Top Gear Cooper

One of the big­gest Clas­sic Mini con­tro­ver­sies of 2011 was the trash­ing of a Cooper Sport in the Top Gear In­dia Spe­cial. Seven-years on, we take look at this in­fa­mous Mini.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words Mar­tyn Collins Pho­tog­ra­phy Matt Richard­son

Think back to Christ­mas 2011, in be­tween turkey and trim­mings, did you watch the Top Gear In­dia Spe­cial? It at­tracted quite a bit of flak from, amongst oth­ers, Prime Min­ster at the time David Cameron, who even fea­tured in the film­ing, and more se­ri­ously the In­dian High Com­mis­sion in Lon­don who for­mally com­plained to the BBC, ac­cus­ing its pro­duc­ers of de­ceiv­ing them over the na­ture of the pro­gramme, which was jok­ingly billed as a “trade mis­sion”. Still, com­plaints or not, 4.4 mil­lion view­ers tuned in.

“Known as Wilf, a web­site and Face­book page were set up to bring him home”

I re­mem­ber that most crit­i­cism of the show came from Clas­sic Mini own­ers, with many say­ing they would never watch the mo­tor­ing show again af­ter what hap­pened to pre­sen­ter Richard Ham­mond’s Cooper Sports.

Per­son­ally, I liked the Top Gear Spe­cials for­mat of time – with Jeremy Clark­son, Ham­mond and James May seem­ingly tak­ing three per­fectly good cars some­where ex­treme and trash­ing them along the way – so I en­joyed watch­ing it. Al­though I ad­mit I did wince when they ripped the face off the Mini, when Richard fool­ishly tried to tow May’s Rolls’ up a steep in­cline.

But what hap­pened to this Clas­sic Mini af­ter the cam­eras stopped rolling? As we were left think­ing it had been left on a plinth at the top of an In­dian moun­tain, along with Clark­son’s Jaguar XJS and May’s Rolls-Royce.

As I re­mem­ber, the Mini’s pre­vi­ous owner spot­ted her for­mer car and was

none-too-pleased to see what hap­pened to it on the show. Af­fec­tion­ately known as ‘Wilf’ af­ter his num­ber plate, a web­site and Face­book page were even set up to bring him home from In­dia.

COM­ING HOME

Many un­con­firmed re­ports said that Wilf had made it home, been re­paired, was taxed and had be­come part of Ham­mond’s per­sonal car col­lec­tion. But noth­ing was heard of W61LJF un­til Fe­bru­ary 2012, when he turned up with the other cars that had been part of the show, in the Top Gear dis­play at the Na­tional Mo­tor Mu­seum Beaulieu.

Ac­cord­ing to this Sport Pack’s cur­rent owner, who wants to re­main anony­mous for per­sonal rea­sons, it was bought from GC Mo­tors and was pre­vi­ously owned by a lady, with the BBC ap­par­ently pay­ing around £7,000 for it in 2011.

“The car was spot­less, it was ab­so­lutely im­mac­u­late. I know that when the TV pro­gramme went out, and the Mini fans saw what was go­ing on, they were up in arms about it,” Mr Anony­mous adds.

Then, ac­cord­ing to Mr Anony­mous, Mini fan Dene Doyal ap­proached the BBC to try and get own­er­ship of this spe­cial Mini. In the mean­time, Mr Anony­mous tells me that the In­dian Gov­ern­ment had con­tacted the Bri­tish Em­bassy, with re­gards to the ‘scrap’, as they called these cars, on the hill­side. “As the par­tic­u­lar hill­side that they left these cars on was a re­li­gious area, the In­dian Gov­ern­ment was a bit up­set about the mock­ery that had been made of the coun­try. So they asked for them to be re­moved,” he ex­plains. The ve­hi­cles were then shipped back to the UK un­der a bit of a cloud.

“There is a doc­u­ment in the Mini de­tail­ing when it was shipped back over to the UK. Once it ar­rived back, it was dis­played at the Top Gear stu­dio for a cou­ple of weeks and then, along with the other ve­hi­cles, was shipped out to the Beaulieu Mo­tor Mu­seum.” Also found in it was an In­dian M&Ms packet, a

gear knob that was put on, and a few drink cans.

