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Mini Cooper

Tommy Cooper Published: 14th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mini Cooper

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Anything original
  • Worst model: Anything fake
  • Budget buy: Anything tatty
  • OK for unleaded?: No except 1990 cat Coopers
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L 3048 x W1410
  • Spares situation: Excellent
  • DIY ease?: Generally superb
  • Club support: Brilliant
  • Appreciating asset?: Very much so
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Still a small wonder…
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Forget the BMW remake – the original Brit still serves up the most fun even at 50. Yet Coopers remain good value if you know what to buy. And why!

Pros & Cons

Great club/specialist support, great to drive, guaranteed investment
Lots of fakes, getting costly, many dressed-up examples, endemic rot, rare automatics

When it comes to legendary pairings, right up there with Astaire & Rogers, Morecambe & Wise and Lennon & McCartney is BMC & Cooper. Among petrolheads, that last one is perhaps the most iconic motoring collaboration of all time. Could you imagine a world without the Mini Cooper? Upon its introduction in 1959, the Mini, after a lethargic start, went on to revolutionise the small car market, killing off numerous microcar manufacturers and inspiring rival car outfi ts to embrace more efficient packaging along with front-wheel drive. The motoring world really would never be the same again, but it was John Cooper’s decision to heat the little Mini up a bit that really made the difference; his intervention paved the way for a motorsport career that would take in one success after another, most notably a trio of Monte Carlo wins which would plunge the iconic Rally into controversy. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cooper going on sale, and the resulting coverageis likely to push prices up even further. Get in quick though and you could pick yourself a guaranteed investment and have a ball every time you go for a drive. But you’ve got to be seriously careful before buying anything; not only are there a lot of Coopers out there which have seen better days, but there are lots more that started out as ordinary Minis. It really is a minefi eld out there if you’re after a souper Cooper…


Rover models are as fast as the old Cooper S!

The Mini Cooper story begins soon after the 1959 launch of the Mini 850, when racing driver John Cooper decided this new small car would make a great racer. Alec Issigonis didn’t agree, and blocked Cooper’s plans to produce a racingedition along with a faster road car. To Issigonis, the idea of a souped-up Mini fl ew in the face of the car’s raison d’etre – economy above all else. Cooper wasn’t going to give up easily though; he went over Issigonis’ head and got approval from his boss George Harriman to build at least 1000 cars, so the car could get the necessary homologation to race. F1 entrant John Cooper was also an experton tuning the A-Series engine, and he was acutelyaware of the unit’s reliability problems when the wick was turned up. Camshafts, crankshafts and timing gear were lunched on a regular basis, which is why Cooper dispensed with the 848cc lump. Instead, just the basic block was used, with the stroke increased to give a unique 997cc displacement. Thrown into the mix were an uprated camshaft, bigger inlet valves, twin SU carbs, a three-branch exhaust manifold and domed pistons to increase the compression ratio; performancewas transformed, but not at the expense of day-today reliability or ease at the servicing bays. That’s only part of the story. Apart from adetuned Formula Junior engine, the Cooper also received a snappier cast aluminium remote gear change, 7 inch front disc brakes (Coopers had larger brakes and different callipers, by the way) and standard 3.5 inch Mini rims, topped by Mini De Luxe wheel trims. Inside the Cooper featured fl uted two-toned seats (rare optional reclining type for ’65), and 100mph speedometer, while the exterior was treated to a fl uted grille, discreet badging and a duo-tone paint job, although the earliest ’61 cars were just a single shade. The Mini Cooper was an instant hit on the road and track, but development didn’t stop there.

From 1963 the unique 997cc engine was replaced by the more common 998cc version, based on the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet unit. At the same time, it was clear that some people wanted an even fruitier Mini, so the Cooper S was devised – but we’ll leave that one for another day, as this guide is reserved for the standard Cooper, simply because it’s all too easily overlooked! To mention every detail of the Cooper and its differences and changes could fi ll this magazine and some essential excellent books are available (see our buying advice box out), so here’s a snapshot. The Cooper went all wet in ’64 when the big changeover to Hydrolastic suspension took place. Heated rear window was made optional for ’66 while the Mk II took over in late ’67 boasting a wider rear window, new rear lights, larger front grille and certain interior changeswhere the trim was now predominantly all black for Coopers, although the seat design was improved.Throughout the 1960s the Cooper notched up a formidable tally of competition successes and continued to be a hit in the showroom, but time was eventually called in late 1969 (just when The Italian Job really cemented the Mini into silver screen history) when British Leyland, annoyed by having to pay John Cooper a £2 royalty fee for every car sold, unceremoniously ditched him and replaced the Cooper with a supposedly easier to insure, single carb Clubman 1275GT. Happily the Cooper S remained for an extra two years despite its massive Group 7 insurance rating. However, the Mini Cooper wasn’t going to die quite so readily. In the late 1980s, Austin Rover Japan was on a roll, but buyers really wanted a Mini with a bit more go. John Cooper was approached by Austin Rover’s Japanese arm to come up with a fruitier Mini; the solution was to turn to well known UK tuner Janspeed, who came up with a reworked cylinder head, upgraded air fi lters and exhaust plus twin carbs. With this kit fi tted, power was boosted to 64bhp, but (typicaled!) Rover Group in the UK refused to recognise it – until buyers fell over themselves to buy a kit! It was clear that there was still demand for a hot Mini, so with the Cooper/Janspeed kit now an offi cially recognised factory option, the development work continued. Rather than just modify the 1-litre engine of the standard Mini, it was decided that a detuned 1275cc unit should be fi tted, from the contemporary Metro; the Mini Cooper was relaunched in 1990. This time round there was a single-carb 61bhp A-Series in the nose – enough to provide a buzzy 92mph top speed that more than matched the originals for thrills.

