Cool retro MkI

It’s taken sev­eral years, but Sean Ash­ford’s MkI is fi­nally the car he al­ways wanted it to be, and all with­out a Cooper S badge in sight.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words Jeff Rug­gles Pho­tog­ra­phy Stephen Col­bran

The lat­est fancy buzz word in clas­sic car cir­cles ap­pears to be ‘evo­ca­tion’, and as terms go, it’s pretty broad. Pre­vi­ously it’s been used to de­scribe beau­ti­ful cre­ations like the Ea­gle E-type or one of those be­spoke As­ton Martins, which take the orig­i­nal con­cept and bril­liantly up­grade it with modern en­gi­neer­ing. But on the flip side, it’s in­creas­ingly been adopted as clever mar­ket­ing lingo to get pre­mium money for some­thing that isn’t quite the full ticket – a car with all the right badges, but not the right bits.

Sean Ash­ford could never be ac­cused of such cyn­i­cism when it comes to his stun­ning MkI,

how­ever. Blank out the badges and it looks to be for all the world a gen­uine, pe­ri­odtweaked Cooper S; it’s got the proper S front panel, twin fuel tanks, an S en­gine block – heck, it’s even got the Cooper boot board brack­ets. But you won’t find the words Cooper or S writ­ten any­where on this one, for it still wears its Austin Mini la­bels with pride. It’s not a pre­tender, it’s sim­ply a Mini built just as Sean wanted it. “It looks like an S, but it’s a Mini 850,” he says. “I’m not both­ered whether it’s got an S badge or not, it’s still a Mini re­gard­less.” It’s also an ex­cep­tion­ally good-look­ing one at that, so what’s the story?


“I’d al­ways had Minis back in the day, but noth­ing spec­tac­u­lar,” says Sean, who lives in North Lon­don. “The most spe­cial one I had was a 1275 GT, in light metal­lic blue with a sun­roof. I bought them ini­tially to make some money; they were quite good earn­ers. I’d go to the car auc­tions at En­field and buy the ones that had been con­verted for dis­abled use, be­cause no one wanted them and they’d go cheap. They’d have tiny mileages, so I’d just un­bolt the con­ver­sion parts and sell them on. That’s what got me into Minis, but then I lost touch with them and got into other things.”

Like many en­thu­si­asts though, Sean would make a re­turn to the scene. “I had a light blue Pick-up for while, but that fell

apart and some­one bought it from me to do up,” Sean con­tin­ues. “Then my mate bought one for his daugh­ter, we went down to Brighton in it, and it was a bit of fun. I thought ‘I’ve got to get my­self a Mini again’, and that was it.”

The in­spi­ra­tion for an early car would lit­er­ally ap­pear right in front of him. “I was driving through a place near me, Arch­way, and I came across this MkI shell, sit­ting in the road,” says Sean. “It had no wheels and no in­te­rior, but the body was good. There was a coun­cil no­tice on it to tow it away, so I left a con­tact num­ber. The owner did ring me, and al­though I couldn’t buy it, I fell in love with the MkI shape then.”

Sean man­aged to find a suit­able and rather more com­plete MkI in the hands of Paul Wig­ing­ton – a man famed for his self­built Mini Sprint drag racer and top-drawer panel fab­ri­ca­tion skills. “I bought it as a 40th birth­day present to my­self in 2002,” he ex­plains. “It was Al­mond Green with an Old English White roof and re­verse rims. Ev­ery time Paul sees me he wants to buy it back!

“It was mostly stan­dard apart from a 1275, and he’d done the body­work to a de­gree,” adds Sean. “It still had drums, but he’d set it up right so it did stop quite well. I used it for a few years but then I didn’t drive it for a bit be­cause I got hold of an­other Pick-up. It was sound when I bought it, but it sat out­side my mum’s for a while and de­te­ri­o­rated a fair amount.”


In­spi­ra­tion to get the things back un­der­way came in the shape of Paul Costin’s Tweed Grey 1965 Austin Cooper S, a well-known car and quite the looker with its black roof, door roundels and Rose Pe­tal wheels. “I al­ways had vi­sions of do­ing some­thing with it, then I saw pics of Paul’s Cooper S and knew that was how I wanted it to look. I loved the style, and the stance – it’s my ul­ti­mate Mini.”

