Minis 101 Course Revisited…

Today’s feature will be on our free “Minis 101” course that we offered to visitors at our former Ventura showroom, where we typically had 15-20 classic Minis on display – and ready for immediate adoption.

As part of our freebie course, we would usually lock up the shop and take three or four folks (or couples) out in Minis and let them experience for themselves the fun of piloting a Mini down the road and – most importantly – in the twisties. Most days, we would trade off driving a range of Minis so class attendees could drive both left hand drive (LHD) and right-hand drive (RHD) Minis. Along with that, we’d have them experience a variety of engine/brake combinations – from the base model’s stock 850cc engine, the uprated 998cc engine, as well as 1275cc engines in stock and “stage one” configurations, followed by a spin in the factory high-performance “Cooper S” models. For braking systems, we’d have them try out the early “single leading shoe” drum brakes (ie: ’59-’63), then the “twin leading shoe” type (ie: ’64 and up), then the Cooper “S” 7.5″ front disc setup and the upgraded 8.4″ type. Along with drives up the canyons, we’d hit the freeway so our students could see that even the base model 850cc Minis are freeway-capable.

We had people fly in from all over the country for our class/ride/drive events.

For people concerned about driving a stick-shift, I’ve always said that I can teach anyone to drive a stick-shift in 15 minutes. (no kidding; ask me for the secret that nobody even thinks about…). In fact, I had one couple fly out from Wisconsin, but the wife insisted she couldn’t drive a stick. Ten minutes later, she was – and her husband said he’d tried teach her for 15 years!

By the way, in our Minis 101 course – or when you call or email us about Minis – there is no such thing as a stupid question…

Driving Minis, talkin’ Minis, teaching about Minis, putting grins on peoples’ faces – and on those of the people and kids we’d pass…

It’s no wonder I’ve always said, “My wife thinks I go to ‘work’…”

Disclaimer: At no time were these class/ride/drive events used as a way to pressure customers into buying our Minis. We didn’t have to, our new friends would typically shove checks at us upon their return – or after a sleepless night filled with dreams of classic Minis… <grin>.

Mark Won? Mark Too? Mark Who?

Back when I searched for my first Mini (see 2/11/2004 feature), I found it very confusing when it came to learning about the different models of Minis.

As a result, as part of the freebie “Minis 101” course mentioned above, we always took the time to point out – on Minis we had in our showroom – the different models and how to spot them. But that’s not what today’s feature is about…

After I got the bug to get a classic Mini, I turned to the Internet.

During my first searches, I stumbled on a message board for classic Minis. While “lurking” (sounds a little twisted, but it just means you are reading and not posting), I read a post where a guy said he had a “MK1.” When I read it, I didn’t know if he meant he had a classic Mini, or some other vehicle with that name. Searching that site – and using Google – for “MK1” didn’t help much. After a time, I discovered he was talking about the earliest models of Minis, built between the Mini’s initial 1959 launch up to about mid-’67.

He called his Mini a “MK1,” but it was a bit confusing when some called them a “mk1,” while others referred to them as “MKI,” “Mk1,” “mk1,” “mkI,” “Mk 1,” “Mark 1,” or “Mark I.” (On this site, the format we like is the most-commonly used “Mk1″style when designating various models).

So, in a nutshell, here is what a newbie should know, along with a spotter’s guide to the various models, including the Mk1, Mk2 and Mk3 types:

Mk1: (as pictured below; see white one)

Built between the Mini’s 1959 launch through about mid-1967. Has distinctive front “mustache” grille, so called because its shape looks a bit like a “handlebar-mustache” shape around the mouth-like grille, along with “whiskers” extending out under the front marker/turn signal lights. Mk1 doors have “external hinges” and “sliding” windows (although some countries such as Australia or Italy sometimes had “roll-up windows,” but here we’re going to go with the typical UK-built versions). The sliding windows have two pieces of glass that can be moved forward or back, or a combination of the two, to better control airflow. The bootlid (“trunk” for us Yanks) has unique license-plate holder that flips down when the bootlid is open while driving, such as when the (up-to-four, full-size) passengers and their luggage went traveling. Taillights are small and oval-shaped.

