UPWARDLY MO­BILE

Alan Porter’s beau­ti­fully re­stored and pris­tine Austin Mini­van, fin­ished in un­usual Tweed Grey.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words and Pho­tog­ra­phy Willy Car­son

Hands up all those who can re­mem­ber when a Mini was the sec­ond fam­ily car on the drive­way. Cheap, com­pact, eco­nom­i­cal, and as re­li­able as any other small car of the day, a Mini was the ob­vi­ous choice for a fam­ily with ex­tra trans­port de­mands. There was room in­side for 2.4 chil­dren plus an­other 1.6 if the school run was to be shared with the next door neigh­bour, and it made the per­fect get-away car at the school gate. Ideal as an ur­ban run­about, the Mini dodged through traf­fic with a gig­gle

and shot into park­ing spa­ces which were four feet too short for most other cars. There was just about enough room for the weekly shop­ping, a gal­lon of four star stretched for miles, and nimble han­dling re­warded the en­thu­si­as­tic driver with an ex­pe­ri­ence pro­vided by no other car.

Ba­sic technology and sim­ple con­struc­tion meant that home main­te­nance and re­pair were within the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of most hobby me­chan­ics. The Mini had been around since 1959 and the A-Se­ries en­gine since 1952 so the lo­cal clas­si­fieds and the break­ers’ yards were full of sec­ond-hand parts and noth­ing cost more than 30 quid. The Mini, like most pop­u­lar mo­tors of the day, suc­cumbed to rust from the day they left the show­room but pan­els and re­pair sec­tions were avail­able in any lo­cal mo­tor­fac­tors so any­one prac­tised in the art of gas weld­ing could keep the fam­ily’s “old faith­ful” go­ing un­til the next MoT ap­point­ment. Th­ese days it’s called ‘ banger­nomics’, but dur­ing the ’70s and ’80s it was sim­ply part of ev­ery­day mo­tor­ing life. That’s the way it was for fam­i­lies all over the coun­try, just like the Porters from North­ern Ire­land.

Alan reck­ons that about six dif­fer­ent Mi­nis pro­vided the so­lu­tion to his fam­ily trans­port prob­lems while his sons were at school. “I had to keep them go­ing as long as I could be­cause we couldn’t af­ford any­thing fancier,” he ex­plains. “One day a friend rang to say there was a Mini be­ing scrapped about a quar­ter of a mile away so I went with some help and we pushed the car home and it was used for parts. That’s the way it was done when there wasn’t so much money about.” Alan’s son Stu­art par­tic­u­larly re­mem­bers a Har­vest Gold 998cc model with some “con­ve­nient” rust patches: “If we were eat­ing sweets in the back when we weren’t al­lowed to we would hide the ev­i­dence by push­ing the wrap­pers through the holes in the floor.”

TIME FOR A PROJECT

About 20 years later, in 1999 Stu­art no­ticed a Tweed Grey Mini­van for sale and sug­gested to his fa­ther that it might be an in­ter­est­ing project. Mi­nis were about to move up the lad­der from cheap trans­port, in need of reg­u­lar re­pair, to the heady realms of cos­seted hobby ve­hi­cle. So what ex­actly had Stu­art found? ‘3967 IW’ was first regis­tered on 8 April 1964 by W. Pol­lock, a shop­keeper near Bush­mills on the North Coast, and taxed for the princely sum of £4-8s-0d. Over the next few years it changed hands lo­cally a cou­ple of times be­fore it found a set­tled home in 1974. By 1986, and now 24 years old, the age­ing van was taxed for

“I had to keep [the Mi­nis] go­ing as we couldn’t af­ford any­thing fancier”

a year at a cost of £75 and that was the last record of its ex­is­tence un­til Alan saw it.

What state was it in af­ter 13 years off the road? Alan saw the po­ten­tial: “It was a com­plete rolling shell with the orig­i­nal en­gine and 54,000-miles on the clock but al­though the log book clearly states that it was orig­i­nally grey it had been re­sprayed red at some point. It was par­tially stripped and the parts wrapped in news­pa­per but there wasn’t even a sniff of petrol in the tank so it was def­i­nitely a non-run­ner.” He bought it for £240, trail­ered it home and started to strip the van down to a bare shell but work com­mit­ments and the con­straints of a small garage meant that progress was slow and en­thu­si­asm waned. In the mean­time his brother-in-law showed an in­ter­est in the van and it changed hands once more, along with four new Falken tyres for £400, but the ar­rival of an­other clas­sic car of un­men­tion­able for­eign ori­gin meant that brighter days were a long way off for our wee grey van. Alan even­tu­ally built a much big­ger garage and the van changed own­er­ship once again for, once again, £400. And this time it was ‘game on’!

Alan did his ap­pren­tice­ship in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and has since added many skills to his list. “Among other things, I do quite a bit of metal fab­ri­ca­tion at work and did a MIG weld­ing night class. Stu­art works in air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing so he has sheet metal form­ing skills. Be­tween us we are pre­pared to tackle most things,” he says.

Out came the en­gine and the sub­frames. Alan then built him­self a spit to make the weld­ing process more man­age­able, us­ing the front sub­frame tower mounts and the rear door hinge bolt holes as fix­ing points. With the shell now off the ground and freely ro­tat­ing it was time to start the re­build. Hav­ing stripped the paint off the roof with Nitro­mors, sev­eral pin­holes around the rear cor­ners and the vent ap­peared.

The roof was sanded back with 1,000-grit sand­pa­per and the fluxed in prepa­ra­tion for re­pairs by ap­ply­ing sol­dered lead.

