WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Assume any potential purchase will have rust – you need to establish how much. Start with the panels in front of the doors; multiple panels meet here. Corrosion is usually from the inside out, so check for water getting into the cabin from a holed A-pillar. Sills dissolve, expect rust where the subframe is mounted to the floorpan and lift the carpets to check underneath; holed floorpans are common. Remove the back seat to see if the inner wheelarches are intact. All four shock absorber mounts rust, along with the air vents at the base of the windscreen pillars. Corrosion often lurks under the windscreen rubbers, and check for rust where the hinge panel, valance and boot floor meet.
All Minis have an A-series engine, in 848cc, 998cc or 1098cc forms. It will take some neglect, but tired units aren’t always easy to spot – they just fail without warning. Expect to pay £1500-2500 for a rebuilt exchange engine. Lots of smoke when you apply the throttle after the over-run suggests the valve guides and stem seals have had it. It’s especially likely with the 1275 engine but it’s no big deal; a topend rebuild costs around £200.
HANDLE WITH CARE
If the tyres have worn unevenly the rear suspension might have been kerbed out of alignment, bending the radius arms. New ones cost £55 each. Front tie rod replacements are £20 per side. There’s a knuckle joint between the suspension cone and arm which wears. Try to put your hand between the top of the tyre and the wheelarch. If it won’t fit, it’ll cost £55 per corner to get it fixed. It’s easy enough to do yourself with the special tool that’s required.
All Minis came with a fourspeed gearbox, generally an all-synchromesh manual unit, but occasionally an automatic. The latter is rare thanks to poor reliability and a lack of spare parts. The most likely problem is with the clutch breaking, which is given away by power being transmitted in all settings except Drive. A rebuilt box is the only solution, at around £1400. The problem with the manual ‘box is that it shares its oil with the engine, which should be changed at least every 6000 miles, although 3000-mile oil swaps are better. The first thing to wear will be the synchromesh cones, although these should still last 100,000 miles. Even when in rude health a Mini’s gearbox whines, but post-1980 cars tend to be quieter. Of more concern are untoward noises on full lock, suggesting tired CV joints; specialists typically charge around £100 per side to fix them.
The stabiliser mounting bushes tend to fail on these Minis, leading to lots of vibration from the engine; rock the unit when it’s switched off to see how much play there is. Replacement bushes are just a fiver. Misfiring may be nothing more than damp in the ignition system. The distributor is on the front of the engine, and this gets covered in rain water coming through the grille. Even fastidiously maintained Minis have leaky engines – the A-series is renowned for its incontinence. The gearchange and timing chain oil seals are usually the main culprits, and while replacements can be fitted, don’t expect them to be effective.
If you buy a special edition you won’t find any new interior trim, even through specialists, and you’ll be doing well to find anything used. However, the mainstream editions are well supported, with Newton Commercial, among others, able to offer seats, carpet sets, panels and headlinings for most variants, including estates.
The dynamo was swapped for an alternator in late 1972. The wiring is simple, but the battery’s location in the boot can cause problems. If it’s not secured properly there will be starting problems. The bulkhead fusebox may have poor connections, likewise the bullet connectors.
FEEL THE WIDTH
Check the width of any aftermarket wheels, as anything over six inches will strain the bearings, and probably foul the bodywork. The braking system is simple and easy to check. The most common problems are leaking slave cylinders on cars equipped with drum brakes all round, but everything is available cheaply to effect repairs.