COAL #4: Classic Mini


The Green Mini

Frank, my old school friend, had a thing with Minis. He was 6 months older so, as a car enthusiast wanting to get the drivers’ license as quick as possible, he got his license 6 months before I got mine. He immediately bought a car. It was a cheap rusty Mini, he fixed some things and sold it on for a bit of profit. Then he found his (then) dream car, a 1974 black Innocenti Cooper 1300.

Innocenti was an Italian car company which during the 60s and 70s assembled BMC (Austin or Morris) Minis. They put in many Italian sourced parts and these cars were sold as the Innocenti Mini, which were also exported to the Netherlands. The fastest version was the Cooper 1300. This was still available long after the British Cooper S was dead. It had many unique Innocenti details like Carello headlamps (not Lucas) and rear lamps, quarterlights and a stainless steel post in the doors, stainless steel door frames, a rectangular number plate at the back, thicker seats and a unique dashboard consisting of many round dials. These cars were genuinely quick, I remember driving one on a motorway at 160 kmu (about 100 mph), overtaking other cars. Scary in an old type Mini 🙂

Standard 1974 Mini left, 1974 Innocenti Mini Cooper 1300 right


Early 80s, even these rare, fast cars could be found cheap because like all Minis they rusted while-u-wait. Frank found one which needed work. He also was working at the Volvo specialist on Saturdays but was there for many evenings as well, always repairing or upgrading his Mini. He always carried all of his tools in the back of the black Innocenti. One day we went to a scrap yard, he needed something. I joined him because I loved being at scrap yards. On the forecourt of the yard I saw a little green Mini. It was old because it was of the type you did not see anymore (in 1981): horizontal sliding door windows, outside door hinges. I examined the car but apart from a little rust here and there, could not see why it should be scrapped. OK it did lean a bit to the side but that was probably the tires. A little worrying was that there were no number plates attached. On the other side, it did have rare aluminium wheels.

Frank agreed, this one was far too good to scrap. So we asked the yard owner about it. He said it was not for sale as the registration already was turned in. Which meant it could not go back legally on the road. Or maybe it could but then I would have to apply for a rigorous new test.

I discussed with Frank what to do. We agreed this unique car should be saved so I offered the scrap man scrap money which he agreed.



The next day I was back with Frank and the car of my father. We pumped up the tires (the yard had an air line). I still had not my drivers license but Frank could drive the towing car. I would sit in the green Mini. The hand brake worked so we saw no trouble in towing the car the 5 miles home carefully. Thinking about this now I cannot believe my father approved to do this! Probably we did not say as much and did not ask for permission.

At home I checked the car over. I saw it had cords to open the door from the inside, what a neat solution. From reading classic car magazines I knew this old type of Mini had the Hydrolastic suspension system instead of just rubber blocks, hmm. That looked pretty difficult and was probably the reason why the car still leaned to one side even though the tires had pressure. Frank got to work at the engine and after some fettling said let’s try. We tried but the battery was near dead. We picked up a battery at the Volvo specialist and put it in the Mini. After a few turns, and Frank spraying ethanol in the carburettor, the engine started!



Next to my parents home was a big field. We drove the Mini in the field and tried how fast it would go. Not too fast, it did run but not very good. Brakes did not work but the hand brake did. Also the car was very bouncy, it was clear something was wrong with the suspension.

After returning home and putting the car away in the garage, I got thinking. Was it realistic to repair the car? I needed the help of Frank of course. The work would need to be done at the Volvo specialist which was a little problem because he was just moving from one building to another.

Frank knew the address of a local Mini specialist. I invited him over to see what he would say about the car. He got to us and said he would take over the car, probably for spares. He offered me a little more than I had paid so the car went to him.

Still, I was sorry to see the car go. It has a nice color, I liked the early specification details. But I was not ready yet for difficult repairs likely needed on the Hydrolastic suspension. The fact that I had saved it from the scrap yard just to sell it on for scrap did not leave me with a good feeling.



About ten years later I came across someone who drove the same car as I did at the time (Triumph Herald 1200). He lived in the next town and said he also had an old green Mini, the type with the external door hinges. Surely this would not be… ? I went over and recognized my old car. I knew it really was my car because of a typical tear in the backside of the passenger seat. The strange thing is that the car had a 1972 registration. In 1972 no Mini had horizontal sliding windows. The owner said he bought it from that Mini specialist a couple of years earlier. A bit fishy, how could the car have received a 1972 registration? Whatever, I was glad to see the car surviving. Had I not bought it all those years before it would have been scrapped.


The black Mini

Sylvia said that if she ever would buy a car, it would have to be a black Mini. She did not really need one but I remembered the green one a few years earlier and thought it would be fun to experience a Mini alongside my white Chamois. Weeks later Tom, the Volvo specialist, announced he had traded in a 6 year old black Mini. He offered to sell it to Sylvia cheap because she was my girlfriend. Deal!

The Mini was a special, really. A 1100 Special. This was a version only available for a couple of years on the Continent (not in the UK). Apart from the bigger engine (more common  was 850 or 1000 cc) it had a vinyl roof, sports wheel covers, small dashboard in front of the driver, plush black velour seats, wooden gearshift knob, tinted glass. It also had a rare option: spotlamps incorporated in the chrome grille. In black this really was a classy, even luxurious looking car.


Of course I had to test drive her car as well and we ended up at my parents place, parking behind the Mitsubishi Galant of my father. Everyone admired the smart car and said it was a lovely car. When Sylvia left to go to her parents later that afternoon, she stepped into the car and then disaster struck!

