal drive ratio will also enable you to exploit the extra power while also increasing long-distance refi nement. Other useful mods include heavy-duty engine steady rubbers, an uprated radiator and a more freefl owing exhaust system, along with stiffer shock absorbers – focus on the fronts fi rst if money is tight. Also think about fi tting discs at the front if there are stil drums installed – but you’ll need to fi t larger wheels in the process, along with a fresh master cylinder from a disc-equipped car.


You won’t have to look far to fi nd a free project car, although it’ll be a tatty (or rotten) saloon with nothing especially interesting under the bonnet. Rotten Coopers and Travellers will always have a price tag atached – and in the case of the former it’ll be into four fi gures. The most costly Mini is a truly exceptional Cooper 1275S, which can fetch up to £15,000 – but it has to be seriously impressive to command this much. Also valuable are all other Cooper models, while the Countryman and Traveller estates are also highly sought after; mint ones can just about get into fi ve fi gures. If your budget is more modest, usable Coopers start at around £5000 while a decent Cooper S costs upwards of £6500. However, for just a grand you can pick up a roadworthy 1-litre saloon, while decent standard early cars (848cc) are closer to £2,000. If a Moke tickles your fancy you can buy a great example for £5000, while the best 1275GT isn’t worth much more than £3000.

Spotting a fake Cooper

The number of derivatives and model changes overthe Mini’s 41-year production span is bewildering, and there are all sor ts of cars masquerading as something they’re no fake Coopers being the biggest hazard. A proper Mk1 has two-tone paintwork and interior trim and corner bars on the bumpers. If it’s a Morris then it’ll have seven grille slats while an Austin will have ten. A MkII Cooper should have seven grille slats, black upholstery and bumper over-riders with no end caps. A MkII Cooper S has twin fuel tanks and a 130mph speedo while MkIII models have a single colour for the paint and the larger rear side windows of the Mini 1000. The chassis plate is positioned on the offside inner wing or the slam panel, depending on the ageand type of Mini. A genuine MkI Cooper will have a chassis number prefi xed by C-A2S7 if it’s an Austin or K-A2S4 if it’s a Morris. MkII Coopers carried C-A2SB and K-A2S6 for Austin and Morris variants respectively. MkIII Coopers had a prefi x of XAD-1.