Here’s a link to one of the Mk1 Minis listed on our “Consignment-For Sale by Owner” pages: ID# 66YELLOWMK1.

Spotters Guide: For quick ID as it runs down road, look for moustache grille, external hinges, sliding windows and small oval taillights.

Mk2: (as pictured below; see “Saxon Green” Mini)

Generally, built between mid-’67 through the end of ’69. Still has external-hinge doors with sliding windows, but with taillights that are larger and rectangular-shaped, with two-color lenses (red and amber). Front grille is larger, with chrome “grille surrounds” that are fitted to the leading edge of bonnet (ie: what we call a “hood”), (versus no chrome on front of bonnet on Mk1 models), as well as to the sides, giving front end what looks like a larger “mouth.” There are no longer any whiskers extending under the front turn-signal lights. The rear window is also a bit wider, but not that you’d notice.

Here’s a link to a nice Mk2, but it’s already gone to its new home: ID# 69MK2CREME.

Spotters Guide: External-hinge doors with sliding windows, larger “mouth” for grille and larger, rectangular taillights.

Mk3: (as pictured at bottom; see the mustard – aka: “baby diaper yellow – Mini…)

Built starting in 1970. With minor changes, design stayed same for next 30 years, before production of classic Mini ended in year 2000. Big change was going to doors with rollup windows and internal hinges. Taillights (larger, rectangular) and grille (larger, mouth-like) remained same as Mk2 models.

Here’s a nice Mk3: ID# GREEN78MINI.

Spotters Guide: Rollup-window doors with internal hinges. Same grille and taillights as Mk2.

Mk3-plus: (not pictured)

Only minor changes in appearance over remaining years – all components that may be fitted to newer or older versions of the Mk3 and Mk3-plus. Basic body shell from ’70-2000, for the most part, is interchangeable. Taillights now three-color, with reverse light. At one point, side marker lights above front wheels. Wheel diameters changed from 10″ diameter to 12″; small, screw-on plastic “flares” (ie: wheel arches) added. Some Minis available with Minilite-style (8-spoke) alloy wheels. For some years, 13″ alloys available, along with wider wheel arches. As mentioned, Mk3-plus exterior mostly looked same as ’70 models.


The classic Mini is dubbed the “Mr. Potato Head” of cars, since pieces and parts from one model may be swapped with another. Mk1 grilles (and taillights, with a bit more work) may be fitted to Mk2-MK3-plus Minis, and vice versa. Flares may be added or removed. Wheel diameters/widths may be increased or decreased. Color schemes may be altered. Interiors and dashes may be swapped out, along with engines. I think you get the general idea…

Hope that helps… oh, and tell “Mark” that MiniGuy says hello…

It’s a Sign, it’s a Sign… I’m Gonna be a Star!

Aug. 13, 2007 – Got a call from a movie production company – as we often do – seeking a classic Mini to be used in a pilot episode for a TV series. The caller needed a blue Mini, preferably with a dark interior. Since I don’t have one, I made a quick call to a former customer – now friend – whose Island Blue/white Mini might fit the bill. I sent some pics and got an eager okay from the director.

Not long after, Patrick R. – and his Mini pictured below – headed to Hollywood. After a quick stop at the security gate, Patrick was promptly ushered to the set. The plot called for the heroine (a hottie, dressed skimpily, of course) to be chased by ghastly ghouls while in a downpour. She attempts to escape by taking refuge in the Mini (which we consider to be the real star), and huddles in the rear seat. Undaunted, the ghoul-guys surround the little Mini and begin rocking it – while the terrified teen acts, well, terrified…

Patrick – paid nicely for his trouble – later emails, “Thanks for hooking me up with the movie shoot. It was a lot of fun. Everything was shot on green screen with effects to be added later. It was really interesting to be part of the process and to see firsthand how movies are made. Not sure what the name of the pilot will be, none of the crew I asked seemed to know. Will be interesting to see if my Mini makes it to the ‘little screen’…”

Below are several shots from the shoot. or Click Here for all 42 of Patrick’s pics…

Barn Find, Bull …(bleep!)