I always left a parked car in gear, usually first. This made sure the car would not roll. Not on the handbrake because in freezing weather there was a chance the handbrake would freeze and make the car immobile. Sylvia, with a fresh drivers license, was taught to leave a car in neutral with the handbrake on. To start, switch on the key, engine runs, then press the clutch and put in gear (forward or reverse), release the hand brake and the clutch. Dear reader, you already guessed what happened next, and yes, it did happen.

She started the car which instantly lurged forward, hitting the rear of the Mitsubishi. To make things worse, the Galant had a towing bracket. The tow ball was forced straight into that nice special Mini grille.


That grille with the spot lamps just visible


Luckily that was just the damage: a broken grille. And that special grille was not made of plastic but from tiny stainless steel U bars. I removed the grille from the car and Sylvia’s father dismantled it, drilled out the spotwelded bars and straightened the damaged ones. Then fitted them again using not spotwelds but tiny bolts and screws. These were invisible because the grille surround covers these. He needed a few evenings but then the grille was as new again!

We used the car once for a holiday to the UK. The first thing we did after arriving in Dover, was trying to get some sleep in the car. We had taken the cheapest ferry available (of course) which meant arriving very early, like 5 or 6 in the morning. During the night we had the three hour ferry and the hour or so wait before the ferry, so you could say we had a broken night without real sleep. In case you wonder: it is not very comfortable to try to get some sleep in a Mini, with two persons, even with reclining seats. It all adds to the fun of having a holiday in a Mini.

The second thing we did was to look out for an British Leyland dealer to buy a right hand exterior mirror. By default cars then were not fitted with two external mirrors, just the drivers’ side. Then we went searching for scrap yards. I had a thing with scrap yards and I wanted to visit UK yards. I was not disappointed, many species to be found of the cars I loved most, from the late fifties, sixties and early seventies. These cars I had seen in the UK magazines but not for real. I had made a list of parts I would want and got into the yard with my tool bag.


Overflowing river at Zutphen (or Deventer, I do not remember)


We also went to two or three Imp parts specialists. I had found their addresses in the UK Imp Club magazines where they advertised. There I bought many new parts. The most clumsy parts were three new bumpers, they only just fitted in the Mini starting between the front seats all the way to the top of the rear windscreen.

A main thing about the Mini was the discomfort. It was okay on smooth roads but anything else you got bounced all over the place.

Another main thing I did not like in a Mini was its inaccessibility. I once had to replace the radiator bottom hose which was a nightmare. Same for the gearstick joint to the gearbox. And the rear subframe.

It was the eighties, it was the Netherlands, the cars lived on the street so it was inevitable the Mini gained rust everywhere. Being a black car, it was easy to fill in the rust spots with a paint pen. After a few years the rust got worse, the car just got through the yearly inspection with the remark that it would need a new rear subframe next time. So I got a second hand rust free subframe from somewhere. I do not recall where, but Minis were everywhere and parts likewise. In our small rented garage (just big enough for one normal sized car) I managed to replace the subframe in one long weekend. I remember thinking Never Again!

After the successful change the Mini never stood straight again. The left rear wheel was just a little higher than the others. I had not the guts to investigate why. Everything worked, mounting rubbers had been renewed, so why? Could it be that I had bought a wanky subframe? It was not much, it did drive as well as before, others probably would not see it but I noticed it every time.


At our students’ apartment


We lived in a student apartment with a small parking area. This parking area was not completely level. I found out that when the Mini was parked at the right most parking spot, it looked good! No visible leaning.

We decided to sell the car. I did not want to go through another inspection a few months later with the possibility to fail on the subframe. So an ad was made and a young man came to see the car. He looked on the outside (which looked pretty good), loved the inside (as new) and asked if he could hear the engine. He was not interested in taking a drive because he did not have a drivers license yet. I asked what he thought of the car. He said he liked it but it was too expensive. We did what buyers and sellers do and agreed on a price. His father picked up the car the next day. And no, we never heard again from him. In all, a success maybe but I was never really happy about the selling process.


The yellow Mini

In december 1993 I spoke to a neighbour. He had a friend whose wife had gotten a new job, and a company car. This meant her current car needed gone, quickly. It was an old Mini, he knew I was into old British cars so maybe was I interested?

Now I did not need another car. But if opportunity knocks, cheap, nearby, known history for the last 5 years, then I am weak. Why not buy it and sell again after a few months? Anyone else would say why the trouble? And they would be right of course.


Not our car but very similar


It was a good 10 year old rust free Mini. Unlike Sylvia’s previous 1100 Special, this was a no-nonsense 1000, nothing special. A single big speedo in the centre of the dash. Blue-ish striped cloth seats. Immediately after buying I regretted it. It did not have the special things the black Mini had. I made me remember why I was not a huge fan of Minis. No comfort! We only had the car for a couple of months after which I sold it again, no profit made but happy to see it go. I never even took any pictures of it, which shows I never cared much about it.


The last year Mini

We came close to buying another “old type” Mini. In 1989 the end was announced for the production of the Citroen 2CV. I had no money then but if I had, or so I thought, I would buy one of the last 2CV new. And keep it for the rest of my life. What better to be the first owner of an already classic car?

Eleven years later, the same happened for the old type Mini. They were to be discontinued so if you would want one, be quick. Even though I was not a big fan, I discussed with Sylvia about buying one. A British car from the sixties era – which brought many great British cars – still available new. I visited a dealers showroom and was not impressed. Too expensive, too much gadgetery, cheap on details, the wooden dashboard looked out of place, the thick leather seats were too much for the car. I was never a fan of Minilites wheels either. It was an old car tarted up.


An example of a last year Mini


We could come up with the money even though it would be more than we had ever spent on a car. We decided it was not worth it, we were no die hard fans. If I would ever buy a Mini again, it would have to be one from the sixties.