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…
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.