ON THE JOB

Hav­ing hunted for a 970 S for ages, Jonathan Bown is aim­ing for perfection.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words Jeff Rug­gles Pho­tog­ra­phy Matt Woods

Some may dis­agree, but for the ma­jor­ity, it's the MkI Cooper S that's top of the tree in Mini cir­cles. You've got the pu­rity, the in­cred­i­ble mo­tor­sport her­itage and a bril­liant re­minder of the swing­ing '60s all rolled to­gether in one world-beat­ing pack­age. And when it comes to the MkI S range, the Holy Grail has to the ul­tra­cov­eted 970cc ver­sion.

When the Cooper S first ap­peared in March 1963, it was pow­ered by a 1071cc A-Se­ries. Ini­tially in­tended as a run of 1000 cars to ho­molo­gate it for rac­ing, just over 4000 cars were ac­tu­ally built over the 17-month pro­duc­tion pe­riod. De­spite its sweet-run­ning en­gine how­ever, the 1071 was re­ally only an in­terim model. BMC had al­ways in­tended to de­velop long and short stroke ver­sions of the S mo­tor to suit the pop­u­lar 1000cc and 1300cc rac­ing classes, and with the ob­so­les­cence of the 1100cc class, it got crack­ing. The 1275 S would go on to be a pro­duc­tion model un­til 1971, but the short-stroke 970 S was re­ally only put into pro­duc­tion for ho­molo­ga­tion pur­poses. Just 963 ex­am­ples (a frac­tion short of the in­tended 1000) were built be­tween June '64 and April '65. It was very com­pet­i­tive, but many were later con­verted with big­ger en­gines, mak­ing sur­vivors ex­tremely rare.

One man who knows all about their rar­ity is Jonathan Bown. He's been a Mini fan for 25 years, hav­ing owned count­less ex­am­ples in that time. But things got a lit­tle more se­ri­ous when he be­gan run­ning his own busi­ness aged 27, and the cur­rent fleet in­cludes a 1275 S named Hamish and a re­cently pur­chased 1071 S – both Austins as Jonathan ad­mits he won't buy a Mor­ris! He also has a Mk3 S that re­cently won its con­cours cat­e­gory at Stanford Hall, but a 970 S has proved elu­sive – un­til now. “I've been look­ing for a very long time,” he says. “I think there are less than 100 left now.”

Jonathan's Mk3 was pur­chased and re­built via Paul Pre­ston Mini Restora­tion, and im­pressed with the re­sult, he's en­trusted the 970 to Paul too. It was pur­chased as a run­ning car with an MoT, but that won't do for Jonathan. He has a clear re­mit for Paul, and that's to build the best car he's ever done. Aside from a cou­ple of es­sen­tials such as hard­ened valve seats for un­leaded fuel, the car will be re­built as closely as pos­si­ble to fac­tory spec. And hav­ing al­ready scooped a tro­phy with his Mk3 S, Jonathan will be hop­ing for more of the same. The Na­tional Mini Cooper Day at Beaulieu is the tar­get, and we can't wait to see the com­pleted car.

So Jonathan, How did you get into Minis in the first place?

It's been a pas­sion since I was a kid. My dad had al­ways owned Minis, and my bother was a cou­ple of years older and had a Mini. So I had one as my first car, which my Dad paid £35 for. That was 25 years ago. We did a bit of work to it, got it go­ing and start­ing us­ing it. I went through about nine, just one af­ter an­other, be­cause they were not that good. There was a garage just down the road from where I grew up, which is still there now. Back in the early '90s ev­ery time a Mini rocked up as a part-ex the guy in there, who's un­for­tu­nately since passed away, would call us up and say 'I've got this one for £200, do you fancy it?' We just kept on buy­ing them. The one that was rough­est was pur­ple, and had mould in­side. It was a hor­ri­ble car, but was the only one that never broke down! We had that in the fam­ily for about four years – they're fan­tas­tic cars. I love them.

When did the col­lec­tion get more se­ri­ous?

The real story there was that my dad was in the po­lice force, and went to serve a war­rant on some­one for miss­ing court. He chased them through the house as they ran away, came into the garage, and there were two Ss and one Cooper in there. There was no way of get­ting out so the guy had to go to court, but while he was there Dad asked if any­thing was for sale. He ended up buy­ing an S, and bought me a Cooper. I should have kept it be­cause it was a 997. Then I started my own busi­ness when I was 27, and as soon I as started mak­ing some money I started col­lect­ing them.

When did the first Cooper S ar­rive?

I stum­bled across one about 10 years ago, a Mor­ris Cooper 1275 S. I hate Mor­ris to be hon­est – I just don't like the badges – but I loved the car so I bought it. I sold it at the Sil­ver­stone Auc­tions, then I bumped into one of the 1275 cars I have now, called Hamish. He's a red and black Austin 1275 S, 1967. Then at that point, it changed. One wasn't enough, and the qual­ity had to be there.

