Vintage Views: Classic Mini

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Despite the Mini’s motorsports chops and unwavering fandom, the little car was actually born of necessity. Thanks to the 1956–’57 Suez Crisis, the British Motor Corporation simply needed a fuel-efficient car-and they needed it stat. Alec Issigonis, who had already crafted the successful Morris Minor, was given the task.

His creation was the revolutionary Mini. A transversely mounted engine and front-wheel drive maximized space, giving the car a roomy interior yet a small footprint-just about 10 feet total in length but with space for four occupants. Small 10-inch wheels were placed at each corner, and initial cars made due with just 848cc of fuel-supplying displacement.

The Mini debuted in 1959, initially sold as both the Austin 7 and Morris Mini. Soon variants were built for BMC’s other brands, including Riley and Wolseley. In addition to that original two-door salon, wagons, pickups and the Jeep-like Moke followed. Production would last through 2000 and expand to other countries.

Issigonis didn’t intend for the Mini to be high-performance car, though. That was John Cooper’s doing. He saw the Mini chassis as a great foundation for a salon racer. Adding more power, more grip and more brakes created the Mini Cooper, a true world beater first unveiled late in 1961. An even hotter Cooper S followed in 1963.

Within a decade, though, the Cooper run had ended with a little more than 125,000 units produced. That sounds like a lot until you realize that more than 5.3 million Minis were built. End result? Here’s our first caution: Expect to find lots of non-Coopers billed as Coopers. While you can add the performance, the pedigree and matching values are another matter. “Original Mini Cooper and Cooper S” by John Parnell will help determine a real Cooper from a fake, down to chassis and engine numbers.

Second word of warning: Minis were not officially imported to the U.S. after the 1967 model year. Even today, they must be at least 25 years old to legally reside. As a result, you’ll see lots of ads mentioning updated specs-but, in reality, for example, a 1970 Mini “updated to 1995 specs” is likely a 1995 car wearing the earlier VIN plate. How to tell the real birthdate? Check out for some help.

And, finally, Minis like to rust. Where? Pretty much everywhere.

Does this make the Mini a loser? A legion of rabid enthusiasts would strongly disagree.

Practical Guidance

Our editor, David S. Wallens, knows a bit about Minis, having owned a classic Cooper while also serving as chairman of the board of the British Motor Trade Association.

A perfect, genuine Cooper S can top $50,000. Figure at least $10,000 for a good, normal Mini –which is a great blank canvas for your own hotrod. They made enough that you shouldn’t have to settle for a sketchy car.

Roll-up side windows replaced the original sliding glass starting late in 1969. The roll-up windows allow more airflow but sacrifice the giant door pockets.

While some rust is inevitable, at a minimum check subframe mounts. Replacement body panels made on the original tooling, including complete shells, are available.

Despite no factory support here for 50 years, both replacement and performance parts are just a few mouse clicks away. Mini Mania and Moss Motors both offer vast online catalogs. Both companies’ websites can help determine a Mini’s actual year of production, too.

“Know what you have,” stresses Moss Motors’s Kelvin Dodd. “Creative title work or composites of non-original components make it very difficult to determine value or even order spares.”

The Mini gained single-point fuel injection starting in 1991. “Troubleshooting is impossible and tuning to match any upgrades is out of the question,” explains Mini Mania’s Don Racine. “The good part about these SPI models is that the entire fuel injection and computer can easily be removed and upgraded back to a conventional carb of your choice.” Multi-point injection arrived in 1997, along with a new engine block that deleted the provision for a distributor. This ECU controls most aspects of the car, Racine warns, making drivetrain backdating nearly impossible.

The early, stock drum brakes kind of stink. If running 10-inch wheels, you want 7.5-inch front discs as found on the Cooper S.

Tire Rack stocks 10-inch Yokohama A008 tires for the early Mini. A 12-inch tire became standard in 1984, with 13s eventually following. Mini Mania can help, but not all options are DOT-approved.

If you want to go really fast, Mini Tec offers custom subframes that accommodate Honda D-, B- and even K-series engines. Too much power for the front wheels? They also offer an all-wheel-drive rear subframe kit.


Mini Mania
(800) 94MANIA

Mini Tec
(706) 246-0072

Moss Motors
(800) 667-7872

Tire Rack
(888) 541-1777


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View comments on the GRM forums
HapDL New Reader
8/11/17 4:43 p.m.

First new car I owned was a 69 Mini, not a Cooper, but still a hell of a lot of fun. Thing was an autocross killer, nobody else had one and it won every event I entered with it. Biggest problem I had with it was keeping CV joints in it. You see, since there were zero front wheel drive cars in the rural area where I lived all my mates got huge joy out of seeing the front tires smoke. So I did it. Lots. And wore out and broke lots of CV joints. It's also surprising the things you can do in a mini when you're a young, testosterone fueled lad and know a lot of, shall we say, willing, women. Fun times!

jdoc90 New Reader
3/20/18 9:31 a.m.

I had an original 1964 wolseley hornet .I loved that car despite it's tiny 1000cc 40 hp engine and loud transmission .So much fun , so unique ,and yes right hand drive ! my ex wife made me sell it and i regret it to this day .I kept some pictures .on my desk so I can get misty while taking a break at my office lol  maroon, white top, gray leather interior . i need a tissue......

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