CHANG­ING HANDS

Whilst all this was go­ing on, Dene was still in talks with the BBC. And even­tu­ally they agreed to re­lease the Cooper to him, un­der the con­di­tion that he would re­pair it and use it for shows on the Mini scene as a

Top Gear ve­hi­cle. Ap­par­ently, no money changed hands at the time and, as far as Mr Anony­mous is aware, the agree­ment was that if the ve­hi­cle was sold, the money from its sale would go to­wards a char­ity, ei­ther one cho­sen by Dene or to a rec­om­mended BBC char­ity.

Even­tu­ally Dene got the go-ahead and it was off to Beaulieu to pick the Mini up. “I know it was part of a dis­play, in­volv­ing the Jaguar and Rolls-Royce, and when Beaulieu was no­ti­fied that Dene was com­ing to col­lect it they were up­set be­cause it would break up their dis­play. But the deal was done.” Mr Anony­mous went on to tell me that he went back to Beaulieu a month later and the dis­play was still there, but where the

Mini should have been there was a note say­ing Wilf was on hol­i­day!

Af­ter Beaulieu, Wilf was trans­ported straight to Croy­don Minis, who welded the pan­els back on, took on the restora­tion to bring this Mini back to its fin­ished state, and MoT’d him. “It was driven a to­tal of 2,070 miles while it was with the BBC. It was last MoT’d in Au­gust 2011. It was then MoT’d again in May 2013 with 63,000 miles on the clock,” ex­plains our Mr Anony­mous.

Dene then dis­played it at Lon­don to Brighton that year and took it on a cou­ple of char­ity runs, too. Then, it sort of went off the radar un­til last year, when Mr Anony­mous’s girl­friend found out it was for sale on Face­book. “I got a call from my girl­friend who had seen Wilf up for sale on Face­book. So I got in con­tact with Dene, who told me that was cor­rect but that he was a bit hes­i­tant about sell­ing it,” he ex­plains. Turns out

“It was a run­down mess, so we col­lected it and bought it back to my work­shop”

that this Mini was be­ing stored in a York­shire barn – hap­pily af­ter some tele­phone ne­go­ti­a­tion Mr Anony­mous bought it and made the jour­ney to York­shire to pick it up.”

LO­CAT­ING PARTS

Mr Anony­mous tells me it still had the winch that Beaulieu had put on it and which was in­cor­rect, plus it was cov­ered in dust and there were no keys! “It was just a run­down mess, so we col­lected it with all the pa­per­work and bought it back to my work­shop. I then pro­ceeded to spend hours go­ing through the Top

Gear In­dia Spe­cial to find out where the miss­ing bits had come from!”

The rally tyres were first, which Mr Anony­mous dis­cov­ered were Maxs­port RB1s. They are a 145x70x12 and were ap­par­ently found by Edd China, of

Wheeler Deal­ers fame. As men­tioned ear­lier, the winch wasn’t cor­rect ei­ther, so Mr Anony­mous spent more time ex­am­in­ing the rel­e­vant parts within the Christ­mas spe­cial. “I spot­ted it was a Su­per­winch, so I con­tacted a com­pany that deal with them and spoke to a help­ful guy who said he knew the winch he needed and sent it through,

so it’s now got the cor­rect winch on it and the cor­rect colour cable too,” re­veals Mr Anony­mous.

With these parts sorted, it was time for more restora­tion and recom­mis­sion­ing, as this Mini wasn’t run­ning Mini when Mr Anony­mous got hold of it. “The front end had been welded back on it, but it had been left look­ing rough and knocked about — ex­actly as it did at the end of the pro­gramme. I’ve since re­stored it to its cor­rect fi­nal spec at the end of the pro­gramme. I can’t do any­thing with the body­work – I’m go­ing to keep it the way it is – but it’s a very sound car and the sills and floor are im­mac­u­late.” Sur­pris­ingly enough, that cen­tre-exit stain­less ex­haust that had been fit­ted to this Mini is still on it to this day!

