NOT IN COLOUR
In its rare black and white colour scheme, Ian Chilcot’s neatly modded SPi Cooper is an 18-year-and-counting project.
White and black, it’s a Classic Mini Cooper colour combination and one that I’m particularly fond of. Why? Well, it’s the one I had on my first Classic Mini – a 1000cc Cooper replica. All too rare on later Coopers such as Ian Chilcot’s neatly-modded 1994 single-point injection car that we have here, I still have many fond memories of a visit to the original John Cooper Garage at Ferring, with mate and Mini Magazine contributor James Holland, in his white and black
J-plate Cooper. It was my first experience of a ’90s Cooper and I have to admit I was a bit envious that ‘Tolly’, as he called this Mini, was his and he was just a year older than me!
This Mini was Ian’s first car after learning to drive and owning a Citroën in 1997. “I had always been interested in cars, plus their styling and performance. My dad had shown me classic cars at shows and I guess I just wanted something fun,” explains Ian. He considered going down the VW route and quite liked the idea of owning a late ’80s or early-’90s hot hatch. But the more he looked around, the more he kept on thinking about a classic or certainly a classically-styled car. “Being a student, most classics and hot hatches were out of my price range, plus I didn’t have the time or expertise for a restoration project,” he explains.
It was friend Jake Winwood, who had recently sold his highly-tuned Mini Designer, that got him thinking about a Mini. Ian wasn’t in a rush, so made sure he looked at several, mainly mid-’90s Coopers - a mix of MPi and SPi cars.
“I had always been interested in cars... I just wanted something fun”
“Sadly most had quite a bit of corrosion showing, but I found this car advertised in a local newspaper. When I saw it, I recognised it as one that I regularly used to see when I was at school, it had been a local car for several years,” says Ian. The unusual colour scheme appealed, plus it was in good condition with only 24,000 miles on the clock and some nice extras including a wood rim-signed John Cooper Moto-Lita steering wheel, window winders, levers and sill plates. It also had some extras that he didn’t like, but Ian could see that these were an easy fix, so he bought it in April 2001 at the age of 20.
Ian likes standard looking cars, so some of the extras fitted, but the stainless bull bars and chrome arches were first to come off, after just three months and were sold. Ian made up for this by fitting chunkier 165/60 tyres and a K&N filter element. “I soon found the sealed beam headlights were useless on modern roads and replaced them with a Wipac halogen set. I then used the Mini for my daily commute,” Ian explains.
He eventually traced the first owner of the car and found that it was bought at a Rover dealership in St Johns Wood, with the original owner adding the John Cooper parts. “It was a special order colour of Diamond White and is thought to be one of the last in this colour scheme,” Ian adds.
Ian soon found that the Mini drew a lot of attention from people wherever he parked it, plus other Mini drivers would wave and I would get a regular thumbs up at traffic lights. “There was one particular Mini I used to see on a regular basis, an all-white MPi Sportpack car,
we used to wave when we passed. Anyway, I was washing the car one day and the same car stopped and we chatted. He was Andy Varnarva (previous Mini
Magazine feature star), his car was mint and he owned another two!”
Ian decided he wanted to get more out of his Mini, so he looked for a Mini club to join. “I was passing a pub one evening and saw several Minis in the car park, so feeling brave I went inside to find out more.” It turned out to be a local meeting of the Mini Cooper Register and Andy was also a member. They all thought his car was worth more than he had paid for it and that using it in the winter use would not be a good idea. With that in mind, a Peugeot was bought as a daily and he could garage the mini during the winter months.
Through his membership, he attended several shows in this Mini, including the London to Brighton Run, Mini In The Park and the National Mini Cooper Day. Even going as far as to navigate for Cliff
“I saw several Minis in the pub car park, so feeling brave I went inside”
Porter in his 1971 MkIII S, in the HRCR Clubman Championship. “That was great fun and we won several prizes in our first year,” says Ian.
In 2004 Ian decided that he wanted to experience more and go a road trip abroad. So, along with mate Jake, they booked up to do the Mini Cooper Register’s Minis to Monte (M2M) event. However, when he saw the entry list and the route, he thought the Cooper might be a little underpowered and the exhaust may annoy him on a long run. “So, I sold the Playmini exhaust and invested in a Stage 3 cylinder head, 1.5:1 rockers, a Maniflow LCB and RC40 centre exit exhaust,” Ian says.
The run was excellent and Ian made some new friends and drove some great fast mountain roads, including the famous Col De Turini. However, when Ian and Jake pushed this Mini, they discovered that the brakes were awful, second gear crunched and the car had a tendency to get hot! Ian explains: “It was so bad that one evening the mechanics took the radiator out to fix the issue. They also took some brake discs off a French Mini enthusiast’s car and fitted them to mine as mine as they had become so warped.”
