WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Watch that rot
Terminal corrosion has sent plenty of Minis to the scrapyard, so examine the shell thoroughly. Rot in panel seams is bad news, the front wings go, and check the door hinge area from inside the wheel-arch as it’s a common mud-trap. Take a good look at the scuttle and the screen surrounds, while rusting around the inner scuttle/inner front wing can lead to terminal A-pillar rust. Examine the sills (both inner and outer) and door bottoms, the A-panels ahead of the doors, the rear wheel arches, valances, and the edges of the bonnet and boot. Poor restorations or cars stuffed with filler are rife, so be wary.
It’s vital to get a proper look underneath as the floor pan and footwells disintegrate with remarkable ease, with rot often spreading from the sills. Lift the rear seat base if possible to check the state of the metal beneath. And don’t forget the floor of the boot and inner rear wings, paying particular attention to the area around the fuel tank and its mountings. And the battery tray rots out, with the risk of the battery itself being dumped on the road.
Although robust, cheap, and easy to re-build, A-Series engines suffer a few issues. A smoking 1275cc unit is probably worn valve stem oil seals or guides, while all suffer from oil leaks, along with rattles from the valve-gear and timing chain, and they are prone to overheating, too. That’ll quickly do for the head gasket, so look for evidence of an engine getting hot on the test drive. Common culprits are a leaking water pump or a silted radiator, but upgraded items are available to cure some of the deficiencies. Lastly, it’s worth checking which engine is fitted as swaps are common, as are modifications which may have been done with varying degrees of skill or success.
Whine in moderation
The fourspeed manual gearbox will chatter away quite happily without too much in the way of problem. Excessive whines point to bearings on the way out, and it’s worth checking for worn synchromesh and jumping out of gear. Remember, though, that the in-sump location means it shares the engine oil so 3000-mile lubricant and filter changes are best for longevity. Clutch judder could be a worn unit, or a sign of perished engine stabiliser bar bushes which allow excessive fore/aft movement of the engine – it’s an easy fix. The automatic isn’t the smoothest unit, but slipping or excessive thumps during changes mean problems. Clicking on full lock means the CV joints are past it.
Have a good look around the suspension mountings and the sub-frames, as both areas are renowned for corrosion. Earlier models got hydrolastic (‘wet’) suspension but sourcing replacement units is problematic, and it suffers from fluid leaks and rusty pipework. ‘Dry’ rubber cone suspension was fitted from 1971, and while simpler and cheaper to fix, does need checking for wear and neglect. Budget around £500 to convert the former to the latter.
Plenty to handle
Examine the brakes for the usual signs of wear. Most models used drums all round – the 1275GT got front discs – which are effective if maintained properly, and very cheap and easy to overhaul. Steering is troublefree, although if the wheel moves up and down it points to worn column bushes which are a simple fix. 1974 saw the GT offered with Denovo run-flat tyres, although you’re unlikely to find these now.
All the trimmings
With a cabin as simple as the Mini’s, wear and general grot will be immediately apparent. Threadbare seats and carpets and torn door cards are about the worst you’ll find, and sorting problems is straightforward. A Clubman estate’s load area might be tatty, too. It’s also worth checking that aged electrics aren’t causing problems, although they’ll be easy to sort on a DIY basis. Originality is a good thing, though, so look out for amateur modifications.