Fri., Aug 3, 2007 – Got another email today – yet another of those “too-good-to-be-true” ones that set my BS (that’s bull poop, in polite terms) detector on full alert.

This one’s from a long-time Mini friend…

Pictured here is just one of the vehicles you will find referred to, a classic Mini that has doors with external hinges, sliding windows and chrome door trim such as found on Cooper and Cooper S models. From the pic, it could be a Mk1 (up to mid-’67) or a Mk2 (up through 1969), although but it has later-model, factory-type flares, along with polished alloy wheels. Purists will, of course, note that the red car has a white top, which, in that era, should have been black unless it was a factory “works” race/rally Mini, and…

Anyway, we’re getting a bit off track – although this time it did have to do with classic Minis.

So, here is the email:

A New York man retired. He wanted to use his retirement money wisely, so it would last, and decided to buy a home and a few acres in Portugal. The modest farmhouse had been vacant for 15 years; the owner and wife both had died, and there were no heirs.

The house was sold to pay taxes. There had been several lookers, but the large barn had steel doors, and they had been welded shut.

Nobody wanted to go to the extra expense to see what was in the barn, and it wasn’t complimentary to the property anyway…so, nobody made an offer on the place.

The New York guy bought it at just over half of the property’s worth, moved in, and set about to tear into the barn. His curiosity was killing him…

So, he and his wife bought a generator, and a couple of grinders…and cut thru the welds.

And what was in the barn…?

Go to: and start wishing it had been you who bought the place.

NOTE: Be sure to click NEXT on each slide, there is a lot.

====(end of email)=====================================================================

Go take a look and come back, and we’ll talk.
Okay, now that you have seen it, here’s what I did — Google’d that web address and found:

Results 1 – 10 of about 899 for

Wade through all the crap and try to get me a legitimate, authoritative account or source and I’d love to read it. Let me know what you find…

Of course, there is a different way of getting to the truth quickly:

I’ve mentioned before, a source I often used as a journalist to debunk myths, “urban legends” and check out stories that are “too good to be true.

Plugged in “barn find” in the search field and this came up:

I’ll just let you read it.

I’ve never found Snopes to be wrong. It’s a fascinating site, with a great search function. Puts to rest all those stories and rumors we’ve all heard about this and that… For example, try searching with the terms: “jet powered car” and so on…

If you liked reading this post, perhaps you could circulate this to all who sent you that same email – and to those you forwarded it to? Maybe someday it will work its way back to me – in a different version, I expect… Just for fun, perhaps y’all could CC me on any emails you send out about this?

Signed, ever-the-skeptic, former automotive/transportation-technology journalist….

-Michael / MiniGuy

p.s.- Although I must say a number of “found-in-a-barn” stories on the various discussion boards that followed the Portugal emails are very interesting…and some even true…

Email Explosion…’Lucas’ Lives?

Thurs., July 26, 2007 – To those who sent us emails – or received ones we sent – between July 5 and yesterday, July 25, please note that our email program exploded. And, what’s worse, our interim backup file was corrupted and many messages were lost. We’d like to meet your needs, but we’ll need you to help us out by re-sending your emails.

Thanks for understanding, and please, no wisecracks about “Lucas computers”…

For the newbies out there, British cars – including Minis – have gained a reputation that those with Lucas electrics experience an inordinate number of electrical issues, hence the jibes…

Reminds me of the old joke. “Why do Englishmen drink warm beer? That’s because they have Lucas refrigerators!”

Or, some British car owners lament a visit from “Lucas, the Prince of Darkness,” who, oh, never mind, I think you get the general idea…

Mini Meet West – in Pictures…

Thurs., July 26, 2007 – For those who couldn’t make it to Mini Meet West this year in Hood River, Oregon, longtime Mini maniac Dennis Racine snapped a gazillion pics and has posted a whole bunch of them to his website.

Pictured here is one of his shots that typifies the sense of humor of classic Mini owners. Take a look at that exhaust tip!

