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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.