Doc­tor’s or­ders

Sprinted from new, Dr DePer­sio’s 1967 Cooper S was given a no- ex­pense- spared Wood & Pick­ett rebuild in 1970 for ex­port to Cal­i­for­nia. Nearly 44 years, two tran­satlan­tic cross­ings and one rob­bery later, Peter Jur­gens has fi­nally fin­ished the car.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words Stephen Col­bran Pho­tog­ra­phy Will Rei

The fas­ci­nat­ing tale of Peter Jur­gens’ unique Cooper S MiniSprint, cus­tomised twice by Wood & Pick­ett at great ex­pense in the 1970s.

Afea­ture car with­out his­tory is a mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist’s great­est chal­lenge – a daunt­ing task of piec­ing to­gether a story from a car’s ap­pear­ance and spec sheet. Thank­fully this is not one of those cars – far from! So read on for a tale of pi­o­neer­ing ‘ 70s cus­tomi­sa­tion, ve­hi­cle re­cov­ery at gun­point and a dream come true for a Bri­tish car specialist in Cal­i­for­nia.

But first we need to head back to Lon­don in 1967, in the midst of the most in­flu­en­tial era for the Mini. No car of to­day can claim to be as uni­ver­sally ap­peal­ing as the Mini in ‘ 60s Bri­tain; it was many fam­i­lies’ first car, a mo­tor­sport hero and even a fash­ion ac­ces­sory for the rich and fa­mous. The Bea­tles, Steve McQueen, Enzo Fer­rari, Mike Ne­smith of the Mon­kees, Lord Snow­don and many more be­sides all had Mi­nis lav­ishly coach­built to cus­tom per­fec­tion. Visit a deal­er­ship to­day and you can spend a for­tune ‘ spec­c­ing- up’ a very per­sonal car, but back in the ‘ 60s you’d have to visit a coach­build­ing firm to re­ally stand out from the crowd. Rad­ford and Wood & Pick­ett were at the fore­front of such con­ver­sions for the Mini, and the lat­ter

was the specialist of choice for a cer­tain Dr DePer­sio from Cal­i­for­nia.

Cus­tom Sprint

Reg­is­tered as a MiniSprint from new, the doc­tor found the cus­tom Cooper S for sale in a sec­ond- hand show­room in 1969. By 1967, Neville Trick­ett’s body- sec­tioned and roof-chopped ‘ MiniSprint’ con­ver­sions had largely been taken on by Mor­ris dis­trib­u­tor Ste­wart & Ar­den, so this 1967 S is most likely a S& A MiniSprint, es­pe­cially with those sig­na­ture Citroën Ami 6 head­lamps up front. The made- to- or­der cars were ex­pen­sive and rare – Mini ex­pert Jon Press­nell sug­gests that only around two dozen were built for S& A by var­i­ous body­work spe­cial­ists around Lon­don. The work was far from sim­ple, with around two inches re­moved from the roof pil­lars, the belt­line and also the lower sec­tion of the shell. This in turn cre­ated all sorts of fit­ment is­sues in search of a lower, more aero­dy­namic pro­file. The glass had to be trimmed down, the fuel tanks and ra­di­a­tor mod­i­fied, the front grille re­pro­filed and, well, the list goes on.

Peter Jur­gens of US- based Bri­tish Sports Cars is the cur­rent owner of this rare beast, and his son Justin was on hand to tell the story: “The car was pur­chased by our client in Eng­land in 1969 and sent to Wood & Pick­ett in late 1970,” he be­gins. “When the car was fin­ished in 1972, it was shipped to Ma­rina Del Rey, Cal­i­for­nia. We’ve got a stack of pa­per­work that documents the whole his­tory of the car and the orig­i­nal log­book that shows it was reg­is­tered as a Sprint from new.”

The pa­per­work of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight to ‘ 70s tran­satlan­tic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, with the doc­tor’s elec­tric- type­writ­ten letters to and from AW Wood, aka Bill Wood of W& P. The letters date back to De­cem­ber 1970 as the car was de­liv­ered to W& P’s work­shop in Park Royal, Lon­don. Judg­ing from the early cor­re­spon­dence, the car had pre­sum­ably vis­ited W& P be­fore, for cus­tom trim­ming

“Only around two dozen MiniSprint­s were built for Ste­wart and Ar­den...”

“And the cost of this work? £ 3281.53, or roughly 18 month’s wages in 1972...”

af­ter the body mods. This would tie- in with other MiniSprint­s of the era in any case.