Turn­ing the shell up­side down, Alan then fo­cused his at­ten­tion on the un­der­side. The load bay floor and footwells had sur­vived, largely due to the gen­er­ous ap­pli­ca­tion of un­der­seal dur­ing the van’s work­ing life and only needed a new rear valance and re­pairs to the heel board sub­frame mount­ings points. The off­side outer sill was re­placed but the near­side, door steps and in­ner sills re­main orig­i­nal. At the front all that was needed to put things right was a new in­ner and outer wing and a scut­tle re­pair sec­tion. The doors, how­ever, were a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. All four needed ex­ten­sive re­pairs which were car­ried out us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of MIG and TIG weld­ing along with heatsinks to pre­vent dis­tor­tion.

When it came to the re­spray Alan had to do some re­search re­gard­ing the ex­act shade of grey. With a sam­ple of the orig­i­nal paint scraped from the in­side of the van and the in­for­ma­tion avail­able on­line, all things pointed to­wards Tweed Grey as hav­ing been the orig­i­nal colour. Fur­ther re­search un­earthed the orig­i­nal BMC Ser­vice Paint Scheme mix­ing for­mu­lae, which states that Tweed Grey is a mix of 44% light grey, 38% dark grey, 15% pale ochre and 3% light blue, just in case you were won­der­ing! Af­ter the primer was ap­plied and rubbed down

“I bought it for £240, trail­ered it home and started to strip the van down”

with 1,000-grit sand­pa­per, the top coat went on, all in a home-built spray booth in the garage.

RE­BUILD CON­TIN­UES

The paint was stripped off the sub­frames be­fore they were re­painted. There’s no know­ing how long they had been on the car but the num­ber of knocks and bumps sug­gest that they were there for a long time and may even be orig­i­nal. When the sus­pen­sion com­po­nents went back into place it was found that there was a dif­fer­ent ride height in each cor­ner of the van so new rub­ber cones were fit­ted along with new knuck­les. The re­build con­tin­ued. In went new cop­per brake pipes, shoes and slave cylin­ders mounted on to the orig­i­nal back­plates and cov­ered by the orig­i­nal drums.

It was now time to ex­am­ine the en­gine. Ini­tial in­spec­tion re­vealed a se­ri­ous lack of com­pres­sion but this was soon fixed with a quick squirt of WD40 around the valve stems. Sim­ples. The clutch was seized but, again, it wasn’t a dif­fi­cult task to free it off the fly­wheel, fit a new mas­ter cylin­der seal kit and a re­place­ment slave cylin­der. An­other job sorted. The carb ob­vi­ously needed at­ten­tion so Alan bought a re­build kit and re­fur­bished it him­self. Easy. There was no out­put at all

from the dy­namo so it was stripped, as Alan ex­plains: “When I took it to bits I found a dry joint in the sol­der­ing which I had to resol­der. I’ve of­ten won­dered if this meant there was an in­ter­mit­tent fault which wasn’t di­ag­nosed prop­erly and ex­plains why the van was taken off the road.” When it came time to fire the en­gine up for the first time there was no spark. “I dis­cov­ered that the dis­trib­u­tor shaft was bent so that the points weren’t op­er­at­ing prop­erly,” Alan re­calls, “I straight­ened the shaft by heat­ing it slightly and then putting it in my bench lathe. I put a dial gauge on it and af­ter a cou­ple of at­tempts it was as good as new.”

With the me­chan­i­cal prob­lems all solved, Alan and Freda (that’s Mrs.

“We couldn’t be­lieve it when we found a note say­ing we had won the class!”

Porter to you and me) be­gan to look at ways of tidy­ing up the tired in­te­rior. “I started look­ing for a fab­ric to match the orig­i­nal tan seat cov­ers and door­cards. When I had a few sam­ples from Wrightons of Red­ditch I picked the one clos­est to the orig­i­nal colour. We used the old seat cov­ers as tem­plates as Freda, with her trusty 100-year-old trea­dle-op­er­ated sewing ma­chine, made re­place­ments,” ex­plains Alan. Mrs. P also came up trumps with a pe­riod PYE tran­sis­tor ra­dio, which she bought as a Christ­mas present for Alan.

The fi­nal re­sult would prob­a­bly have pleased most of us, but Alan was crit­i­cal of his own ef­forts and thought the out­come of the paint job looked “dull and a bit life­less” so he sent it off to a pro­fes­sional paint shop for a fi­nal fin­ish. With this com­pleted it was time for a new MoT and a trip to Portrush for the Cause­way Coast Mini Club show. “We parked up in among the other vans and pick-ups and went into town for some­thing to eat,” said Alan de­scrib­ing his first visit to the show, “we couldn’t be­lieve it when we came back and found a note on the wind­screen say­ing we had won the class!”

The Mini’s for­tunes have changed a lot since the ’80s. Long gone are the days when it spent its life as a fam­ily run­about. That po­si­tion is now oc­cu­pied by a host of in­dis­tin­guish­able, com­put­er­gen­er­ated, soul­less tin boxes, while the Mini re­ceives all the at­ten­tion. Hands up all who agree...

Pe­riod per­fect in­te­rior with Mrs. P’s replica seat cov­ers and orig­i­nal head­lin­ing.

Load bay floor is orig­i­nal, only need­ing a new rear valance and small re­pairs.

Black on white cen­tral speedo and fuel gauge.

PYE tran­sis­tor ra­dio was a Christ­mas present for Alan from his wife.

Still run­ning its orig­i­nal 848cc A-Se­ries en­gine.

3.5x10-inch pressed steel rims.

Fresh air vent pok­ing out the smooth roof.

Im­mac­u­late paint­work in orig­i­nal Tweed Grey hue shows off that orig­i­nal chrome work.

The roof, wings, rear valance and all four doors were re­paired as part of the resto.

The Mini­van won best in class on its first out­ing... and it’s not hard to see why!

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