Watch that rot

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying Guide -

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.

Floor it

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.

En­gine is­sues

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.

Cone checks

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.

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