Richard Newton’s Mk3 Cooper S is inspired by his illustrious Mini past.
Even after more than five decades, the Mini scene still has plenty of capacity to surprise us. Many might recognise Richard Newton as the co-founder of Suffolk-based Newton Commercial, the leading light in replacement Mini trim. But while that’s pretty remarkable in itself, there’s more to this tale. You see, Richard’s career highlights also include time with the BMC Competitions Department, a year at the legendary Downton Engineering and even a spell in Germany managing two Cooper S racers. And it’s the memory of those race cars that inspired the transformation of his Mk3 S from a £500 daily hack into the unique tribute act you see here.
Richard first bought the car as a standard
“When I opened the bonnet I immediately saw two extra studs on the head...”
Glacier White example in 1979, just as he and wife Vera had started the Newton Commercial business from their semidetached house near Ipswich. However, his history with Minis and BMC vehicles extends back to the mid-1960s. “I served my apprenticeship at Morris Motors,” he tell us. “I started on my 17th birthday and was there for five years, but I spent my last year at BMC Competitions in Abingdon. I was into racing and persuaded them to let me go for a month, but I was there for 12, working on the Works Minis, Austin Healeys and all sorts. That would’ve been 1967.”
From there, it was back to reality for a short while. “I went to BMC Service for nine months after I finished my apprenticeship, in the complaints department, which was huge!” Richard continues. “But then I got a job as sales manager at Downton Engineering. I saw it advertised and Peter Browning (ex BMC Competitions manager) gave me a reference. I was there for a year before I went to work in Germany for a company called D.L. Wooding and Co. It was the main BMC agent for northern Germany, based in Hamburg and feeding all the other dealers. My job was to source accessories for all the English cars, like the John Rhodes stuff and all the other brands that were around at that point. At the same time I would get the latest parts from BMC Special Tuning, because we were campaigning two Cooper S race cars and were selling the tuning kits. They were MkIIs, both painted black, one with a gold roof and the other with a silver roof. A chap called Christian Schmarje drove one very successfully, and one was later driven by Prince Leopold of Bavaria.”
Sadly, after a couple of years the Minis
were no longer competitive against the faster Alfas and Fords, so they were retired. “We packed in racing Minis in 1971, and then we were approached by Ford to run two Escort BDAs. We built three cars in development with Broadspeed, and one still exists today. We then raced for two and a half years, winning the 2-litre championship, but in 1973 we had the oil crisis which blew everyone out. We ended up going bust, which was a real shame.”
Richard relocated back to UK, where he became a branch manager for Serck Services. This would later lead to re-trimming seats for commercial vehicles (see separate panel), and the establishment of his own business. Before long Richard had left Serck, but that meant he had to give his company car back. “I bought a Ford Escort estate, and at that point Vera was driving a Morris Minor, but it was dead – basically it fell apart and kept breaking down,” he recalls. “There was an advert in the paper for a Mini, and it just said ‘Mini 1000’. I rang the chap up and he was an American, working at RAF Bentwaters. He was going back to the States, so I went over to have a look. It was white at the time, and when I opened the bonnet I immediately saw two extra studs on the cylinder head, and the twin carbs. Of course the Mk3 Cooper S looked exactly the same as a regular Mini 1000, so the seller didn’t twig it was a 1275, even though it had a Cooper S badge on the back. I knew exactly what it was, so I bought it for £500 I think.
“Vera used it for several years and I used it on the school run, when we used to take my daughter to Saxmundham,” Richard continues. “We drove it every day for about three years, so I think that probably put on about 20,000 miles. However, in 1983 one
of the doors started to fall off, so I looked at it seriously, and it was rotten. It was really bad all round, the sills weren’t very good, and even underneath the windscreen was rusting inside.”