What hasn’t lasted so well is the stan­dard twin-point trans­mis­sion, that Mr Anony­mous tells me has a lit­tle is­sue with a crunchy sec­ond gear — well, it has had a tough time! More im­pres­sive is that de­spite go­ing over all the rock and boul­ders, the un­der­side has ap­par­ently got very min­i­mal dam­age. “It was pro­tected very well with sump­guards and ex­haust guards. In­side, the wooden dash has suf­fered from the sun and the seat springs I’m told are com­ing through the seat!

PER­FECT­ING DE­TAILS

Other unique fea­tures of this fa­mous Mini that re­main are the but­ton to op­er­ate the cam­era which is fixed to the A-pil­lar, the eyelets on the rear sub­frame used to at­tach it to the Jaguar are still at­tached, the me­tal frame across the front where the winch is was rusty and has been left that way too — but this time it’s cor­rectly at­tached us­ing the cor­rect bolts. The front might have been welded back on, but the pan­els still have the cable ties run­ning through them — just like they did on the pro­gramme!

“It had an ig­ni­tion prob­lem, as it kept cut­ting out and turned out to be the fuel pump re­lay. I be­lieve they knew there was a fuel pump re­ally prob­lem, be­cause the heated rear screen was hot-wired to power the fuel pump!”

Mr Anony­mous had the roof rack made more re­cently, in Jan­uary this year, from pic­tures taken from the show. “I used a wood­work com­pany that is lo­cal to me and asked them if they could recre­ate it ex­actly and the same size and they said no prob­lem. They made an amaz­ing job of it.”

The ratchet straps are as close as pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nals that could be found and the tins are made out of eight­inch sewer pipe! “I couldn’t get hold of any of the orig­i­nals, you’d have to go to

“It’s got [Richard Ham­mond’s] fin­ger and palm prints on the wing”

In­dia for that,” he laughs.

Fol­low­ing the work, the Mini is road­wor­thy now; mak­ing its first out­ing to the Lon­don to Brighton Run last year. It was then on show at Bin­g­ley Hall for Mini Fest back in Jan­uary - it’s a shame to have it and not let peo­ple see it! Even­tu­ally, it will go to more Mini shows — it may well even go to the Clas­sic car show at Birm­ing­ham this year, to be re­u­nited with the Rolls-Royce from the

Top Gear Spe­cial.” De­spite try­ing on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions to get in touch with Richard Ham­mond, so that he could get a pho­to­graph of him with Wilf, Mr Anony­mous has so far been un­suc­cess­ful. How­ever, Ham­mond may well have al­ready signed this Mini in­ad­ver­tently, when he painted the top of the driver’s side wing white and red dur­ing the pro­gramme, as there are some hand prints where it has been leant on! “It’s got his fin­ger and palm prints on the wing. You’re never go­ing to be able to recre­ate that — that’s what makes it so spe­cial,” says Mr Anony­mous.

I agree, and de­spite the con­tro­versy I feel this is an im­por­tant part of Clas­sic Mini and Top Gear his­tory — take a closer look if you can!

Apart from the re­place­ment gear knob, the in­te­rior re­mains stan­dard.

The but­ton to op­er­ate the cam­era re­mains.

The roof rack was cus­tom­made by a lo­cal com­pany, who did a fan­tas­tic job.

The gear knob is a re­place­ment item.

The im­port la­bel from its BBC own­er­ship.

Spot­lights are a nice fea­ture.

The winch, com­plete with its rust, is now fit­ted cor­rectly and in the cor­rect colour.

Stan­dard 1275cc A-Se­ries en­gine has twin-point fuel in­jec­tion.

The sump­guard pro­tected the un­der­side well.

Stan­dard steels wheels.

The winch used by Ham­mond in that scene!

Shin­ing in So­lar Red and look­ing ev­ery bit the icon from the Top Gear Spe­cial.

The cor­rect bolts hold­ing the winch in place.

Stamp of ap­proval: Ham­mond’s fin­ger print!

The dam­aged body­work has been left as is.

Left­over quirks from the pro­gramme.

In­stantly recog­nis­able and a real piece of Clas­sic Cooper his­tory.

Roof rack was de­signed us­ing pics from the show.

Cam­era but­ton has been left in place.

Roof rack is solidly tied in place.

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