GOING SMOKE FREE
Tim Wright’s first couple of cars were Minis, so he didn’t think twice about reliving his youth when he was given the opportunity buy this low-mileage, restored MkII Cooper S.
A well-restored Mini is a beautiful thing; as Tim Wright’s MkII Cooper S demonstrates.
Like Twiggy demonstrated in the 1989 Mini 30 advert, you always remember your first Mini. And that’s certainly the case for Tim, the owner of this MkII Cooper S. And the couple of Minis he owned after his first just made him want another one.
Although not as smart or rare as the Cooper S, Tim still fondly remembers the 1973 Mini 1000, given to him by my parents for his 18th birthday in 1984. He explains: “It was immense fun despite being the rather uncool colour of Harvest Gold. I did the usual teenage modifications of fitting a big bore Peco exhaust, Wood & Picket nudge bars and a whiplash aerial. It’s cringing to think about that now!”
After about a year Tim changed his Mini for a 1975 Clubman, followed quite shortly by what he thought was the ultimate Mini, a red 1275GT. “As the decade changed to the nineties, that was it for Minis and I progressed to MkI Golf GTIs,” he says.
Now in his fifties with two school-age sons the Minis and hot hatches have
given way to a Land Rover Discovery, but Tim admits that the sight of a Classic Mini, especially an ultra-rare original Cooper, made him yearn for another one day - as a classic to keep for fun days out.
Then, in late 2017, a friend of Tim’s mentioned that another friend owned a 1969 Mini Cooper S, and had, in fact, owned it from new. “His children and grandchildren had little interest in this Mini, so he was half-heartedly looking to sell it,” reveals Tim.
“This Mini isn’t a barn find as such, but it really hadn’t seen much of the world”
A SPECIAL CLASSIC
He realised this could be a huge opportunity to own a really special and unmolested Classic Mini, so he shot down to view the car: “I wasn’t disappointed, it was in great condition. Not perfect, but very good. The previous owner had kept it in a warm, integral garage and ran it every few weeks or so, since having it restored in 2001.”
Turns out that the former, and indeed first, owner of this Cooper S ran this Mini in London as commuter car but racked up very few miles. In 2001, it was sent to Richard Miles of The Tipton Garage in Devon, where the car underwent a full restoration. He thinks it included an engine rebuild and work on the body. From what Tim knows, most of the body is original, but it had new door skins, and a fabric Webasto sunroof, that was installed at some point in the seventies before being removed and the roof panel replaced. Tim thinks the car was repainted at that time too, as the paint today is still excellent. Not concours, but there is no sign of any creeping rust and it certainly presented itself as almost factory fresh. The seats were retrimmed at the same time, but the rest of the interior has been untouched from new.
“This Mini isn’t a barn find as such, as it was kept in such a warm and dry place, but it really hadn’t seen much of the world and it was great to discover such an original car,” Tim added.
A test drive confirmed that this Mini was as lively as expected, but Tim noticed it was puffing out some blueish smoke on acceleration. Despite this, he didn’t want to miss out on this opportunity, and having looked through the paperwork, the 59,000 miles on the clock proved to be genuine. So, despite not doing many miles for the previous 21
years, a deal was done, and this Cooper was his.
So what was it like driving a Mini after such a long break (since the 1275GT), I ask? “Remembering the 1275GT, the handling was incredible, just like the Cooper S. However, I never recall the 1275GT feeling anywhere near as fast as the Cooper S. That surprises me, as I’ve driven some pretty fast cars since then - but this Mini Cooper S absolutely flies.”
When Tim got this Mini back to London, he first booked it in for a service, then had rear seatbelts fitted for his children by The London Mini Centre in Putney. Tim describes them as great guys, so he got them to sort the slightly sagging hydrostatic suspension, too.
However, that worry about the smoking engine did bother him and the symptoms didn’t point to a simple fix like the valves, but perhaps something more serious and deeper in the engine, so he decided to get the engine rebuilt. “I did some research for engine builders, and came across great reviews for the work of Chris at Crafted Classics Tuning in Norfolk. What especially appealed to me was his enthusiasm and pictures of the engines he builds on social media, as well as the fact he only works on the A-Series engine. Chris’s brief was to keep it as original as possible, but with sensible upgrades,” explains Tim.
It’s over to Chris Hamilton at Crafted Classics Tuning, for the next part of
this story: “Tim drove his Cooper S to me in October 2017, after recently getting it back on the road. His arrival was accompanied with clouds of smoke from the exhaust system. My initial diagnosis was seized rings and stem seals that had gone rock solid due to their age and for being sat for so long.”