Marketing MINIs, Comparing With Classics

Tues., July 24, 2007 — Even if you don’t particularly care for their cars, ya gotta hand it to the “new” (BMW) MINI’s marketing mavens for being pretty darn creative.

This particular publicity campaign ran a while back, but it’s one of my favorites.

Pictured here is a jumbo-sized SUV (aka: “Sport Utility Vehicle”) with a MINI perched atop it on what’s meant to mimic a giant roof rack carrying weekend toys such as kayaks, canoes, windsurfers, snowboards, surfboards or what have you.

Emblazoned on the side, it asks “What Are You Doing For Fun This Weekend?”

The SUVs were then driven around popular/trendy places; I believe this shot was taken in San Francisco.

I read somewhere that they installed some pretty heavy pillars and reinforcing to carry the 2,700 lb. MINI. By the way, here’s some comparisons between the “old” and the “new.”

Curb Weight

MINI: 2,700 lbs.
Classic Mini: (about) 1,400 lbs.


MINI: 12’1.6″
Classic Mini: 10′.25″


MINI: 6’3.8″
Classic Mini: 4’7.5″


MINI: 4’7.5″
Classic Mini: 4’5″

Numerically challenged? That means the MINI is about 1,300 lbs heavier, 2′ longer, 2′ wider and 2.5″ taller.

And which one gets more attention? And rarer on the roads? And steals the show at car events and in commercials and movies? And gets more thumbs ups, smiles and waves?

Um, take a wild guess!

Help, Help, Help!

Mon., July 23 – Help, Help, Help! Please, please, please…

We have lots of folks looking to adopt classic Minis, and we also need more of them for our “Consignment – For Sale by Owner” pages.

Please let us know if you know of any Minis that might be for sale – anything from junkers to gems. Got one, or got a lead for us? Please let us know your tips, or steer the owners directly to us.


Phone: Michael “MiniGuy” Lewis
cell (805) 405-6263 (calls 8a-11p California time are fine).

So, what are you waiting for?

Winding Roads, Crazy Grins

Thurs., July 19, 2007 – For classic Mini owners, seeing a sign like the one pictured here quickly results in a big, crazy grin on their faces. This pic is shot just outside the back gate from our former Camarillo showroom, which – speaking of crazy – was located in a business incubator on the grounds of the former state mental hospital. Exiting the back gate and encountering this sign was kinda unfair, as few could test-drive a bunch of our Minis and leave empty-handed. My most-recent showroom in Ventura (just blocks from the beach) was a number of miles from the nearest twisties, but a run along the coast or up to the lake wasn’t bad at all. Our current brokering office in Agoura Hills is located not far from Malibu Canyon Road, Kanan Road, Mulholland Drive and the famous “Rock Store,” where motorcyclists from all over Southern California – including Jay Leno – congregate on the weekends after their canyon runs.

Nothing like an after-work run through the mountains and down to the beach to watch the sun go down to clear out the cobwebs – and put another of those crazy smiles on our faces…

Classic Mini + Rockets + Ski Jump = Whee!

Friday, July 7, 2007 – Top Gear is one of MiniGuy’s favorite shows. Host Jeremy Clarkson shares a penchant for the wacky, particularly when it involves automobiles. And, it seems that many of the show’s episodes involve Minis, both classic and the “new” (BMW) MINI versions.

In this episode, Clarkson and crew head to Norway and its famous Lillehammer ski jump, searching for a way to jump a classic Mini as far as possible. After some scribbles-on-a-napkin calculations, the team settles on rocket power. And, not just any rockets – these have a total of 1.5 tons of thrust. And, since it’s a ski jump, a pair of giant skis are fitted to the Mini. For safety reasons, according to Clarkson, the Mini was unmanned. Instead, a pair of carved-out tracks helped keep the Mini headed straight down the ramp…

We think you’ll be amused at the result.

Here’s a short video snippet:  (0:38)

The Top Gear version on YouTube runs 10 minutes.

