A mini problem

This car, with registration number 621 AOK, was the first Mini off the production line to be badged Morris. It was never sold, and is now kept at the British Motor Museum, Gaydon, UK. Photographed at the Gaydon Mini Festival 2007.
DeFacto, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1984 I bought my first car and like many teenagers at that time a mini was an ideal way to gain independence and freedom of the road.

My father and brother both worked as engineers at Rolls Royce in Bristol (Filton) and my brother in particular was interested in car renovation / restoration.  From the late 70s and early 80s he bought and restored several cars including a Triumph Vitesse and a Triumph TR4.   It was not uncommon to find them working in the single garage attached to our house, taking engines and gearboxes out, repairing bodywork and even respraying entire cars.  I would often ‘help’ and I must have absorbed some of the restoration bug as when I bought the mini I started to look at how it could be brought back to top top condition.

This is where things started to take a turn for the worse.  It was clear from a rudimentary examination by my father that the car I had so eagerly handed over £350 for was a basket case.  As with many cars of that era rust was evident almost everywhere and it had been skilfully masked by the seller to those who didn’t know what they were looking for (e.g. me).

The mini in question was a 1973 example, originally in a sort of beige / poo brown colour, it had been resprayed in matt black, dechromed and both the front and rear bumpers removed.  The front seats had been replaced with ‘boy racer’ ones.  Being taller than the original seats they didn’t tip forward as far, making access to the rear seats somewhat difficult for all but the smallest child.  It was, however ideal for me as I had longed for a mini for many years and the more modified the better as far as I was concerned.

My father suggested we make the best of a bad job and repair what we could to make the car safe to drive.  Eager to recover some of my pride after making such a foolish purchase I agreed and we made a plan to strip the car and assess the damage.

We found several tons of body filler, rags and other items used to give the impression of a sound vehicle.  After removing these foreign objects the car was in far worse condition than expected.  It was pretty much a scrapper.  The engine too had a head gasket showing sigs of leaking (bubbles in the cooling system).  To say I was in a state of shock was a bit of an understatement.  I felt physically sick for several days.

Eventually I decided I wouldn’t let this set back defeat me and decided to recover what I could from the bad situation.  The engine was stripped, assessed and sent to a local machine shop for a full clean and rebore. New pistons, rings, gaskets and other items required for a rebuild were purchased and the engine reassembled.  The biggest problem was the body.  It would need many rusty panels to be cut out and new ones welded back in.  I would gladly have given it a go myself but we didn’t have a welder so I got some quotes from a couple of local garages.  It was clear that the cost of putting the bodyshell back to an acceptable standard was going to be more than economically viable.

It was at this time I had the idea of buying a new bodyshell directly from British Leyland, getting it painted and effectively building my own mini from scratch.  I don’t know how but I managed to find a number for BL (bearing in mind this was before the age of the internet) and spoke to someone there who quoted me about £600 for a new shell which didn’t seem too bad on the face of it.  I also made enquiries about the cost of getting the body painted and this is where I hit a brick wall.  The body shops I spoke to were not exactly helpful and asked me questions I couldn’t possibly answer (e.g. what type of primer would the shell be delivered in).  At this point I started to get cold feet and my brother pointed out that it would be far cheaper to buy another car, which I reluctantly agreed with.

A while later I bought another car (not a mini this time) taking the precaution of bringing my father along so I didn’t buy another dud and eventually over a number of years the mini parts were disposed of.  Many years later I did buy another mini (two in fact) and made sure they were in good condition, knowing exactly what to look for.

It was a valuable (if slightly costly) lesson – never trust a seller to tell you the truth and make sure you get someone else who knows what to look for when considering a purchase.  I learned a lot from the experience and am pleased to report that I never got caught out again.  There were many occasions I almost bought a car only to find a significant problem with in on closer examination giving me the opportunity to make my excuses and scarper.

© Reggie 2024