Curbside Classic: Austin Mini Mark III “Cooper” – How Do You Say “Fugazi” In Japanese?

They love their Minis in Japan. Can you blame them? I mean, who doesn’t love Minis? They’re cute, cool, sporty, revolutionary and iconic. And in a country where about one out of three cars adheres to the kei regulations, it’s a perfectly-sized slice of British history. But that’s the problem with this one: it looks like the real thing – a classic ‘60s Mini Cooper – but it most definitely is not.

The original Mini was made for 40 years, and some of them made it to Japan. Quite a few, in fact. I don’t have any hard data to back this up, just the fact that I’ve seen this familiar shape in too many places around here for it to be a coincidence. I’ve seen late model ones, restored older ones, Mini-specialized workshops – they’re really popular here, I tell you. I’ve even seen a Mini graveyard from afar. I was on a bus, unfortunately, so I couldn’t stop to snap a couple pics.

Short of a classic Mini graveyard, here’s one I found nearby that is probably ready to be a parts donor, but is instead just sitting next to an abandoned house. I’ve seen a few of those as well – individual Minis slowly going to seed in someone’s back yard. It’s a sad sight, but it also proves that these retain a certain status and charm, even when immobile.

The interior of this late model doorstop was still surprisingly clean. I’m really no expert on these, but it seems this one had a few modifications, as well. I’ll let the CCommentariat debate what those might be. For my part, I’ll just say that this faded Union Jack seat cushion is a perfect representation of how I feel about the UK these days. Seeing a Mini always reminds me of what I used to love about that country, which I know well and am still attached to, but that has been drifting away into a sort of madness, or some sort of collective Alzheimer’s.

But let’s leave politics out of this. My point was that there are many Minis about, which I didn’t expect when I came to Japan. (The BMW Minis are also quite popular, but they are not really “mini” any more than the new Fiat 500s. Which are also quite popular. It’s all about the retro-cute thing, which is really big on the JDM.) I had seen at least one or two very old Minis about, as well. And the other day, I managed to find one that was stationary. It had all the proper badges, I thought. As I said, I’m really no expert, but even I know what early Minis look like. The small taillights were there – along with an Austin Cooper script that seemed pretty much like the real thing. Promising find, this.

The interior seemed like a Mark 1, as far as I could tell. Very ‘60s, or ‘50s even, with that central tach, that big bakelite wheel and the red faux leather. Ok, so there was an A/C unit added to the mix, but hey, this is Japan, not the Scottish Highlands. It’s definitely needed here.

It was a bit tricky to get a decent look at the front end, but that also seemed in decent order. But that’s when I noticed the missing hinges. The 1962-69 Mini Cooper, or any ‘60s Mini really, should have visible hinges on its front doors. Otherwise, it’s not a ‘60s Mini, but rather a post-1971 Mini. In which case, it cannot be a Cooper, and cannot have small taillamps and all that other stuff. Don’t get me wrong, this car was still beautiful. But as I realized it was a fake Cooper, I did wonder why so much effort would be expounded by its owner to make it look like an older car than it should have been. That takes a special kind of mindset.

What a genuine ‘60s Austin Mini Cooper looks like


I wondered: Who is this guy is trying to impress? Who is he trying to kid? People who don’t know it’s a Cooperized Mark III would likely be impressed by any Mini that looked halfway decent. People who know how to spot a true ‘60s Cooper won’t be fooled for very long. And after a spot of research, I also found that all Coopers have chromed window frames, which is not the case here. I call BS on this BL travesty. I’m sure I missed half a dozen other cues that should have told me that this was mutton dressed as Cooper, but I’m just not enough of a Mini maniac.

Imagine doing this with a VW Beetle, for instance. Start with a Super Beetle and try winding the clock back to the early ‘50s. Put on the old-style front wings, dash, steering wheel, seats, taillamps, engine lid, delete the rear window vents, add the old-style trim and badges… It’ll still look wrong in the end to people who know Beetles, because the Super Beetle’s greenhouse is so visibly different from the Split / Oval Window era Beetles. It’s going through a great deal of trouble for no tangible benefit.

Sure, some of you may say “Lay off, T87. This is not a crime. He just likes it that way.” Of course he does. That’s why he did it. But it doesn’t mean I have to like or respect it. It’s depriving a genuine Cooper owner of some trim and badges for his restoration project. It’s trying to pretend a car is what it is not. It’s ahistorical and insulting to the memory of John Cooper. And if he sells it as is for a premium to someone who doesn’t know their Mark I from their Mark IIIs, it’s potential fraud.

I know, I know, I’m getting riled up over nothing. Unhinged, in fact – just like that Mini. I just don’t like this kind of snobbery. And I’m miffed because I would have loved to have bagged a genuine ‘60s Mini Cooper. But now I’m looking at my photos and, well, it’s still a pretty little number, that fake Mini. A lot of money and passion probably went into it. Maybe the guy just wants to make his own because he can’t find the genuine article. I don’t know how many were imported here, if any.

So fine, I’ll save my bile for something more bileworthy. Ride on, Wannabe Cooper-san. Have fun pretending it’s 1965 all over again, with some nice A/C blowing on your mop-top and Eurythmics singing in your ears. Wait, were Eurythmics around in 1965? No? Let’s pretend they were. Facts and history don’t matter, it’s how you feel that does. And while we’re here having fun, let me hear you pronounce “Rover” one more time.


Related posts:


CC Outake: 1966 Austin Mini Cooper S – Direct From Monte Carlo, by Roger Carr

Sports Car Shop Classics: 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S And 1999 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur, by PN

Curbside Classic: Austin Mini – Yesterday’s Mini; Today’s Micro, by PN

Car Carshow Classic: 1960 Austin Seven (Mini) – The Future Started Here, by Roger Carr

Curbside Classic: When Is a Mini Not a Mini? When it’s a 1966 Riley Elf Mk III, by Marckyle64