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Mini 1959-2000

Mini 1959-2000 Published: 22nd Jul 2019 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any original car
  • Worst model: Basic 1970’s/1980’s cars
  • Budget buy: Basic 1970’s/1980’s cars
  • OK for unleaded?: Not really, apart from post-1992 cars
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): L3050mm x W1400mm
  • Spares situation: Virtually unrivalled
  • DIY ease?: No problem if painful
  • Club support: Superb
  • Appreciating asset?: Oldies and rarities
  • Good buy or good-bye?: Maximum fun assured
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One of most important cars ever made is still hugely popular after 60 years providing minimal refinement but maximum fun. Easy to own and can be good value but even after all these years you need to buy with great care warn specialists

To say that August 26th 1959 was a motoring milestone is a gross understatement. That’s when the new Morris Mini Minor and Austin Seven were launched to an amazed world. Designed to burst the bubble car market, the lowest form of motoring transport after the Suez Crisis of 1956, the BMC car wanted to show the buying public that advanced engineering could also be incorporated in an economy car – despite the fact history showed that the Mini would lose its maker, BMC, some £30 per sale.

Where would we be without this small wonder though, the most versatile and fun loving car ever made? There’s no sittting on the fence with enthusiasts; you either love Minis or you don’t. Happily the former has always been in the majority and as the motoring icon celebrates 60 years this summer, the reasons to own one are as valid as they ever were. For this buying guide we’re majoring the mainstream Minis rather than the super Coopers – they offer just as much fun, albeit at a slower pace and there’s so much more to choose from. If you’ve never had a Mini in your life, there’s no better time to contemplate the thought.

History

1959 XC9003 is launched as the AustinSe7en and Morris Mini Minor, it’s an all new design apart from the A-Series engine (now mounted East-West with its gearbox located under the block) which is downsized from 948cc to a 34bhp 848cc as it was deemed too quick! A unique rubber cone suspension using 10 inch wheels are other trademarks.

1960 Commercial van joins range in May with detuned engine and lower gearing but has longer body and wheelbase – a pick-up followed by 1961. Two passenger offshoots are added in the summer as result, the wooded Traveller at first and the plainer Estate.

1961 Sporty Cooper introduced with tuned twin carb 997cc 55bhp engine, closer ratio gearbox with remote shift, front disc brakes – and the prestige of a World Championship Formula One name. Booted and suited upmarket Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet joins range; they retain the Mini hull but have a longer bonnet and a proper boot plus luxurious trim and appointments.

1963 Most coveted Mini of all, the Cooper S is announced, developed not by Cooper but by Daniel Richmond’s Downton Engineering with special racing-bred engine, larger disc brakes, vented steel wheels and the trim from the Super Deluxe Mini; 1071cc (70bhp) initially. Elf and Hornet up gunned with 39bhp 998cc engine (which now also serves the standard Cooper).

1964 Big news is switch over to ‘wet’ Hydrolastic suspension as used in the 1100 saloon together with the option of automatic transmission, an Automotive Products design which also features four manual gears. For the Cooper S, 970cc (65bhp) and 1275cc (76bhp) engines optional to cater for dedicated motorsport classes.

1967 MkII Mini surfaces complete with larger rear window and rear lights, improved interior and option of Elf/Hornet engine.

1969 Major change sees square-fronted upmarket 1-litre Clubman range featuring concealed hinges, wind up windows, better dash layout and reworked interior topped by 1275 GT which displaces Cooper. Austin and Morris dropped in favour of simply the ‘Mini’ brand while suspension reverts to ‘dry’ cone type although Clubman saloon retained hydrolastic until 1971. Elf and Hornet models are dropped.

1976/79 After numerous detail changes this year saw the MkIV with an improved interior and a revised subframe plus 45bhp 1098cc engine option for Clubman in 1977. Van and pick-up renamed ‘95’ to donate carrying capacity (0.95 tons).

1984 To mark 25 years of the car, the ‘Mini 25’ limited edition marked the occasion and to publicise the recent upgrades to the model. Also bog standard City and the City E versions went back to the car’s roots. With the Metro fully established the Mini gained a number of its improvements such as the A Plus engine. MkV of 1985 saw larger 12 inch wheels and front disc brakes plus 60’s-style flared wheel arches to accommodate.

1990 MkVI saw a modified carb and deletion of the 998cc engine plus – at last – an internal bonnet release plus 1275cc engine, previously found in the GT, now fitted to normal Minis (Clubman dropped in 1982 along with commercials). This year also saw reintroduction of the Cooper, initially as a limited run with a 78bhp 1.3-litre engine, originally carb fuel before a switch to single point fuel injection.