Following that first M2M event, Ian had the engine rebuilt by the late Pat
Healy to 1293cc with a Swiftune SW5i cam. He also fixed the braking system, uprated the radiator and had the gearbox rebuilt. “It really flew and I did several other M2Ms, quite often running with Simon Drew of the Mini Works and members of the Scottish Region of the MCR, they had ’sliding window’ cars and I wanted one.” Sadly, with prices on their way up, Ian realised he had missed the boat on MkI Mini Cooper S ownership. Good thing that after all the good memories using it, Ian didn’t want to sell. It was one of these trips, that a photo of this car was taken on the move and this has been used in the Mini Cooper Register membership advert ever since!
Despite the fame, this didn’t stop Ian modifying it for further trips abroad. “I had the subframes replaced, then had the suspension adjusted, fitting a Hi-Lo kit, rear wheel spacers, adjustable negative camber rear arms and heavy-duty adjustable tie bars. The rear had a negative camber fitted along with the front too, plus the caster angle adjusted. This made the car ‘want’ to turn in,” reveals Ian. A SCCR gearbox fitted
with a cross-pin differential and lightened flywheel followed, which Ian reckons is great for hairpin bends on mountain roads. Then, after the mechanicals, he fitted more supportive seats: “I went with Corbeau GTS recliners, as fitted by John Cooper Garages, as I didn’t like fixed-back bucket seats, they didn’t suit the standard look of my car.” Luke harnesses were also added for mountain roads, but Ian kept the standard belts as they are more practical for less enthusiastic drives. The wooden steering wheel was also replaced with an identical leather one, that is less harsh in colder weather. That Brantz trip computer was also fitted to the dash, making navigating easy when using Tulip diagrams.
In 2009 Ian knew that this Mini’s bodywork was starting to suffer from so much use. There were rust holes in the A-panels and in a certain light, he tells me you could see areas he had repaired and resprayed due to corrosion. “I decided after the 2010 M2M I would have the body restored. So I sourced items I knew I would need and decided I wanted to make my car a replica of my dad’s Cooper Si as it was often mistaken for one,” smiles Ian. So the ‘Si’ boot badge and new signature bonnet stripes were sourced, with Ian having the rear quarter decals made, as they were never fitted to white cars. Between 2011 and 2013, friend Paul Wooton of PCR Car Repair replaced any area that had corrosion, but sadly the more that was removed, the more corrosion was found. “Paul eventually replaced the front panel, wings, scuttle, A-panels, doors, inner and outer sills, front floor sections, rear valance, lower rear panel, boot floor and boot lid. Paul is very thorough and treats a car like it’s his,” says Ian. The car was fully repainted and went back on the road in 2013.
In 2014, wife Laurel joined Ian for her first M2M event, she had a great time, but Ian felt there was something amiss with the Mini: “It lacked power up the Cols and developed a tapping sound. We tried to limp it back through France, but about 250 miles from Calais, the engine gave up.” Thankfully, European Breakdown cover came to the rescue with a hire car, but they had to leave the Mini in France, with arriving back a month later.
Longtime Family friend and mechanic, Andrew Lewis, took the engine out to investigate and found that a pushrod had been forced through a worn cam follower, dropping down on to a cam lobe and jamming the engine! “The engine and gearbox was full of metal swarf, so it needed a total rebuild. So we decided to rebore to a 1330cc, lighten and balance the crank and fit the newer profiled Swiftune SW5i cam.”
Ian tells me the engine now pulls strongly throughout the rev range and is surprisingly comfortable on the motorway. Since then, apart from local shows, the last Mini Cooper Register event it went on, was the MCR Off Peak Run around the Peak District in 2017.
So, after 18 years of ownership, is there anymore left to do this special Cooper, I ask Ian? “I’ve been lucky enough to keep hold on to it all this time. Although it’s not used as often now, it’s worth more money and I don’t think I could replicate it. Hopefully once my children have grown up they will share my interest too,” he explains. We hope so too, and that this Cooper gives you many more years of driving pleasure, Ian.
“I decided I wanted to make my car a replica of my dad’s Cooper Si”
Interior features many John Cooper items inlcuding handles, winders and levers .
Ian’s Cooper has the later Magnolia coloured instruments.
Brantz trip computer.
Black and white colour combination is rare on SPi Coopers.
Corbeau GTS recliners with Luke harnesses.
John Cooper gear knob.
Paddy Hopkirk signature in sun visor.
Additional oil pressure and voltage gauges.
The rear valance, lower rear panel and boot lid were all replaced.
Racy flip top fuel cap fitted.
Standard Rover Minilite wheels.
Engine was rebuilt by Pat Healy to 1293cc with a Swiftune SW5i cam.
Looking every bit the classic wtih bonnet stripes and unique colour scheme.
Covered front fog and spot lights.
Cooper-badged mud flaps.
Signature bonnet stripes stand out against the pristine paintwork.
Stickers to show off the Mini’s heritage.
Overriders add to the period look.
From the paintwork to the immaculate body, this is a project to be proud of.
Ian Chilcot and his Cooper.
Wing mirror in black match the roof.
RC40 centre exit exhaust was one of Ian’s additions.