The initial plan was to offer a limited run of just 1000 cars, but they sold out rather quickly. It seemed that once again the Mini Cooper was a major hit and with that initial run spoken for so rapidly, the model soon became a standard model once again. It proved to be the right move because it wasn’t long before a third of the Minis coming out of Longbridge wore Cooper badges. Add the wide range of tuning and customising options (such as the 90bhp John Cooper Ltd Edition) marketed by Cooper and it was the swinging 60s once again. Emissions legislation forced Rover to fi t Lucas fuel injection in October 1992, so the Cooper became the 63bhp 1.3i, complete with catalytic converter. In this form production continued throughout the 1990s – it wouldn’t be until October 2000 that the final Cooper-badged Issigonis Mini would be made. John Cooper died within two months of the fi nal Mini rolling off the production lines, but proving that you can’t kill off an iconic brand so easily, within a year there would be an all-new Mini Cooper available, courtesy of BMW (see our Quickfi re guide in this issue for this model).


With a Mini 850 being such a hoot to drive, you’re guaranteed to love every minute behind the wheel of the much more pokey Cooper. You’ll have a grin from ear to ear once you give this Mini its head because thanks to the weight (or lack of it), the sort of agility you fi nd in any Mini is hard to fi nd anywhere else. It’s not the outright performance that’s so impressive – because Coopers aren’t seriously fast cars as such. In fact the hallowed 0-60 time of 16-17 seconds sounds positively pedestrian but what makes the Cooper such a winner is the way you can carry the speed through bends; driving one quickly is largely about conserving momentum. Classic cars don’t have to be fast to be fun and any Mini proves it, let alone the souped up Cooper. And 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 if you so desire. Of course the Cooper suffers from all the usual Mini faults; it’s noisy, uncomfortable and austere but because the fun factor is so high you’ll happily live with such downsides.

Don’t dismiss the Rover Mini Cooper. Apart from being newer, and considerably cheaper than the original, it’s no rip off repro either and remains true to the blueprint. What you gain is a lustier 1.3-litre engine, better all round performance (not much down on a stock Cooper S if truth be told with a 0-60mph time of less than 12 seconds), welcome extra refinement, including better cruising, and on later models, safety kit such as a driver’s airbag. It says much for the love and affection for the Cooper than when Car put the 90s model against ten modern hot hatch rivals it did rather well, some testers putting it at the top thanks to having the sharpest steering and most responsive throttle. “The Mini is the car that responds most keenly. It does what you want it to do,” said one judge.


For many years the focus has been on the Cooper S, but in recent times there’s been a lot more interest in the standard Cooper, resulting in increased values for these cheaper cars. But you can still get a decent Cooper for little more than £5000. MkIs are worth a little more than an equivalent MkII, as the earlier trim is more popular – and collectors also like to have the oldest car they can get. Good examples of the MkI and MkII Cooper go for up to £7000 or so with really nice cars fetching £8000-10,000 – the very best cars now command up to £15,000. Rover Mini Coopers aren’t as valuable as their earlier counterparts, but really low mileage examples in superb condition can still fetch £12,000. More likely is a price tag of £3000-7000 though, while doable projects can be picked up from just a grand or so.


When it comes to Mini improvements, the sky is the limit, but originality is key so don’t get carried away and introduce modifications that you can’t reverse. Focus on improving usability, reliability and performance rather than simply personalising for the sake of it, and if you fit new parts, make sure you keep the originals. Any Mini you look at is likely to have been rustproofed, but unless it’s been done recently, bank on spending a couple of hundred pounds getting it redone properly. An unleaded conversion is also worthwhile on a pre-1989 car, unless you’re going to use the car sparingly; expect to pay £350 or so for this. The most useful upgrade is to an Aldon Ignitor ignition system; the car will run better and start more readily if you spend £100 or so on the bits (see Anything else and take your pick – the Mini tuning world is as strong as ever although with an early Cooper we’d tend to hunt for period tuning gear of that era (Downton, Janspeed, Speedwell etc or even offi cial BMC tuning parts) to keep the authenticity. Modern tunng ways can take the A-Series out to 1380cc and give over 100bhp!