1996 Final fling MkVII has fuel injection, taller gearing, front-mounted rad with electric fan and driver’s air bag.

Numerous special editions offered before the curtain call on 4th October 2000 with Lulu driving the last car off the Longbridge production lines after over five million sales. Its best year was 1971 and even in its last some 7000 were shifted.

Driving and press comments

Who hasn’t driven a Mini – you perhaps? Well it’s about time you did! Until then, imagine a four-seater go kart with the same nimble agility and fit-anywhere size and you get the message. Sixty years on and the Mini remains as one of the best handling most agile cars ever and surely the most fun despite what we’d now consider a crude front-wheel drive set up with lots of tugging at the wheel and lift-off tuck in.

Straight line performance isn’t really what the Mini was ever about – the real speed came from its split second responses and astonishing cornering ability. The A-Series engine – whatever its size – is a great slogger; not refined but packed with loads of low rev torque and, together with characteristically short gearing, it makes any Mini extremely nippy in town, although things can get frantic at higher speeds unless it’s a MkVII which has taller gearing to counter the lack of fifth gear.

Given the choice, the latter 1098cc and 1275cc models are the best with acceptable performance for today’s roads and it’s as well to remember that late Rover Minis cruise the best thanks to their taller gear gearing which cuts the revs by a whopping 2000rpm or thereabouts at the legal limit. The brakes are good on 1980’s disc braked versions as well.

You would never buy a Mini for comfort and relaxation; the seats, especially on early pre 1968 cars are as inviting as a church pew and the ‘bus-like’ driving position was actually conceived by Issigonis to make the car deliberately uncomfortable – so to keep the driver alert in his mind! And the ride is as roughshod as ever (‘Wet’ cars are slightly better) but you don’t own a Mini for long motorway jaunts.

Naturally, the press loved the Mini although as the years rolled on the romance faded as later front-wheel drive superminis showed the way ahead. In 1962 Autocar remarked about its handling “It is a vehicle which holds the driver’s attention and interest through the sheer pleasure of driving it” and didn’t feel the ride was too bad either. Motor, testing a wood-free Austin Countryman in 1965 reckoned it was ideal for housewives and rode better than the saloon plus could be cruised at 60mph relatively quietly.

By the time that the MkII was launched in 1968 times had moved on and while praise was heaped on the new, punchier 998cc engine Motor thought that the seats were still uncomfortable and noted that the MkII “had not quite the challenge of its opposition” remarking that the handling was being matched by rivals and comfort levels were falling behind. In October 1969 the same magazine headlined the test “At last – a comfortable Mini” when evaluating the new Clubman and 1275 GT; “…a growing awareness within the Austin-Morris division that seating comfort really matters” although noted the bouncy ride of the ‘wet’ suspension.

Come the 1970s and Motor was becoming very critical “it is noisy, unrefined and bumpy in ride – the Mini is still great fun … In spite of its age, the Mini still has some life left in it”, the weekly commented on the new 1098cc Clubman in 1977 even though the car was tiring as ever on long journeys. Into the 80s and the Mini was decidedly old hat but that was becoming part of its neo classic charm and the reborn Coopers brought back all the good times. As late as 1994 Car, remarked on the Mini in its famous GBU ratings “Makes you smile…toytime triumph”.

Values and marketplace

Minis are still hugely popular both as a classic and a frugal daily driver and its 60th is bound to harden interest and values. There’s no shortage but the vast majority are in a poor or bodged state, warns specialist Richard WiIliams (07967135037) who constantly travels across the UK to dig out the best ones, clocking over 50,000 miles to sell around 60 Minis per year. To say he is particular in what he buys is an understatement as he only purchases the best of the best – check out his website http://www.rwclassicminis.co.uk to see his garaged from new low milers on sale.

The original 1959/60 cars are a separate entity because they have features which were deleted on later cars, such as a drilled roof guttering for water drainage but do this ‘improvement’ on original cars and you’ll devalue them warns Devon-based Williams, who says the MkVI/VII and Rover Minis are the buys for the casual enthusiast as they are made with modern everyday motoring in mind, although many are worn out as a result.

Commercials, pick-ups, mainly can be worth as much as Austin/Morris Cooper and 1275 GTs are also enjoying increased popularity. Prices? Williams advises banking on £8000 minimum for a mint Mini, anything less (and there’s loads around for half this) will need thousands to make good. At the top end of the scale, up to £30,000 isn’t unknown for concours cars and this can include Rover Mini Copper Sports although generally they are priced around £20,000 which is double that of the identically powered 1.3i Sprite.

Improvements

Minis keep coming up with new tweaks and modifications although as originality becomes more key for many don’t get so carried away and introduce modifications that can’t be reversed. Focus on improving usability, reliability and performance rather than simply personalising for the sake of it, and if you fit new parts, keep the originals.

