John Hands’ MkII Cooper project soon spi­ralled from a light re­fresh to a pro­fes­sional ground-up Works rally replica build. It’s been a dif­fi­cult and time-con­sum­ing jour­ney but the re­sults speak for them­selves…

Mini Magazine - - Contents -

John Hands’ MkII Cooper build evolved into a fan­tas­tic Works rally replica..

Ral­ly­ing had been a sur­pris­ing suc­cess story for BMC’s baby fam­ily saloon in the ‘60s, but the com­pe­ti­tion was bound to catch up sooner or later. Af­ter all, the Mini was never de­signed with high per­for­mance in mind, and as the AlpineRe­naults, Porsche 911s and Ford Es­cort Twin Cams came onto the scene, its days looked num­bered. The re­lease of the MkII Cooper S in late 1967 was more a facelift than an up­grade, al­though the Works Mini driv­ers still gave it their all at Monte Carlo the fol­low­ing Jan­uary. In less-than-ideal con­di­tions, Rauno Aal­to­nen, Tony Fall and Paddy Hop­kirk man­aged a cred­i­ble third, fourth and fifth over­all in MkII Cooper Ss.

Five decades on, the Works cars con­tinue to in­spire Mini fans with rally mods of their own, be that Tar­tan Red paint schemes, spot lamps or num­ber 37s on the doors. Then there are en­thu­si­asts like John Hands, a pur­chase man­ager at Jaguar Land Rover, who’s gone the ex­tra mile to build an au­then­ti­cally de­tailed replica. “Apart from the Land Rover I don’t think there’s any other af­ford­able clas­sic that’s quite so iconic as the Mini,” he says. “I had a few Minis

when I was younger as well, then a Mini 25 and my wife’s now got a Paul Smith LE. I’ve al­ways loved the Monte Carlo rally cars and I have the plea­sure of work­ing with Alas­tair Vines, who owns an ex-Works car and of­ten does the Monte Carlo His­toric. So it stemmed from there…”


John went look­ing for a new project car in 2014, even­tu­ally set­tling on a 1968 MkII Cooper for £4000. John Adams of Coven­try Clas­sic Minis would be en­trusted with the project, so the two Johns headed to Stoke with a trailer for col­lec­tion. “When we got there the car wouldn’t start, it was sold as a non-run­ner,” says John A. “It was a gen­uine MkII Cooper, and as a nice bonus it came with a proper 1275 11-stud S en­gine – I’m not sure if the seller knew that! In the end it was just a burnt-out con­denser and I got it run­ning, al­though it was pretty rough with dif­fer­ent nee­dles in each carb.”

The sen­si­ble so­lu­tion was to whip the en­gine and ‘ box out for a good once-over, to avoid fur­ther dam­age to what is an in­creas­ingly valu­able mo­tor. “We had the en­gine checked out by Trevor God­win and he con­firmed it was def­i­nitely from a Cooper S,” con­tin­ues John H, “but

“It sounds ro­man­ti­cally stupid but I didn’t want to give up on her...”

un­for­tu­nately it had been re­built quite badly and the crank­shaft was be­yond res­cue. Luck­ily Al Vines had a spare S crank at Southam Mini Cen­tre that was like new.” The en­gine would even­tu­ally go back to­gether with a Kent 286 cam and 1.5-ra­tio rock­ers for some ex­tra top-end power.

John H con­cluded that while the en­gine was out for a re­build, he might as well get the Cooper’s body­work ti­died up to match. As you can see in the re­build pics, it looked OK to be­gin with, thanks to a shiny blue paint job, straight pan­els and retro fab­ric sun­roof. Nev­er­the­less, he duly stripped it down to a rolling shell and sent it off for blast­ing and repairs at Coven­try Clas­sic Minis. “I went on hol­i­day to Amer­ica and thought it strange that I hadn’t heard any­thing back from John,” he says. “When I got back he said that he didn’t want to ruin my hol­i­day, and that I needed to come down and see what was left of the car. Most of it had been swept up in a dust pan!”

Blast­ing the shell re­vealed the true state of the Cooper be­neath its smart paint job. Clearly there’d been non-stop patch repairs over the years, with du­bi­ous amounts of filler over deep-set rot. “It sounds ro­man­ti­cally stupid but I didn’t want to give up on her,” re­calls John H. “She was the car I had and the one I wanted to save. We were born in the same year, and as it al­ready had an S en­gine I de­cided on a Works style re­build, to bring it back to life as close to the Monte Carlo Minis as I could.”