What To Look For

  • First check has to be for authenticity as there are a lot of ‘Cooperised’ Minis out there although the situation is worse on the S, of course. There’s a myriad of differences – it depends how close to the original you want to be – that the only experts know. Essentially Coopers boast 7ins front disc brakes, no servo, twin 1 1/4 ins SU carburettors, nine studs holding cylinder head in place… but there’s a lot more to it of course.
  • Minis rust very badly, and the Cooper is no exception. That’s why you need to check everywhere; outer and inner panels, fl oorpans, bulkhead – leave no stone unturned. Inner and outer front wings are especially rot-prone, especially the metal around the headlamp and all the seams between the various panels.
  • The rain gutters can rust through while the rear wings are just as likely to have rotted as the front ones. The rear valance could well be history by now and the same goes for the lower edge of the bootlid and the boot fl oor – which is frequently eaten away by leaking battery acid.
  • The sills and inner sills are usually as badly affected as you’d expect on a car of this age; the same goes for the wheelarches and door bottoms. So check everywhere for patchwork repairs and blatant bodging.
  • Lacy fl oorpans and rear subframes are also parfor the course; once the latter has started to corrode signifi cantly, wholesale replacement is the only suitable long-term plan of action. If the subframe has rotted out, then usually it takes the fl oor area with it.
  • Your fi nal check should be the A-posts, as these are particularly rot-prone, and effecting decent repairs is a real pig of a job. That’s because there are several panel joins and box sections to deal with, so lining everything up and gaining access is a real pain.
  • Thankfully replacement panels and subframes are available and BMH also provides brand new shells although they are of the later MkV era at £4650.
  • Mini Coopers were always bought to be driven hard, although most now enjoy a more leisurely life. Whatever their history, there are key issues that can crop up with any Cooper powerplant, the most likely being overheating and oil leaks.
  • All Cooper engines need to be checked for worn piston rings and bores as well, betrayed by oil being burned, especially upon acceleration after the over-run, while a noisy top end suggests that the rocker gear is worn. Oil pressure should be 40-70lb at normal running mode.
  • If the engine runs unevenly, it’s probably nothing more than carburettors that are either worn or out of balance. Sorting this is easy and cheap, but fi xing a cylinder head that’s cracked between the valve seats isn’t so straightforward. The Cooper featured larger valves, and if the engine has been allowed to get too hot, such cracks could be evident; you need to check for misfi ring.
  • Other than this, you need to have your wits about you in ensuring that you’re getting a genuine Cooper powerplant; substitutions are often made. There’s no space to go through all the features unique to the Cooper engines, which is why you need to get hold of a copy of the Mini Cooper Register’s guide. It’s invaluable for the other aspects of the car, all of which have numerous Cooper-specifi c features.
  • Where the transmission is concerned, horror stories abound – and that’s for the standard car. The Cooper’s gearbox is under even greater pressure, largely because of its lubricant being shared with the engine.

Three Of A Kind

Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti
Alfa Romeo Alfasud Ti
Alfa Romeo had no experience of small front-wheel drive cars, so the Alfasud represented a break from the norm for one of Italy’s most charismatic car makers. With its rev-happy fl at-four the ‘Sud is a blast to drive and relatively practical too. Standard Suds are fi ne but Ti is just that bit zippier. Sadly rust has killed off most examples, with early cars now especially rare.
Abarth 595/695
Abarth 595/695
Even in Europe you’ll have to search hard to fi nd a decent Abarth 595 or 695; you can pretty much forget altogether tracking one down in the UK. These cars are worth the search though, as not only are they a guaranteed investment, but they’re an absolute blast to drive thanks to the punchy rearmounted engine, light weight and quirky styling.
Hillman Imp Sport
Hillman Imp Sport
In period the Imp quickly gained a reputation for being horrifi cally unreliable, but buy one that’s been properly sorted and you’ll have a blast on every drive. With its free-revving all-alloy engine in the back, sharp steering and brilliant agility, the Imp can give the Mini a run for its money – and especially once things have been pepped up a bit as tuning bits remain easy to fi nd.


In the 21st century, the Mini Cooper is even more desirable than it was when new. As a result, these are some of the most faked cars around – which is surely a measure of what hot property they still remain. Believe it or not, nearly 120,000 Coopers of the various types were produced – but that hasn’t stopped many standard Minis being passed off as something they’re not. That’s why you must ensure you’re buying the real thing; this guide will get you started, but you should join the Mini Cooper Register and obtain a copy of its in-house buying guide. And don’t turn your nose up at a Rover Cooper either – it’s just as much fun and all for a couple of grand.

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