Ok, so this isn’t an all out road test as such, more like a joy ride. One of the guys in the shop brought his ’79 Mini in for some final prep before it goes up for sale. He’s a young lad & was dying to have my opinion on the car. God only knows why, what the hell do I know about Minis other than the cool factor being very high.
Over the years I’ve read far too many car books and articles. A good number of them have been about restoration & modification of old English cars. That, coupled with industry experience gave me some idea what to look for. A quick road test was in order.
Like many later Mini’s, this one has undergone some cosmetic surgery in an attempt to look like a Cooper. This Mini has received a few coats of white, along with the prerequisite black roof. It’s also had some more “modern” mods, as the hood & wings (English for fenders) have been bolted together to create a forward tilting hood. This mod involves a somewhat dodgy front engine mount, which becomes very evident the first time one releases the clutch. Crouching down to slide in behind the wheel is easier than expected for a fat guy like me. The last time I drove a Mini was about 20 years and 80 pounds ago, so the seating position creates a slightly different impression!
The interior is typically Mini and also typical of an old car owned by a young guy. There is no shift knob and the turn signal switch is dangling at a precarious angle. In fact, attempting to activate the signals causes the entire switch assembly to spin out of the way on the exposed steering column. Great, it’s been a long time since I signalled by hand while driving anything other than my bicycle. The engine fires up on a single, quick turn of the key. The idle is a bit high, as the carbs have proven to be a bit of a challenge for a tech who was born after this Mini was built. If I can find the SU’s that are lurking somewhere in my garage, perhaps I can help him out. Depress the clutch, select first gear, blip the throttle and slowly release the clutch. A sharp snapping noise from the makeshift engine mount causes me to feather the clutch to soften the grip. Apparently the racing clutch in the car is a little harsh for the rest of the drivetrain. Once things get rolling, all the old Mini feelings come back to life. The steering is crisp and lightning quick. The antique suspension has a bit of bounce over the harsh downtown streets, but the short suspension travel helps diminish that bounce. As the car isn’t fully sorted (not to mention the engine mount issue) it developed a bit of a misfire on hard acceleration, so I wasn’t able to really let it run. Despite a loose shifter, the gearbox is tight and reasonably crisp and the clutch feels great as long as one is careful not to leave the line too hard, causing that big bang. The other limitation at this point is a serious lack of brakes. The pedal goes right to the firewall at this point. This will be fixed before anyone else drives the car, as an old car with dodgy brakes is no place for the average, unsuspecting driver. For a crusty old guy who’s used to old cars, it wasn’t much of a deal.
Obviously this wee car has it’s share of issues, but at it’s core the car is solid. A few hours of sorting and this will be a killer toy. Even with it’s problems, 20 minutes in it left a smile on my face for the rest of the day. There is a reason that the Mini has been so popular for the last 50 years. That reason is that the car is fun to drive and fun to look at. I’ve driven many cars over the years, but few if any have generated as many smiles from pedestrians as this little white bomb did today. As the week goes on, I’ll have more to report and I’ll hopefully post more pics. This time I’ll stay out of the shot, so you don’t have to see my ugly mug.