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Mini

Published: 27th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

1990s Coopers bore signature, crest of creator as well as fuel injection… 1990s Coopers bore signature, crest of creator as well as fuel injection…
Cabins stark but easy to fix or improve. Repro trim kits are now available Cabins stark but easy to fix or improve. Repro trim kits are now available
Lovable A-Series as good as ever. Later EFi cars use mapped ignition: more flexible Lovable A-Series as good as ever. Later EFi cars use mapped ignition: more flexible
Competition Minis are rife - some priceless. Period tuning gear worth a packet too Competition Minis are rife - some priceless. Period tuning gear worth a packet too
Be different - try a commercial! Minivan is very practical, pick up is a real cutie Be different - try a commercial! Minivan is very practical, pick up is a real cutie
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What is a Mini?

It’s only the most versatile and fun loving car ever made! On road or track the Mini has always hit the right note with all sorts: from wealthy pop and film icons to debtridden students alike, the Issigonis marvel has always been right at home regardless of setting. Over its 41-year production span the Mini was available in just about every guise imaginable, and all of them are now as affordable as ever plus are one of those rare classics that can be happily used as a daily driver.

History

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 cute and rarely spotted pick-up hit the streets. In the meantime the Countryman and Traveller estates had been released and in July 1961 the first 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. That March the Cooper S arrived, with a 1071cc powerplant. This was replaced 12 months later by the 1275cc Cooper S although the option of a ‘screaming’ 970cc version (for sub 1-litre competition classes, really) was introduced at the same time - but this option was discontinued 10 months later. In 1964 the Mini-Moke arrived and it survived until October 1968 before being built under licence abroad until quite recently. The introduction of the MkII Mini was in October 1967, spelling larger rear windows and lights plus 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, displaced in October of that year by the posher flat-fronted Clubman and 1275GT ranges. Apart from a questionable squarer nose there was also better trim, wind-up windows (at long last!) and concealed door hinges (ditto). The latter two modifications were standardised on the new MkIII Standard 850 and 1000 at the same time, incidentally. The Morris and Austin badges also disappeared as from now on Mini was marketed as a marque in its own right. Alas it also meant the demise of the standard Cooper, although the (MkIII) Cooper S soldiered on until 1971. The 1275 GT was supposedly the modern answer to the expensive to insure basic Cooper. Instead of that souped-up 1-litre A-Series unit came a soft tune, single carb 1275cc lump that was taken straight from the Austin/Morris 1300. But to be fair it was as quick and as much fun as the old ‘brick’ (plus a lot more civilised) even if it was devoid of the Cooper’s unique character.
Mini production continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s with numerous upgrades and changes, although the competition increased all the time as one supermini after another was launched. Something of a modern retro now, the 1990s saw a mass of special editions and the re-introduction of the Cooper (in July 1990) while a cabriolet was unveiled in February 1991, followed by a manic ERA Turbo a few years later. Then on October 4 2000 the final Mini rolled off the line with Lulu at the helm, after 5,387,862 had been built.

Driving

Ever been go-karting? If so, then imagine being able to do that with three or four of your mates along for the ride. Nimble with light and pin sharp (unassisted) steering the Mini is still one of the most agile and best handling cars ever – plus they come, with decent brakes, too … on disc braked versions anyway! Straight line performance isn’t really what the Mini was ever about - the real speed came from its split second responses and fantastic handling. The A-Series engine is a great slogger; not refined but packed with loads of low rev torque and together with characteristically short gearing makes the Mini extremely nippy in town, although things can get really frantic at higher speeds.You would never buy a Mini for comfort; the seats are as inviting as a church pew and the ‘bus-like’ driving position was actually conceived by Issigonis to make the car uncomfortable - so to keep the driver alert! Weird thinking perhaps, but there’s so much that is wonderful too, such as the car’s sheer space efficiency, especially on early versions where there are nooks and crannies to stow items simply everywhere in the car. Naturally, most steer towards the Coopers but don’t dismiss the practical Traveller and Countryman estates or the vans and pick-ups. Whatever Mini you go for it will always spell fun with a capital F.