Jeff Sur­rey of the Stoke Mini Cen­tre was in­stru­men­tal in trans­form­ing the car into a Tweed Grey dream ma­chine, but work ac­tu­ally started be­fore he’d made the move up to The Pot­ter­ies. “Jeff was based in Finch­ley at the time, but then he said he was re­lo­cat­ing up to Stoke, so we started do­ing the en­gine long be­fore the body­work was re­ally touched,” ex­plains Sean. “I had this 1275 Cooper S block with the ni­trided crank, but noth­ing else.”

Luck­ily, Sean’s block was in ex­cep­tion­ally good con­di­tion, so he could get away with just hav­ing the bores honed rather than a re­bore. Oth­er­wise the en­gine has been given the full treat­ment, with new con-rods, pis­tons, the ro­tat­ing assem­bly all light­ened and bal­anced, plus a Kent 276 camshaft. On top sits a Stage 4 equiv­a­lent cylin­der head from Mini Spares, with 1.5-ra­tio rock­ers in roller-tip flavour. It’s also got a su­per twocore ra­di­a­tor, an aux­il­iary fan, sil­i­cone hoses and neat oil catch tank that Sean has re­fin­ished in crackle black.

In terms of electrics, the car has been con­verted to neg­a­tive earth and treated to a com­plete new loom, plus a new al­ter­na­tor and an elec­tronic Al­don dizzy. Fu­elling is taken care of by a pair of twin 1.25-inch SUs, and there’s a full-length stain­less steel cen­tre-exit ex­haust to com­plete the job. The re­mote-change gear­box has also been fully over­hauled, and now boasts a straight-cut gearset, a KAD quick­shift and a Sal­is­bury-

“I saw pics of Paul Costin’s Cooper S and knew that was I how wanted it to look...”

type limited-slip diff. How­ever, the LSD will prob­a­bly come out in the near fu­ture, as Sean de­scribes it as “hor­ri­ble!”

The long-awaited body re­fresh saw the car trans­ported up from Lon­don to Cheshire. “The body­work was done by Tony En­nion at the En­nion Work­shop,” Sean com­ments. “He put new doorskins on, new wings, in­ner and outer sills, the Cooper S front panel, a new bon­net, A-pan­els, a rear valance – all the usual stuff. The only thing he didn’t re­ally touch was the boot floor, as it just needed a cou­ple of lit­tle patches, noth­ing ma­jor, and wasn’t worth chang­ing. It was

“I thought ‘oh sod it’, and had it stripped down again to be re­painted...”

then painted Tweed Grey with a black roof. Tony said to me that a Tweed Grey car should nor­mally have a white roof, but that’s the way I wanted it to look.”

The fin­ished shell was then trans­ported back down to Lon­don for com­ple­tion – at least, that was the plan. “It sat around in my garage for a while, and I started do­ing bits, but it stalled and just got for­got­ten about re­ally,” says Sean. “Jeff took it up to his work­shop to get things restarted, but by that time the paint was look­ing a bit flat. Jeff got it al­to­gether again to the point where it was done, but in 2015 I thought ‘oh sod it’, and had it stripped down again to be re­painted.”


The re­built car cer­tainly boasts an im­pres­sive spec. In ad­di­tion to the tweaked Cooper S mo­tor and straight-cut ‘ box, the sus­pen­sion and brakes have been com­pletely over­hauled and up­rated in the same vein. The drums have been re­placed by Cooper S discs up front, al­beit with­out a servo, while orig­i­nal new old stock Minifins were found for the rear, still in their boxes. Mean­while there’s a new rear sub­frame, with proper Mini Spares ‘Rip­speed’ Hi-Los and KYB Gas-A-Just dampers. A KAD rear anti-roll bar stiff­ens things up at the back, and has been joined by KAD rear cam­ber and toe brack­ets, ad­justable front tie-rods and fixed 1.5-de­gree neg­a­tive cam­ber bot­tom arms.