What To Look For

  • The engine’s stabiliser mounting bar bushes tend to disintegrate after a while, not least of all because they tend to get soaked in oil leaking from the engine. Try rocking the engine backwards and forwards – worn bushes will be obvious from the excessive play. Once the powerplant starts leaping around the engine bay you know new bushes are needed – it’s worth investing in some uprated (polyurethane) items while you’re at it, for less than £5.
  • Poor running may be traced to a soaked ignition system, thanks to the distributor being located on the front of the engine. Rain passes through the grille and gets into the electrics, with predictable results.
  • 1275cc engines are especially prone to valve guides and stem seals wearing out, leading to clouds of blue smoke once the power is applied after the over-run. Timing chain rattle is endemic to Mini 1000s – fi tting a duplex chain assembly for around £100 will cure it.
  • The A-Series engine isn’t very good at retaining its oil, so don’t expect a leak-free unit. On this engine the term gearchange oil seal is a misnomer as it doesn’t actually seal, just like the timing chain oil seal doesn’t do much in the way of helping the engine retain its lubricant. Replacing the seals will stop the oil escaping for a few weeks or so, but after that it’ll be back to square one.
  • Most Minis were equipped with a four-speed manual gearbox, but from May 1965 there was the option of a three-speed automatic transmission. These are pretty reliable, although occasionally the front sprag clutch can break. The symptom for this is if the car won’t pull away in drive but it’ll operate happily in the other gears. If the gearbox has really had enough it’s probably best to exchange it for a reconditioned one, which will set you back around £450.
  • If you fi nd an unrestored pre-1964 car with low mileage it may have its original gearbox fi tted. Most early cars had to have their gearboxes rebuilt because of weak synchromesh and poor gear selection, so from 1964 a stronger gearbox was specifi ed and from 1967 synchromesh was fi tted on fi rst gear.
  • The fundamental problem with the Mini’s transmission is that it shares its oil with the engine, which is a lot to ask of any lubricant. For this reason it should have been changed every 6000 miles – although 3000-mile oil swaps are a much better idea. The fi rst thing to go will be the syncro cones, although these should still last 100,000 miles before giving any trouble.
  • The transmission shouldn’t be especially noisy on any Mini (although the famous whine will be there of course), but the quietest cars are those built after 1980. If there are any untoward noises on full lock the CV (constant velocity) joints will need to be fi xed, for which you can expect to pay about £100 per side to have them done.
  • The Mini’s steering should be light and responsive, giving the car kart-like handling characteristics. MkII Minis were fi tted with a modifi ed steering rack to reduce the turning circle from 32 feet to 28 feet – the two racks are interchangeable, but the swap isn’t especially straightforward.
  • The Mini’s rubber-cone suspension is reliable but once repairs are needed they’re easy and cheap. Between 1964 and 1969, all Minis except estates were fi tted with Hydrolastic suspension; by 1971 all Minis had reverted to the original rubber-cone set-up for cost reasons.
  • If you’re looking at a sagging Hydrolastic car it’s probably because the unit needs pumping up, although it could be because the unit has rusted or is damaged. Fixing the system isn’t that easy as the parts are hard to source and expensive. An alternative is to convert to rubber-cone, although this is quite involved and not especially cheap – not least of all because it means changing the subframe. It’s a DIY proposition and can be done in a weekend with about £400 worth of parts plus the replacement subframe. Of course you could hand it over to a specialist to do, which would double the cost.
  • The rear suspension can easily be knocked out of alignment by kerbing the wheels leading to the radius arms being bent. Once the radius arms have been damaged there’s no alternative to replacing them, although this isn’t diffi cult or expensive at £50 per side for the bits. Similarly the front wheels get kerbed easily, leading to the tie rods getting bent. Again, these aren’t diffi cult or expensive to replace at £15 per side.
  • If the car is fi tted with rubber-cone suspension you can check if the knuckle joint between the cone and arm has worn on any of the car’s four corners by trying to put your hand between the top of the tyre and the wheelarch. If you can’t, you can expect to pay £40 per corner to get it fixed. It’s easy enough to do yourself – unless you don’t have the special tool that’s required to do it.
  • If aftermarket wheels have been fi tted it’s worth checking the width of them. Anything over six inches wide will put an undue strain on the bearings, and will probably foul the bodywork into the bargain.
  • The braking system is simple and easy to check. The most common problemsare leaking slave cylinders on cars equipped with drum brakes all round.
  • The introduction of top-quality reproduction vinyl trim by Newton Commercial means no Mini needs to put up with a tatty interior. Seats sag (replacements are easy to fi nd) but rubber fl oor mats can be harder to source.
  • There isn’t much exterior trim on a Mini, but what there is can be sourced either secondhand or new as reproduction parts. Quality is variable so it’s worth checking that new parts fi tted will last.
  • The wiring loom on a Mini is simple, but the battery’s location in the boot can cause problems. If it’s not properly secured there can be fireworks, just like if the live lead to the starter motor is allowed to short out. Starting problems often emanate from poor connections on this lead. The bulkhead-mounted fusebox can give trouble with poor connections, as can the bullet connectors fi tted to early cars.
  • Although the demands placed on the charging system aren’t that great, from the end of 1972 all Minis were equipped with an alternator – until then dynamos were fi tted.


Three Of A Kind

Hillman Imp
Hillman Imp
Arguably the Mini’s closest true rival, the Hillman was just as radical – perhaps more so with its advanced engine and hatchback body style. It’s certainly the smoother performer although the Imp isn’t as quite as agile around corners. Sport models aren’t as quick as Coopers but nice fastback range also offered. Cheaper than a Mini, too.
Ford Anglia 105E
Ford Anglia 105E
Like the Herald, the Anglia also doesn’t offer the driving experience of the Mini, but it is cheap and practical as well as easy to get lots of parts for – it’s easy to maintain too. The frequently overlooked estate editions are brilliantly practical, while it’s best to go for one of the 1200 editions rather than a 997, unless you’re really in no hurry. A tuner’s delight.
Fiat 500
Fiat 500
Perhaps the closest thing to a Mini, the 500 offers cute looks, an active owners’ club and a fun drive – but unless you buy one that’s been modified there’s a frustrating lack of poke on offer. Fiat’s recent 500 revival has put the car back in the public eye, pushing values up slightly – but don’t pay over the odds for one of the many tarted-up examples out there.


It’s easy to purchase a project Mini dressed up as a minter, but as long as you buy with your head rather than your heart you’ll love every minute of Mini ownership. Even better, buy a good one and it’s bound to go up in value – especially once the car celebrates its golden jubilee next year. However, not only do you have to buy very carefully, but you also need to keep on top of any rust that develops; before you know it you’ll end up having to fork out on major body repairs.

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