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