There are fur­ther dis­cus­sions over the fi­nal spec­i­fi­ca­tion and costs, in­struc­tions to con­vert the car to left- hand drive, fit elec­tric win­dows, a fold- down rear seat with ac­cess to the boot, a ‘ Mar­grave’ dash­board and a whole host of ex­tras. There are also dis­cus­sions on in­stalling a 110bhp Down­ton- tuned en­gine and a ship­ping quote of £ 168, which later in­creased to £ 175. The re­quest for a five- speed ‘ box was turned down due to com­pat­i­bil­ity and the fi­nal W& P in­voices are ex­tremely de­tailed. These cover ev­ery­thing from new bat­tery ter­mi­nals and valve caps to the Re­caro ‘ N’ leather seats, four yards of head­lin­ing cloth and 100 square feet of black leather for the plush re­trim. And the cost of all this work? £ 3291.53, or roughly 18 months’ wages for your aver­age UK res­i­dent in 1972!

There were some un­ex­pected costs too, to quote Bill Wood’s let­ter from Jan­uary

1972: “The car is now ready for ship­ment ex­cept one prob­lem. The vi­bra­tions caused to the body­work on the ex­ten­sive road test ( 500 miles) have cracked the paint around the door hinges, caused by the faulty de­sign of these hinges when the car was orig­i­nally con­verted to MiniSprint spec­i­fi­ca­tion.”

The prob­lem was rec­ti­fied be­fore ex­port, but there was an additional charge of £ 60 to re­pair the paint and fix the hinges. The MiniSprint was re­sprayed in a Mercedes sil­ver paint at the time, and would have been one of the most exclusive Mi­nis money could buy with its light­weight mag­ne­sium Minilites and cus­tom in­te­rior. Not sur­pris­ingly, the doc­tor was ap­par­ently de­lighted with his pur­chase once de­liv­ered to Cal­i­for­nia some time later. But the story doesn’t end there...

Stolen, re­cov­ered

Of all the valu­able cars to steal, the ob­vi­ous choice would be some­thing in­con­spic­u­ous; a

“It would have been one of the most exclusive Mi­nis money could buy...”

car that’s easy to sell on with­out un­wanted at­ten­tion. A Mini Cooper S then, which in it­self was pretty rare in Amer­ica thanks to safety and smog reg­u­la­tions end­ing all sales in 1967, was not the most sen­si­ble choice. How­ever, steal­ing a one- off coach­built MiniSprint was just ask­ing for trou­ble.

“When the car was stolen from Ma­rina del Rey in Septem­ber 1972, our client posted a wanted ad with a $ 2000 re­ward,” continues Justin. “The story goes that he found the car in LA and it was res­cued at gun­point. Fun­nily enough, the first day we had it on the road, a cus­tomer stopped by and said he’d seen a car just like it in an LA tow yard in 1973. It had to be the same car!”

Sadly the Mini had been dam­aged dur­ing the theft, and two years later it was de­cided to ship it back across the pond, which is a fair jour­ney from the west coast! In­struc­tions to W& P were to re­pair the dam­age, mod­ify the body­work to suit US num­ber plates, in­stall a Becker ra­dio and speak­ers, plus some ex­tra sound dead­en­ing to muf­fle those twin split We­bers. A third name joins the pa­per­work con­ver­sa­tion in 1975 – EF Collins, W& P’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and for­merly of Rad­ford.

As it hap­pens, we man­aged to speak to Ed­die Collins re­cently, and asked if he re­mem­bered the car from its last UK visit in 1975. “The name Dr DePer­sio I re­mem­ber very well – the letters and cor­re­spon­dence,” says Ed­die. “I don’t re­call the car in great de­tail,

but look­ing at the pic­tures, the in­te­rior and head­lamps – that was def­i­nitely one of ours. From be­ing in­volved with a small trim­ming com­pany, we were sud­denly part of this fash­ion scene, meet­ing fa­mous people of the time, but who didn’t mean a huge amount to us. I didn’t re­alise quite how as­ton­ish­ing it all was un­til later...”

Bac k for good

Re­turned to its for­mer glory by W& P, the MiniSprint was back on a ship for the third time in three years. “It was then used for sev­eral years be­fore go­ing into stor­age in the late ‘ 70s,” adds Peter, the cur­rent owner. “Orig­i­nally the car was fit­ted with a Down­ton en­gine but a new Long­man 1380 was in­stalled in 1977 – the same en­gine the car uses to­day.” And there to con­firm it in the pris­tine se­lec­tion of pa­per­work is a hand- writ­ten let­ter from Richard Long­man him­self, dated April 15 1977.

