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Yeah, I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to minis.
I bought my first mini in about 1995. It was a pageant blue 850 on a V Reg, and I paid £400 for it with 12 months MOT.
I promptly went to Blackpool in it for my first mini show which was an illuminations event being held at Norbreck castle hotel.
The little 850 got stuck in the illuminations traffic and overheated.....on the motorway. Mmmm, I pulled over and let it cool down, but I had no water in the car, so when I set off again I drove down the hard shoulder with my hazards on, at about 15 miles an hour - naughty I know, but I didn't know what else to do.
I had the 850 for about a year and then sold it, and promptly went out and bought a cooper look-alike.
It was a white F Reg (1989) city which had been modified with cooper stripes on the bonnet, and cooper laurels stickers on the sides. The roof had been painted black, and it looked quite good. It was still a 1.0l but had a stage one kit fitted, so it was cheap on insurance but sounded nice and beefy and was a bit faster than a standard 1.0l. I called her Tyler, and she cost £1100 with around 9 months MOT on her.
The interior was a standard city, one which means it was pretty uncomfortable. For some reason the city seats seem to get "thin" where the back meets the base - this means that the metal rods digs in to your back, especially when changing gear. This is something you need to check if you are thinking of buying a mini. Take note of it when you test drive, it isn't too bad on a short drive, but after a while it really hurts.
Thankfully, a friend of mine had a mini Ritz special edition parked in his garden that he was using for spares. He had no use for the interior so I managed to get the seats from him for free. It is a very easy job to change the seats if you are replacing with standard mini items, and it only took me about half an hour to swap them over. Therefore, even if you find a good mini with a worn-out city interior, don't let it put you off. If you have to buy an interior from a breakers, it won't cost you the earth and it is easier to
change seats than to start doing bodywork or rebuilding engines. Just find the most solid mini you can with a good engine and worry about the interior later.
After about 2 years with this car the gearbox started playing up. I was told it was probably the lay shaft bearing, but I had been toying with the idea of upgrading to a 1.3 for a while and was offered a 1.3 engine and box, so I decided to go for that. It would have cost me about the same to have just the gearbox fixed, as the main cost is labour.
I had a 1.3 Stage one engine fitted, but to be honest I didn't notice much difference from the 1.0l. The main difference was on hills - where the 1.0 would lose speed on long inclines the 1.3 just kept the pace and would even accelerate if it wasn't too steep.
When the bodywork started to deteriorate on the Cooperlike, I took it off the road and bought a mini 30 limited Edition to use until I could get Tyler (cooperlike) back on the road. This was a cherry red metallic one, with a half-leather interior and minilite alloy wheels. It was completely standard with a 1.0l engine. I named her Casey - minis have to have names, they are just not happy otherwise. Casey cost £2300 but she was in very good condition with no rust anywhere and a full MOT. Part of the cost was down to the fact that only 2000 mini 30s were made and they are a sought after LE (Limited Edition).
The only problem I ever had with Casey was when the headlight switch decided to disintegrate internally when I was on the M56 at around 1am. Unfortunately that meant that all the lights went out, and I was left doing 80MPH on an unlit stretch of motorway in the pitch black! Not good. With the help of my boyfriend, the switch was removed from the dashboard, taken apart and then taped back together again as a temporary fix to get us home. I've since found out that it is quite a common fault on minis and have taken to carrying a spare switch with me in the door pocket. I would advise any other mini owner to do the same; it is not a nice situation to be in. If I had been on my own it would have been ten times scarier, and I probably couldn't have fixed it on my own - it took a lot of fingers to hold bits while it was taped back up.
When I sold the mini 30 (Tyler was eventually re-shelled and sold as a tiger-striped mini) I bought a black F Reg 1.0l mini from a friend. I wanted a cheap mini, because I wanted to do a tour of the UK for Cancer Research and needed to cover the car in sponsorship stickers. This mini was called Spade and it did me proud. I paid £400 for her and went all over the UK pulling a trailer with all my camping gear and clothes, food etc in it. Even though it was only a 1.0 it did surprisingly well even going through the hills up to Scotland. 1600 miles in 5 days and not a problem - I love these cars.
I now own a 1999 sportspack cooper 1.3MPI. It is a German import and was professionally converted to right hand drive my Minisport in Padiham. It is nightfire red and is absolutely mint. When I bought it, it had 6000 miles on the clock - it has now done around 12000, so it is still very low mileage (average mileage is 12000 per year). I have just put it through its MOT and it flew through it. Well, it needed a tyre, but that is a consumable, so it doesn't really count.
This mini is so comfortable and the later ones are a little safer thanks to the side impact bars and the airbag.
The interior of this car was custom built by Wood and Pickett in Surrey. They are a coach building firm who are well known on the mini scene for fitting some of the nicest interiors on the market.
It is sage green with dark red piping, and even the door cards and the rear quarter panels have been done. A dark red carpet, a walnut dash, colour-coded mats and a custom colour-coded gear knob complete this gorgeous interior.
There is no rust on this car, and maybe with only 12,000 miles on it there shouldn't be, but I have seen minis newer than this with quite bad rust. It is the curse of the mini and they all seem to suffer with it except mine.
The most common places to find rust on minis is the A panels (between the doors and the wings), the bottoms of the doors and around the headlights. These are the places you should look first, but give the car a good check all over - don't forget the sills which are another common area for the dreaded rust. I would rather repair sills than outside bodywork though. All panels for minis are relatively cheap compared to most cars, and easy to replace. Bear in mind though that sills can be painted black and hidden quite easily if the welding isn't excellent, but exterior bodywork will need painting to match the rest of the car and repairs need to be of good quality.
Unfortunately, I think I will have to sell the Cooper soon - I have just moved house and the area is bad. I'm in a flat so I have no garage, and although the mini has TWO alarms and immobilisers on it I still wake up in fear every day. :( If I do sell it though I'll still buy another mini - just not one this nice!!
One thing I can say about ALL my minis - they were great fun. Minis are smashing little cars, and each ahs a charater of their own. They are not all perfect or reliable, but considering they are much cheaper than most cars to repair, you can afford to spend a little on them now and then. I would always recommend a mini, but I would say go for the latest one you can afford so that it is safer. Also, go and see as many as you can, you will get more of a feel for what is out there. Last bit of advice - take a small magnet with you and check that the main rust spots I have mentioned are solid and not just filler.
As a guide on costs here are some price guides - I used eBay to get an idea of prices
Brake discs - brand new £23.00 Brake pads - brand new £5.00 Fibreglass bonnet new £30 Radiator - brand new £28 Front wing Genuine Rover - Brand new £25.50 Sill Genuine Rover - brand new £9
Other than eBay there are hundreds of mini specialist spares and accessory dealers in the country and most of them offer mail order services. The mini scene is alive and well despite the demise of Rover, so you shouldn't worry about the availability of parts. Just buy Mini Magazine or Mini World magazine and you will see what I mean. You can even buy a brand new shell and build your mini from scratch!
I hope this review has been useful and I haven't gone on too long - I am still new at this!