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Buying A Mini...... Published: 29th Jun 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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What’s the attraction of an Austin-Morris Minivan & pick-up?

The Mini commercial hits 50 this year and these most minimalist of Minis are becoming as hot a property as any Cooper S, especially the small pick-up trucks. Minivans and pick-ups may have been designed for work in mind but they are just as much fun to drive as their passenger carrying counterparts and a lot rarer these days as well, even though the van outsold the Traveller estate by 2:1!

Dates to remember

The Minivan was introduced at the same time as the Countryman and Traveller estates, all based upon a stretched Mini platform. Mechanically the commercials differed from the passenger models with a lesser tuned 848cc engine featuring a lower compression cylinder head and altered distributor to enable the use of two-star petrol. The commercial’s gearing was also lowered to aid performance when laden. The stubby-looking pick-up surfaced a year later with a similar layout while a plainer Mini estate, which was the nearest thing to a van albeit with seats and windows arriving in 1962. Externally, all ‘working’ Minis featured a fixed pressed metal grille (which does nothing for under bonnet access to carry out servicing we can tell you!) but they did gain proper wind up windows for the 1970s along with the passenger car line up. The commercials also gained the same improvements and alterations that benefited the car over its long life. In 1978 the LCV ranges were rebadged ‘95’ to donate their working weights and both the van and pick-up lasted four more years in service until the new Metro van was launched which wasn’t half as versatile. More than half a million Mini vans were produced along with 60,000 pickups so they are quite popular in their day.

Driving

The commercials drive just like a normal Mini, albeit somewhat slower – and noisier. That said, it’s pretty rare to find a van or pick-up that’s still running on its original running gear; most will now feature saloon tune engines at least (perhaps up to 1275cc) and more bearable gearing to cut the din and aid economy. As you’d expect, the LCV’s handling is pure Mini-like,although the longer wheelbase robs these Minis of the design’s ultimate Kart-like agility – but not by much! Most vehicles should be running on a ‘dry’ suspension (although sometimes changes during manufacturing can take place) with drum brakes. Driven normally all suffice for today’s roads although don’t be surprised to see later discs retro fitted as it’s well worthwhile.

What to pay

The days of a cheap Minivan are over – in fact it’s less expensive to buy a normal one. Expect to pay £1000 minimum for a half-decent roadworthy example that’s still going to need a fair bit of time and money to bring it into line. Five fat ones isn’t unknown for a top van or pick up - and we’ve seen these delightful little light trucks for half that much again. And that’s verging on Cooper S money! Originality plays an important role with these Minis because so many were improved over time with saloon bits and now the challenge is to bring one back to spec although nobody can begrudge a saloon-spec engine. Many major companies, such as the AA, used them in their prime and you do see authentic coloured and signwritten models around, Vans were also popular models to convert to estate format with aftermarket window and rear seat kits; value with care as they are now neither one thing or the other.

What To Look For...

  • All Minis are prone to corrosion. 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 wheel which settles on the top door hinge box.
  • Another awkward area to repair is the inner scuttle panel, where it meets the inner wing behind the wheelarch. Once corrosion has got hold 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.
  • Ditto the rear floor pan and sub frame which is the Mini’s most infamous rot spot It’s a messy but straightforward job to replace and additional welding repairs bump up the cost. New body shells from British Motor Heritage are available.
  • Shock absorber mounts 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 probably have seen better days. On cars with external hinges, at the top of the windscreen pillars, there’s a sponge seal and absorbs water. Check for corrosion under windscreen.
  • The A-Series engine is renowned for being a tough unit that will take hard use although you should be wary if there’s less than 40psi showing at speed. The engine’s stabiliser mounting bar bushes tend to disintegrate 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. The A-Series engine isn’t very good at retaining its oil, so don’t expect a leak-free unit.
  • 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 synchro and poor gear selection, so from 1964 a stronger gearbox was specified and from 1967 synchro was fitted on first gear.
  • The transmission shouldn’t be especially noisy on any Mini (although the famous whine will be there of course). 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.
  • The Mini’s steering should be light and responsive. MkII Minis were fitted with a modified 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.
  • Rear suspension can easily be knocked out of alignment by kerbing the wheels leading to the radius arms being bent. Similarly the front wheels get kerbed easily, leading to the tie rods getting bent!
  • Rubber-cone suspension, 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.
  • Aftermarket wheels are popular, but it’s worth checking their width. Anything over six inches will put an undue strain on the bearings. The braking system is very simple and easy to check. The most common problems are leaking slave cylinders on the drum brakes.
  • The wiring loom on a Mini is simple, but the battery’s location in the boot can cause problems. The bulkhead-mounted fusebox can give trouble with poor connections, as can the bullet connectors fitted to early cars.


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