The Cooper S in­flu­ence is also clear in­side the car, but once again, things have been upped a notch. There’s two-tone grey trim from New­ton Com­mer­cial, but rather

than go for stan­dard front seats, Sean’s plumped for a set of plush replica S re­clin­ers. The car­pets and trim pan­els are also new, but he hasn’t made it a faith­ful S replica. In­stead he’s cho­sen a sin­gle sil­ver speedo from an ear­lier MkI, with a separate rev counter in a pod and a com­bined oil and wa­ter tem­per­a­ture gauge mounted stealth­ily un­der the lower dash rail. “I didn’t want loads of bits hang­ing around,” he com­ments. ‘There’s no heater ei­ther, as I can’t see me ever us­ing the car in weather that’s go­ing to need one.”

Stay­ing in­side, Sean had pre­vi­ously fit­ted a leather rimmed Moto-Lita steer­ing wheel with plain spokes, but he re­placed it with a larger wood-rim ver­sion as he felt it was smarter and more in keep­ing with the car. In­deed, Sean has been keen to keep things sub­tle, with only a few neat ad­di­tions like the DSN tow­ing eyes to break from pe­riod ex­tras such as the Lu­cas re­vers­ing lamp. “Any lit­tle touches we could do, we did,” he says. “Noth­ing that would look out of place, just sen­si­ble up­grades. It couldn’t have arches ei­ther; I don’t mind them on Sport­pack Minis and things like that, but when peo­ple put arches on Pick-ups or MkIs, I think it ru­ins the look of them.” Luck­ily, the 4.75x10-inch Mini Spares Rose Pe­tal wheels and Yoko­hama A008 tyres just about sit within the stock body line, adding that his­toric racer feel and re­ally com­plet­ing the Paul Costin-in­spired ex­te­rior. “The only thing I prob­a­bly won’t do is put the black discs on the door,” adds Sean.

The car was fi­nally com­pleted ear­lier this year, some 14 years af­ter Sean first bought it. Jeff gave it a show de­but at Him­ley Hall in May, while Sean’s first event was the Brands Hatch Mini Fes­ti­val in July. Un­sur­pris­ingly, he’s re­ally look­ing for­ward to en­joy­ing it fur­ther. “I’ve not re­ally used it in anger yet – it needs driving!” he says. “Next year I’ll get it out, and hope­fully take it over to Ire­land for the IMM. There’s a few things to mod­ify now, like re­mov­ing the LSD and maybe go­ing down the route of one of Stu­art Gurr’s su­per­charger kits.”

Now around 130bhp cloaked in that at­trac­tive clas­sic ex­te­rior sounds in­cred­i­bly ap­peal­ing, but even with­out a Vmaxs­cart blower, Sean’s MkI is al­ready one very im­pres­sive bit of kit. It’s got all the great fea­tures of an orig­i­nal S, only faster and brim­ming with neat up­grades to make it even more en­joy­able. La­bel it an evo­ca­tion if you must, but this is one Mini that stands tall on its own mer­its.

The Tweed Grey and black paint scheme is a win­ning com­bi­na­tion.

The in­spi­ra­tion: Paul Costin’s stun­ning ‘65 Cooper S, now in New Zealand.

Dur­ing the re­build the car was fit­ted with a Cooper S-type front panel, pro­vid­ing clear­ance for the oil cooler.

Re­built big-bore mo­tor is based on a proper Cooper S block.

Rose Pe­tal wheels add that his­toric racer look.

Re­freshed in­te­rior fea­tures new two-tone trim and grey car­pets from New­ton Com­mer­cial.

The replica Cooper S re­clin­ers look su­perb.

Sean has opted for an ear­lier sil­ver speedo.

Lovely wood-rim Moto-Lita wheel.

Sean has de­lib­er­ately re­tained the stan­dard badges. Note the KAD rear anti-roll bar.

Lu­cas re­vers­ing lamp is a nice pe­riod touch.

Jeff and Sean have pro­duced a real cracker.

Cooper-style grille and over­rid­ers up front.

Twin fuel tanks and boot board brack­ets.

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