Old school tuning starts from a few quid for new carb needles and springs along with a sports exhaust although for today’s roads, tuning experts are looking for over 80bhp. From a 1-litre that’s pushing it a bit for reliable road use, the 1275 has 60bhp for starters and 72bhp in MG Metro tune or you can fit a ready to go 1293/1380cc rebuild Mini engine from Minispeed costing just under £3000. The ultimate are eight port cylinder heads at £2000 alone! Ever heard of a 16V Mini? Well it’s possible if you fit a BMW motorcycle head – kits are available as are supercharger kits based on the ‘blower’ fitted to BMW MINIs. Look out for period tuning gear at autojumbles which will add value and remember that John Cooper still markets its own tuning kits as well.

Suspension changes have progressed less; stiffer dampers is the first step before fitting Smootha and Adjusta Ride lowering on ‘dry’ models – fitting rear anti-roll bar to cut down understeer will make an average Mini very twitchy – use a front negative camber kit instead along with adjustable tie bars. Since the Mini went over front disc and 13inch wheels the brakes are pretty good but Metro Turbo ones are worth having. Here’s a Mini ha ha, while larger 12 and 13 inch wheels have been fitted since the 70s it’s the done thing now to put 10 inch originals on later cars…

I bought one

Gary Dickens owns three Minis, a Mk1 Cooper S, the 1974 Clubman which his mother bought from new and this immaculate early Austin Super Se7en 850 of which only 80 or so are left. Gary bought his in 1996 and subjected it to a restoration 20 years ago. Totally original (like the Clubman), when asked to pick his favourite Mini, Gary says it’s similar to asking which one of your children do you like the most…

Graham West has owned this van for six years and is slowly returning it back to factory spec. A reputed one time racer, it still runs with a 1275cc engine but plans for this 1968 commercial include reinstalling an 848cc unit and reverting back to standard 10inch wheels

Rover minis

These later Minis are broadly similar to look after but there are differences. EFI models feature single point injection with MEMS engine management. CAT cars have special pipework but the rear section is virtual Mk III Cooper S. Rear brakes are Cooper S on all cars. Just because it’s a Mini, don’t think that parts are instantly interchangeable with earlier cars – they’re not! Post 1995 cars had front mounted radiator while unleaded cylinder heads were not fitted until 1989.

While not as prevalent as counterfeit Coopers, there is a Rover Mini which can be faked – the Commemorative. These models sported a special interior plus a glass sunroof which was not even optional elsewhere…

 

What To Look For

Small car – Big rust

All Minis rust very badly – some reckon the Rovers aren’t as well built as the BL cars (1991-93 mainly) – and why you need to check everywhere; outer and inner panels, floorpans, bulkhead. 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, ditto the rear wings, rear valance and the boot floor – which is frequently eaten away by leaking battery acid. The sills and inner sills are usually as badly affected.

Lacy floorpans and rear subframes are also par for the course; once the latter has started to corrode significantly, wholesale replacement is the only suitable answer. If the subframe has rotted out, then usually it takes the floor area with it. Rear subframes cost around £400, it’s the fitting and usual attendant floor welding that’s the problem.

Thankfully replacement panels and subframes are available and BMH also provides brand new shells although you are looking at £8525 minimum and almost 12 grand for a Mk1 body. Also be aware that while Minis mostly look the same there’s subtle difference down the decades – remember this when buying second-hand bits.

Transmission troubles

Most Minis were equipped with a fourspeed manual gearbox, but from 1965 there was the option of an 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 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. If anything, the Rover ‘box is considered the weakest; rare Jack Knight five-speed conversion on Rover Coopers is extremely expensive to repair, their parts are scarce plus top gear isn’t an overdrive ratio.

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 first thing to go will be the synchro cones, although these should still last 100,000 miles before giving any major 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 clicking noises on full lock the CV (constant velocity) joints will need to be fixed.

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 perhaps the Imp isn’t as quite as agile around corners. Sport models aren’t as quick as Coopers but nice. A good looking fastback range also offered. Imps are cheaper than a Mini, too.
BMW Mini
BMW Mini
Why not? The original R50 encapsulates the spirit and character of the original BMC brick where as the later generations became fatter and, to be frank, sillier. What they have in abundance is good performance (scintillating in Cooper S guise), cheapness and modern conveniences. Lots around but reliability isn’t up to BMW standards so be choosy when buying. Custom packed Coopers are the best bets.
Fiat 500
Fiat 500
Perhaps the closest thing to a Mini, the 500 offers cute looks, an active owners’ club, even easier DIY and a fun drive – but unless you buy one that’s been modified there’s a frustrating lack of poke on offer although easily improved (see our feature in this issue to find out more). Some models are becoming very expensive.


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