Prices

You won’t have to look far to find a free project car but the best Cooper 970S fetches around £8000. In between are sound MkIIs for £1800, nice Mk1 1275 Cooper Ss at £6500 but add another £2000 for a later car. Even the best 1275GT isn’t worth much more than £2500 - three grand tops. You can more or less halve these prices for examples that are nothing special. Any car with a famous past will command a higher price as will models fitted with popular period tuning gear. Later 1990 Coopers boast little classic appeal - yet

What To Look For

  • All Minis are prone to corrosion to some degree. The most important parts of the bodywork to inspect are the panels in front of the doors as they tend to rot and are difficult to repair as this is where the wings attach to the A-post and scuttle.
  • There’s a mud trap behind the front wing, where debris gets thrown up by the front wheels, which settles on the top door hinge box. The bottom hinge box also traps mud but is less prone to rot as any debris tends to get washed away before it does much harm. To make sure no major corrosion is present make sure you feel behind the wing (via the wheelarch) to ensure the triangulated hinge panel is intact.
  • Another awkward area to repair is the inner scuttle panel, where it meets the inner wing behind the wheelarch. Once corrosion has got a hold in here, it’s guaranteed that holes will form, allowing water into the cabin via the A-pillar.
  • Check the front subframe mountings on the floorpan, as this is a stress point that frequently gives problems. As well as stress cracks forming there’s a good chance that the area will have been weakened by rust.
  • Inner sills dissolve all too readily, so make sure you lift the carpeting and tap the metal to see what it sounds like. Filler or crusty metal will be immediately obvious, just like for the outer sills which are often bodged to get through ‘just one more’ MOT.
  • It’s also worth removing the rear seat and looking at the floorpan. There are sound deadening pads between the rear subframe and the floorpan, which trap water causing the floorpans to corrode badly. Bodges are rife here.
  • Removing the rear side interior trim may reveal a prime view of the road, as the wheelarches and sills rot readily. As the area is tricky to fix properly it’s often ignored or bodged in the hope the problem will disappear. It won’t.
  • Everybody knows that Mini rear subframes rot like murder. The front is always saved by engine/transmission oil leaks, but the rears dissolve on the driveway. Replacements are messy, tedious but doable at home.
  • Shock absorber mounts at both ends of the car are prone to corrosion and if the car was built after 1969 it will have air vents at the base of the windscreen pillars that will probably have seen better days. On cars fitted with external hinges, at the top of the windscreen pillars, there’s a sponge seal. Sadly this absorbs water but doesn’t dry out very easily, causing the metal around it to rot.
  • There’s a point at which the hinge panel, valance and boot floor meet, which will probably have started to rust. Once the rot has got a foothold the bootlid will be parted from the rest of the car.
  • Check for signs of corrosion lurking under the windscreen rubber. If there’s any rust evident it’s likely that the rubber will be hiding more serious rot that will be tricky to put right. Also inspect the rear side window surrounds, which have a tendency to harbour rust - checking for filler is essential here
  • .
  • If you want to start with a clean sheet then you can buy brand new Heritage bodyshells, and this even includes the Clubman and longer wheelbased estate/commercial variants although you won’t see much change from £3000 plus fitting and paint.
  • The A-Series engine is renowned for being a old tough thing that will take hard use (and even a degree of neglect) in its stride. But whereas most engines will display low oil pressure when they’re about to expire, the Mini’s powerplant doesn’t. Right up until the point where it goes bang it can appear perfectly healthy, although be wary if there’s less than 40psi (if a gauge is fitted) showing.
  • Biggest wear worries are rumbling cranks, tappety valve gear and/or cams and smoking/fuming under load. The 1275cc engine is prone to valve guides and stem seals failing, leading to clouds of blue smoke. Timing chain rattle is endemic to Mini 1000s - fitting a duplex chain assembly for around £100 will cure it.
  • The A-Series engine isn’t too good at retaining its oil, so don’t expect a leak-free unit. Gearchange and timing chain oil seals don’t do much in the way of helping the engine retain lubricant. Replacing these seals will stop the oil escaping for a few weeks or so, but after that it’ll be back to square one - and a messy drive…