So how did you find out about Paul, and end up buy­ing his Mk3 S?

That was by ac­ci­dent. I saw Paul ad­ver­tis­ing on eBay, went on his main site, and saw where it said that he was the proud owner of a 998 Cooper and a Mk3 Cooper S await­ing restora­tion. I rung him up – he an­swered even though he was on hol­i­day – and asked him if the Mk3 was for sale. 'Could be', he replied. Then I asked if it was Bronze Yel­low, and when I found out it was, I agreed to buy it over the phone there and then. That was how I met Paul.

How did you find the 970?

I was lay­ing by the pool on hol­i­day in Dubai, had just fin­ished play­ing in the wa­ter with my kids and saw it on the Car and Clas­sic site. It had been on it for less than 20 min­utes. I rang up, put a de­posit on and my dad went to look at it. I paid in full the next day, and when I got home it was sat on my drive­way.

What state was it in?

Jonathan: It was a good, use­able car with about a week's MoT left on it. I took for an­other test and it passed first time, so I drove it to Stanford Hall. I then had it back home for an­other three days be­fore it went up to Paul's. The orig­i­nal plan had been to wait un­til 2018, but then you guys called and said you wanted pho­to­graphs...

Paul: It looked in fairly good shape, it just showed a few tell-tale signs of need­ing restora­tion work. How­ever, the car was far from what Jonathan would ex­pect out of it. He wants it like a brand new car. So what's the re­mit for the car?

Jonathan: My re­mit to Paul was for it to be the best car he's ever done. I'm ex­tremely fussy and he knows that. We can pick fault with the Mk3 so that shows the level we will go to. We're not

com­pro­mis­ing on any­thing. It has to be the best that phys­i­cally you can build. And you were happy to go back to Paul?

Jonathan: Paul's as good a re­storer as any­one, if not bet­ter. He can build any car, he just needs the bud­get, and from me, he'll have the bud­get not to com­pro­mise. It's not an open che­que­book, and it's not like Paul's new house is be­ing built on the back of this car, but it's not done on a shoe­string. The car ar­rived with Rose Petals and four­pot cal­lipers. Will you be keep­ing th­ese?

Jonathan: No, it has to be orig­i­nal and le­git, just as it rocked out of BMC. No flashes, no whis­tles. I think be­tween 1964 and 1970, BMC just got things right. Like The Bea­tles, it was the right mo­ment for it. So any one who can take that his­tory, em­brace it and put it back to what it was orig­i­nally means the car can last my gen­er­a­tion and hope­fully more gen­er­a­tions. It's a Bri­tish­built car, and I just think that his­tory needs to stay – I don't like to mess with th­ese things. So what's the next step?

Paul: We'll take the en­gine out, sub­frames out, and strip it so it's a bare shell. It then goes off to be blasted, we'll put it into an epoxy primer

while we are work­ing on it, then we'll do all the rel­e­vant panel work. Do you en­vis­age much panel work?

Paul: The usual. Prob­a­bly in­ner and outer sills, front end, doorskins, rear valance etc. Once we've done all the panel work, any bits of orig­i­nal metal we will strip bare again then re-epoxy. We'll ob­vi­ously make sure there's no swarf any­where, then it will go to the fi­nal prep stages for paint. We'll buy a new Her­itage rear sub­frame, but that will be rubbed down and gloss-blacked. It will then be as­sem­bled with a new in­te­rior, and the en­gine re­worked. When are you hop­ing to have it done by?

Jonathan: Beaulieu is the aim, but that will be de­ter­mined by what hap­pens when the shell is blasted. Some­times they can look great, but it's a dif­fer­ent story af­ter blast­ing. Paul has told me that it looks good, so we'll see. It would be great to win at Stanford Hall, and be at the NEC. And will that be it for the col­lec­tion?

Jonathan: I've just bought a 1071 S to do this time next year, and I'm des­per­ate to find a MkII. I'd also love to do a '59. And I want an Au­gust '59, which is go­ing to be re­ally tough to find. I know where there is one and he will sell it, but it's a Mor­ris...

The car is by no means a rust-bucket, but blast­ing will re­veal all... The dash has al­ready been stripped out. The car came with Rose Petals, four-pot cal­lipers and a reg­u­lar steel spare - th­ese will be changed. This was a run­ning car, but some of the de­tails, such as the num­ber­plate brack­ets, are in­cor­rect. Th­ese will be rec­ti­fied. The in­te­rior looks OK, but will likely be re­placed.

The next stage will be to re­move the en­gine and sub­frames, then get the shell blasted. The en­gine is be­lieved to be a fac­tory Gold Seal unit. A new head­liner will also be re­quired.

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