Although appreciation for the Cooper S was increasing by this point, in reality it was a rusty 12-year-old Mini, and many would’ve just scrapped the car. Richard opted to keep it, but repairing the existing body would’ve been uneconomical compared to the price of a brand new factory shell, which would allow the original identity to be retained even under current rules. “There was a garage in the village, John Balls,” recalls Richard. “I got reasonably friendly with him due to various cars, and he said he’d get a new body. So we bought a brand new shell, which was an original, straight off the production line. It had the square tunnel rather than the earlier round one, but he managed to fix that up with a bracket and make it work. He then painted it black, as I wanted to revive my memories of D.L. Wooding.”
The vast majority of the parts from the original car were transferred over, so it still retains its original Cooper S specification. “When it was being restored I did have the engine stripped down,” says Richard. “We had a customer who looked after light aircraft, and one of his customers was a chap from Colchester. I got talking to him, and it turned out he’d been racing Minis and doing engines for years. I told him that my engine was now a bit smokey, so he
“He painted it black, as I wanted to revive my memories of D.L. Wooding...”
offered to have a look. He took it away and said it didn’t need reboring, but he balanced the crankshaft, con-rods and flywheel, and went right through it. It had done about 80,000 miles by that point, so it was ready.”
Once complete, Vera and Richard pressed the car back into regular daily service for a while, and its mileage is now around the 92,000 mark – still very low for a 45-yearold car! “It was Hydrolastic, and it ended up with one of the units going, so I had it modified somewhere along the line to dry, but that’s really it,” Richard comments. “It runs really nicely.”
Over the years the car has also been used for catalogue photoshoots, website images, prototype fitting and instructions, as well as appearing at shows. “We did show it a couple of times, including at the NEC in the early ‘90s when I was involved in doing rebuilds with Heritage. I must have done six or seven. We did two in Essen, where we built MGBs. So that’s when we would’ve taken the Cooper to shows, to fill the stand. That’s about when we started doing Mini trim, and now it’s our biggest seller.”
BACK TO MY ROOTS
Come 2009, it was time for a refresh. The car was still rust-free and running well, but the paint and trim were ready for updates. “I had it repainted in time for the 50th anniversary at Longbridge,” says Richard. “This time I had a gold roof, and we changed all the trim, going for the black with the gold piping. I actually had the Wooding signage put on the car too, along with a Wooding numberplate on the back. At the show, a chap came along and said he remembered me from the Salzburgring. That was John Rhodes. He’d also raced for us twice at the Nürburgring, and we helped to prepare a car for him to drive in the Spa 24-hour race, so we had a nice chat about that. In 2014, it also went to IMM in Kent to be displayed on the stand there too.”
The interior is certainly very smart with its S recliners and Moto-Lita steering wheel, but there’s nothing to spoil the Cooper S feel. Likewise the exterior – there’s a set of genuine Minilites as a nod to the days when Richard used to import them into Germany (and even did so for Porsche), but besides the paint scheme, a MkII Cooper grille and a neat reversing light, that’s it. Critics may scoff at the replacement shell, but this was done 33 years ago and is part of the car’s continuous – and very interesting – history. In our eyes, it’s very a much a proper Mk3 S.
In recent years, the car has led a bit of a sheltered life and spent much of its time garaged. “I don’t really drive it much now,” says Richard. “It only does 3-400 miles a year. But it’s kept up and running.”
With this mind, the car would be sold to the right buyer, one who will appreciate it and look after it. Whoever ever does take ownership in future will be getting an immaculate Mini with a pleasantly surprising back story. Oh, if only we had the spare cash...
The front grille is a MkII Cooper-style item.
Twin tanks and boot board remain in place. Two very sought-after labels side-by-side. Richard has owned his Cooper S for 37 years!
Despite the later body and raceinspired colour scheme, this S retains many of its original parts.
The 1275 S motor was rebuilt back in 1983, and still runs perfectly having covered only around 13,000 miles since.
Tech Del Minilites clad in Dunlop SP tyres.
The interior was revamped in 2009, in readiness for the IMM at Longbridge.
The D.L. Wooding black and gold colour scheme looks superb.
Unique Cooper S recliners.
Black trim with gold piping to match the exterior.
Careworn Moto-Lita adds a touch of patina.
130mph S speedo in iconic centre binnacle.