Chris began removing the engine once it had got to Tim’s allocated build slot in November. “Tim assured me that the engine had received a ‘ full rebuild’ before it was taken off the road and had only done a few hundred miles. I was fully expecting to open the engine and see a relatively fresh array of parts, thinking the build would be quite straightforward. I couldn’t have been more wrong!”
Once stripped, Chris found the gearbox was a handful of miles away from complete failure! The rings on the pistons hadn’t been fitted correctly, as well as being seized in place. Plus, although the cylinder head had been previously converted to unleaded, as well as being ported. Well it turns out the unleaded inserts fitted, had been fitted after the porting, and had a huge inner step reducing flow out of the head. On top of this, the guides were severely worn and didn’t have any stem seal at all.
“All of this was relayed back to Tim, at which point he instructed me to carry out the full works. We also discussed adding a few subtle upgrades, which wouldn’t have a negative impact on the engine, taking away any period factory parts to not detract from its overall value. So I added ARP rod bolts, a crosspin diff along with 1.5:1 ratio forged rocker assembly and Omega pistons,” Chris added.
The engine was given a full rebuild from top to bottom. Then it was fully dyno tested and run in. Only then, was it fitted back into this Mini and dressed with ancillaries.
Tim resumes his story: “I’ve had the car a year now, but it was with Chris for about four-months. I believe it gives
about 10bhp more than the original Cooper S engine, which I am more than happy with.”
Now the engine work has been completed, Tim has no plans for any further work other than routine maintenance. “The key to me is to maintain this car’s originality. Although I thought about adding extra front lights, or perhaps a boot-mounted reversing lamp, mainly for the appearance, I have resisted this temptation and am determined to keep it standard. I may add a period rev counter though, just because I am so used to having them and believe it would make driving the car so much more informative, knowing how quickly the engine is spinning.”
Tim is also looking forward to taking this Mini to the odd classic car meet. So, will he be making it a priority to hook up with a Mini Club such as the Mini Cooper Register? “Yes, I’ve joined the Mini Cooper Register, and the car has made a brief appearance in their magazine as a newcomer. I sadly haven’t been able to make any meetings or go to their annual Beaulieu show yet, but I hope to become more involved in the future,” says Tim.
Will the escalating values of Classic Minis affect how you use this Cooper S, I ask Tim? “I paid a reasonable price for the car, but it was no means a bargain. The prices of good Classic Minis have been on the up for quite a while and I know my MkII hasn’t the same value as a MkI, but it would be good to think the value may increase further in the years to come. I think that the genuine low mileage and two-owner history, along with the condition and originality will keep the value of mine up. However, that’s not going to stop me using the
“I have resisted temptation and am determined to keep the car standard”
car and enjoying it to the full, as a proper Mini Cooper S deserves to be driven, and not stored as an investment.
So will this Mini be used all year round? “I’m going to use it sparsely during the winter and avoid any salt-covered roads. I am very much aware of its cosseted life, which is why it is in such great original condition today, so I don’t want to expose it to any harsh winter conditions. I plan on driving it quite regularly from spring to autumn and take it to shows, classic car meets, and the like,” says Tim.
So, with one of the main reasons why the previous owner sold being that his children and grandchildren had little interest in the Mini, what do Tim’s boys think of it? “My two boys, aged nine and 10, are incredulous about the size, noise and speed of the Mini. Like most kids of their age, it’s all about the supercars that the footballers drive. However, they absolutely love riding in the Mini, and the reaction it gets from the other kids when I occasionally pick them up from school in it is hilarious. It gets a crowd several deep having a good look, which would be worthy of any Ferrari.” Apt praise indeed and the reason why this Mini will certainly be staying for a while.
“I am very aware of its cosseted life, which is why it’s in such great condition”
Original black vinyl trim adorns the interior.
Rare with just over 59,000 miles on the clock.
Original steering wheel suits this MkII.
Looking period perfect in Almond Green with an Old English White roof.
Brightwork has been restored to perfection.
The Mini even retains its original mirror.
The roof panel was replaced prior to Tim’s ownership.
Wearing its special badge with pride.
Door handle is another original feature.
Crafted Classic Tuning rebuilt the original 1275 A-Series.
It’s hard to believe this block is almost 50!
Period AA badge sits on the grille.
Exhaust looks like new.
Tim’s beloved Mini even draws in the crowds at his kids’ school!
A stamp of originality: the original tax disc.
Mini still rides on its original vented rims.
Period number plate and light.