Ini­tial thoughts were of a 33 EJB look-alike, but chop­ping a rarer MkII around to re­sem­ble a MkI S didn’t seem right. In­stead, the project would ad­vance four years in theme to repli­cate the 1968 Group 2 era Works Minis such as ORX 7F. It was de­cided early on to lift de­tails from a few dif­fer­ent cars rather than get bogged-down in an ex­act replica, avoid­ing the can of worms that can of­ten en­tail.

“Ac­tu­ally it started as a ba­sic rally-style re­build and soon snow­balled into the full­blown Works style,” John A ex­plains. “We found it had al­ready been con­verted from Hy­dro­las­tic to dry sus­pen­sion. If it was be­ing re­built as a to­tally orig­i­nal car, we’d have gone down the wet sus­pen­sion route, so in some ways the rally style would be sim­pler. In other ways, build­ing a non­stan­dard car can take far longer, as you spend most of the time try­ing to get all the re­pro­duc­tion parts to fit nicely.”

Be­fore all of the fun stuff, how­ever, was the ex­ten­sive task of weld­ing up the Cooper’s rot­ten bodyshell. That alone amounted to around 200 hours of labour, to the point where it’s now eas­ier to list the pan­els that weren’t re­placed. It’s had an en­tire M-Ma­chine floor from front to back, com­plete front end and even a new roof skin to fill in the sun­roof aper­ture. “All the early ones are like that now un­less you’re spend­ing big money,” says John A. “I can’t imag­ine find­ing a MkII at the cheaper end of the mar­ket that doesn’t re­quire such ex­ten­sive weld­ing – they’re all bad when you start dig­ging. By the time you’re fin­ished re­plac­ing pan­els on these cars they’re pretty much all new. Any­thing we didn’t change was blasted and red ox­ide primered from the in­side out.”

Old fash­ioned cel­lu­lose paint may have been in-keep­ing with the ‘60s rally look, al­though the Johns agreed that the re­paired body should be sprayed in re­silient twopack. The fresh coat of Tar­tan Red may lack

that im­per­fect dulling down over time, but bear in mind that the car’s also been built with longevity in mind, and it’s got a beau­ti­fully deep glossy shine.

“Keep­ing it all au­then­tic look­ing eats up a sur­pris­ing amount of time...”


Build­ing a rally-style Mini is one thing, but to repli­cate finer de­tails like the com­plex dash­boards, trim and ex­ter­nal trin­kets takes pa­tience. “Keep­ing it all au­then­tic look­ing eats up a sur­pris­ing amount of time,” says John A. “John found pho­tos in his re­search and kept vis­it­ing to show me ex­actly how he wanted it all to look. The spec­i­fi­ca­tion would change weekly as he found more im­ages.”

“Yes I went down quite a lot but I wouldn’t say I was much help, more of an an­noy­ance!” jokes John H. “I’d pop down and say if the de­tails weren’t quite right and I bugged the hell out of the work­shop guys at Gay­don. They were out­stand­ing though, as I was in there al­most on a weekly ba­sis to take pho­tos and ask tech ques­tions about the ex-Works cars.”

The re­search was lead­ing the way to in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive pe­riod rally parts and Lu­cas electrics, items like a ‘60s heated wind­screen switch and a gen­uine Halda trip me­ter for the nav­i­ga­tor. The pe­riod rally es­sen­tial is driven from the rear of the Smiths speedo, or at least it should be. “The Halda came from Don Bar­row in Mac­cles­field,” ex­plains John H. “He had an orig­i­nal Twin­mas­ter as an empty case and so I had a 3D model made to sit in­side, so it looks like a proper func­tion­ing me­ter. Work­ing Hal­das go for about £1800 these days and I doubt I’d ever do any ral­lies with the car – it’s more about the style.”

In fair­ness, we wouldn’t have known the in­ter­nal me­chan­ics were miss­ing un­less we asked the ques­tion, so it does the job per­fectly. The driver’s seat, on the other hand, is the real deal. “It’s ac­tu­ally from an ex-Works car ac­cord­ing to Al Vines,” says John H. “I had to have it re-up­hol­stered and John re­built and painted all of the frame. I be­lieve it came from a Lo­tus Elan plus 2, whereas the passenger side is a Mi­cro­cell re­cliner that folds down flat.”