  • 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 (clutch juder) - it’s worth investing in some uprated (polyurethane) items while you’re at it, all for less than £5.
  • Most Minis were equipped with a four-speed manual, but from May 1965 there was the option of a three speed (sort of semi) automatic transmission care of AP. These are pretty reliable, although the front clutch can break. The symptom for this is if the car won’t pull away in drive but will operate happily in the other gears. If the gearbox has really had enough it’s best to exchange it for a reconditioned one, which will set you back around £450.
  • If you find an unrestored pre-1964 car with low mileage it may have its original gearbox fitted. Most early cars had to have their gearboxes rebuilt because of weak synchromesh and poor gear selection, so from 1964 a stronger gearbox was specified and from 1967 synchromesh was fitted on first 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 better idea. The transmission shouldn’t be especially noisy (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 fixed, for which you can expect to pay about £100 per side fitted.
  • The Mini’s steering should be light and responsive. MkII Minis use a modified steering rack to reduce turning circle from 32 feet to 28 feet - the racks are interchangeable, but not straightforward.
  • Rubber-cone suspension is reliable and repairs are pretty easy and cheap. Between 1964 and 1969 all (except estates) were fitted with Hydrolastic suspension, by 1971 all had reverted back to ‘dry’. On rubber-cone suspension you can check if knuckle joint between the cone and arm has worn on any of the car’s 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.
  • If you’re looking at a sagging Hydrolastic car it’s probably because the system needs pumping up, although fixing the system isn’t that easy as parts are hard to source and dear. An alternative is to convert to rubber-cone. A popular mod although the job is quite involved and not especially cheap.
  • Rear suspension can easily be knocked out of alignment by kerbing the wheels leading to the radius arms being bent; £45 per side for the bits. Kerbed front wheels lead to the tie rods bending. Again, these aren’t difficult or dear to fix at £15.
  • The braking system is very simple and easy to check. The most common problems are leaking slave cylinders on cars equipped with drum brakes all round. Discs can be fitted if you wish but you can beef up drum systems effectively by using Minifin alloy drums.
  • Wiring loom on a Mini is simple, but the battery’s location in the boot can cause problems. Starting woes often emanate from poor connections. Fusebox can give trouble as can the bullet connectors used on very early cars. Dynamos were used before 1972.
  • Beware of fakes take 1! The chassis plate is positioned on the offside inner wing or the slam panel, depending on the age and type of a Mini. A genuine MkI Cooper will have a chassis number prefixed 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 the Austin and Morris variants respectively. MkIII Coopers had a prefix of XAD-1.
  • Beware of fakes take 2! Real Coopers have disc brakes (no servo), twin 1.25in SUs and a nine stud cylinder head. On the S; 1.5in Sus, wider rims (with cooling holes) and an 11-stud head. Counterfeit Coopers are so convincing…so get expert advice if you are unsure.
  • Beware of fakes take 3! A proper Mk1 has two-tone paint, interior and corner bars on bumpers. Morris use seven grille slats, Austin has ten. MkII Cooper should have seven grille slats, black cabin. A MkII Cooper S has twin fuel tanks, 130mph speedo, while MkIIIs have mono paint job and larger rear side windows of the Mini 1000.

Verdict

The number of derivatives and model changes over the Mini’s amazing 41-year production span is bewildering, and there are all sorts of cars masquerading as something they’re not - fake Coopers being the biggest hazard. If you want to buy a classic Mini and you’re serious about originality it’s worth buying one of the books listed to make sure you really are buying what it claims to be. If you want to buy a newer Mini then it’s best to avoid cars built between 1991 and 1993, as the steel used in them is poor and they tend to rot badly. However, whether you buy a rot-box or a minter, as long as it’s road-legal you’ll have a hoot every time you drive it. Everybody should own at least one Mini in their motoring lives - so don’t put it off any longer!



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