The MiniSprint then went off the radar for over 30 years, or at least as far as we know. It was laid up in stor­age soon af­ter gain­ing the wider arches, in the next stage of body mods that were ap­par­ently never com­pleted.

And this is when the two parts of the story be­gin to tie up. Peter orig­i­nally lived in Manch­ester, but was per­suaded to em­i­grate to Cal­i­for­nia in 1980 to set- up a Bri­tax sun­roof shop. “It had al­ways been a dream to own a MiniSprint,” he says, “as I used to race cars

“It had al­ways been a dream to own a MiniSprint and I al­ways wanted a W& P car...”

in the UK and was very fa­mil­iar with Sprints. I also al­ways wanted a W& P car and had even built my own replica with the sig­na­ture front lights, but could never af­ford the real thing.” One thing led to an­other, and Peter’s busi­ness evolved into a Bri­tish car specialist garage, just as BL pulled the plug on its of­fi­cial dealer net­work in the US. There was a huge mar­ket for Bri­tish soft- top clas­sics in Cal­i­for­nia, so Peter’s com­pany, Bri­tish Sports Cars, went from strength to strength.

It also put him in touch with many lo­cal clas­sic car own­ers, one of whom men­tioned a MiniSprint that his boss had stored away in a ware­house. “We went down to buy an­other Cooper in Ne­vada,” says Peter’s son, Justin, “and in the pa­per­work we spotted a wanted ad from 1973 for the Sprint. It listed our client as the owner and con­tact for the stolen car.”

Peter had heard about the car for some 20 years, but un­til this point he’d doubted that it even ex­isted. Once he knew it was still around, he had to per­suade the doc­tor to sell his pride and joy, which would clearly be a tough task. Still, the car would be in ca­pa­ble hands at Bri­tish Sports Cars, and four years ago, Peter fi­nally man­aged to re­alise his dream and buy the MiniSprint.

“The car had been sit­ting in Los Angeles in stor­age since the late ‘ 70s,” continues Peter. “The body was in fan­tas­tic con­di­tion with no rust, but it needed a restora­tion.” The MiniSprint would be kept in Peter’s per­sonal collection of clas­sics, so the restora­tion had to make way for cus­tomer cars, and it in­evitably took some time. But the body­work was even­tu­ally re­paired and sprayed in a new coat of shiny black to com­pli­ment the chrome­work. This was han­dled by Ken’s Body Shop, nearby in San Luis Obispo. There were a few dif­fi­cul­ties with all the ag­ing W& P elec­tri­cal ex­tras, but the car was fi­nally fin­ished and back on the road for Au­gust 2013.

Plans are now to use and en­joy the car reg­u­larly, and to visit a huge an­nual car show later this year in San Fran­cisco, where it will re­ally cre­ate a stir. A clas­sic Mini of any de­scrip­tion looks pos­i­tively minis­cule in the US, so this one is set to re­ally stand out from the crowds. Peter ad­mits that he prefers build­ing and driv­ing his cars, but we think it’ll be fan­tas­tic to show this one off to as many car fans as pos­si­ble – that has to be a much bet­ter ex­is­tence for this rare Mini than gath­er­ing dust in a ware­house.

“He reg­u­larly men­tioned a MiniSprint that

his boss had stored in a ware­house...”

Peter’s son, Justin, from Bri­tish Sports Cars in San Luis Opisbo, Cal­i­for­nia.

Ex­otic mag­ne­sium Minilite wheels are su­per light­weight. The wide- arched bodykit was late-’ 70s Cal­i­for­nia ad­di­tion.

Citroën Ami 6 head­lamps sit in squared- off front wings. Al­most ev­ery­thing on this Cooper S was mod­i­fied in the Sprint process.

Metal- blade cool­ing fan for the short­ened ra­di­a­tor.

Twin split We­ber carbs were top spec in the ‘ 70s.

Even the heater tap was re­lo­cated to suit the chop.

The rear chrome bumper bars were made lo­cally in Cal­i­for­nia, af­ter a set sourced in the UK were re­jected by W& P.

The rear seat back has been re­moved, with a fold- down hatch into the boot.

Twin fuel tanks were mod­i­fied to suit the bodyshell’s lower pro­file. The rear lights are Altissimo units fit­ted by W& P in 1975, as on In­no­centi Mi­nis of the time.

Orig­i­nal Wood & Pick­ett plates on the door steps.

Re­caro leather seats, Becker sound sys­tem, ex­tra di­als and an arm rest for this no- ex­pense spared 1970’ s W& P coach­built in­te­rior.

In­te­rior map light and the W& P dash.

Momo wheel re­places the orig­i­nal 1970s Nardi.

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