Com­plet­ing the look are a pair of 1970s Bri­tax har­nesses and an Aley Bars-style rollcage. And if you won­dered about the flat-capped teddy sit­ting on the re-trimmed back seat, John H found him a skip and felt com­pelled to save him, just like the Cooper. What a fit­ting mas­cot!


From start to fin­ish it took John A just un­der two years to to­tally trans­form the Mini to its cur­rent guise. “Dur­ing that time we were also build­ing Martin Cull’s twin­cam MkII that was in the mag­a­zine

re­cently, and a seven-porter too,” he says. “These big projects lit­er­ally take over and swal­low months on end. From a busi­ness side, gen­eral ser­vic­ing can be far more prof­itable, but the sat­is­fac­tion from com­plet­ing a car like this makes all the ef­fort worth­while.”

Even af­ter all the work, there were still a few tweaks to made to the fin­ished Mini. First it was off to Southam Mini Metro Cen­tre for an ini­tial run on the rolling road, then John H could grad­u­ally bed-in his new week­end toy to iron-out any is­sues. “I re­cently went back to Southam for Colin Tay­lor to do the fi­nal tune,” he says. “Un­for­tu­nately he couldn’t get the most out of it with that stan­dard air fil­ter box, so next up I’m go­ing to up­grade the carbs and try again. It still goes a treat, but I think it’ll go bet­ter with twin H4s or maybe even twin split We­bers that Colin’s of­fered.”

The twin split We­bers would surely be the ul­ti­mate set of carbs for a MkII Works replica, as they were lit­er­ally the cut­ting edge tech­nol­ogy of the 1968 Monte Carlo rally. It was a mod that al­most had the Minis dis­qual­i­fied once again on the Monte, and one that’s been seen ever since as the ‘ holy grail’. Such a sta­tus does come with a hefty price tag, ad­mit­tedly.

“The is­sue is that build­ing the car has emp­tied my bank ac­count quite se­verely, so I need to stop spend­ing now for a while!” jokes John H. “I reckon I’ve spent al­most £18,000 in to­tal, al­though it’s in­sured for £25,000 and I might even put the value up this year.” So it’s been a wise in­vest­ment, not that he’s plan­ning to sell up any time soon.

“When you look at the end re­sult I think it’s ab­so­lutely stun­ning,” he adds. “I got a real buzz from peo­ple ask­ing if it was one of the orig­i­nal Works rally cars when it was sat next to LBL 6D at the mu­seum.”

The ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that John’s is essen­tially a brand new car. It’s a Works-style MkII with all the right bits; a Mini to be en­joyed on road trips and weekends abroad with­out the worry of tar­nish­ing a price­less rally star.

John roughly based his car on the MkII Works Cooper Ss, avoid­ing the pit­falls of build­ing an ex­act replica of any one car. It looks stun­ning. Splash guards for when the go­ing gets tough... ...and head­lamp straps for the re­ally tough! Clas­sic Works-style cen­tre-exit ex­haust pipe.

The Cooper came with a gen­uine Cooper S 1275 en­gine. It’s been re­built with a new crank, Kent 286 cam and high-lift rock­ers.

Peo­ple of­ten mis­take John’s Mini for a gen­uine pe­riod rally car, such is the de­tail.

The MkII Works cars fea­tured Minilites and Group 2 arches.

Re­in­force­ment on the rear valance was de­signed for quick-lift rally jacks, al­though you’d prob­a­bly not want to use them on a car this tidy.

Halda Twin­mas­ter is a de­sir­able piece of kit.

Pe­riod ex­tras added com­pli­ca­tion to the wiring.

The Works Mini in­te­ri­ors var­ied con­sid­er­ably from car to car, but we reckon John’s got the look and feel just right, with a few ‘mod­ern’ ad­di­tions.

The driver’s seat came from an ex-Works car whilst the passenger-side is a Mi­cro­cell re­cliner. The back­rest folds flat for­ward for good ac­cess to the rear.

2017 marks 50 years since Rauno Aal­to­nen and Henry Lid­don took the fi­nal out­right win on the Monte Carlo Rally in LBL 6D.

John doesn’t plan to repeat the Monte Carlo ral­lies any time soon, but has en­joyed some mem­o­rable road trips al­ready, in­clud­ing a trip to France with the So­lent Mini Club.

Twin tanks for the fin­ish­ing Cooper S touch.

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