Top Gear – Part One:  (7:05)

Top Gear – Part Two: (2:35)

Pictured here is not the jet-powered, ski-jump Mini, but a shot of a university student’s rocket-powered little red wagon. We liked the pic, so we’re using it…

Paper Minis, Microcars & More…

Wed., July 3, 2007 – A reader submitted this cool site that features classic Minis made of folded paper, along with other cool cars, scooters and racecars, including microcars such as the Isetta and Messerschmitt.

Included among the many classic Minis are a Mini limo, a snowmobile-type Mini, a radical blower-engined Mini, a couple versions of Mini panel vans and a couple Monte Carlo Rally Minis.

Check it out, particularly the slide show.

Ichayama’s Paper Cards:

One language-translation site interprets the Japanese on the homepage to read:

“Welcome to ‘the soldier of the card.’ With this sight the paper construction which Ichiyama makes is introduced.”

Click Here to go to Ichayama’s Paper Cards or go to:

There’s a way to get folding templates for making a Mini of your own, but we don’t read Japanese. Can anyone help us out with that?

Mucho Microcars in Motoring Museum

Mon., July 2, 2007 – When the classic Mini was first designed by Alec Issigonis (shortly before its 1959 launch), officials of the Mini’s parent company were concerned about the threat posed by the “bubble cars” of the late ’50’s.

This category of “microcars,” as they are more commonly known in collector circles, were fuel-sipping, relatively inexpensive vehicles designed to counter the threat of skyrocketing oil prices on the horizon.

That was then; This is now:

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles is a great place to see a cool collection of the microcars of that time.

Pictured here is a Messerschmitt, just one example:

Citing from the website, “The Messerschmitt Tiger (Tg500) was one of very few microcars with sporting potential and many were raced. Unlike other Messershmitts, which had a single rear wheel, the Tiger was equipped with two rear wheels for improved traction and stability.”

The microcar exhibit runs June 23 through Feb. 3, 2008. Other featured exhibits at the Petersen include, among others, American convertibles, Ferraris, alternative-fuel vehicles, Hollywood star cars and classic hot rods.

Always something interesting to see – and well worth a special trip…

Click Here to go to the Petersen Automotive Museum or go to:

Shorty Wanted, Sho’ ‘Nuff…

Sun., July 1, 2007 – Speaking with an old friend – er, long-time friend – today and he mentioned he like to mount a Mini on a rack that sits crosswise behind his motorhome. However, at 10-feet long, the Mini is two feet wider than highway regs allow.

For one solution, a shortened (or “Shorty”) Mini just might do the trick. Anyone out there have one they might be willing to part with?

I saw one a number of years on eBay that was part of a package deal with a motorhome conversion of a Greyhound-type bus. A luggage-style compartment opens up and the Mini shorty runs down a little ramp and off it goes. I think the bus and Mini were both white, but I could be wrong.

Speaking of Minis, I say “It’s a small world when it comes to these small cars.”

Has anyone seen that pair?

The Mini shorty shown here is based on the Clubman Mini, the extended, squarish-nose Mini that appeared for a time starting in the early ’70’s. Not long after, British Leyland (the new name for the old Austin and Morris badged-cars) dropped the square-nose from its lineup and continued to only offer the traditional “roundnose” Mini…

Back to the topic. Anyone have a Shorty they’d like to send to a new home?

Even if yours isn’t for sale, we’d like to see pics of yours for potential posting to our “Not For Sale” pages, where we showcase peoples’ Minis…

Elf Morphs, Produces Pickup…

Sat., June 30, 2007 – The Riley Elf is based on the Mini, and it shares all its mechanical parts with the Mini. Here’s one we spotted in New Zealand that its owner made into a pickup…

We kinda like it.

By the way, we once had an Elf at home that we were actually trying to sell, but our then-8-year-old son kept going outside and putting “Not For Sale” signs on it..

Elf’s End…

Here’s the back. Note that it’s still got the Elf taillights and bumper. The tailgate appears to be a modified bootlid, which still has its Elf badging…

Gentlepersons, Start Your Minis – and Get ’em to Mini Meet East!

Thurs., June 28 – Mini enthusiasts primarily from the Eastern part of the U.S. and Canada – even some from the UK and other countries – are arriving now in Alcoa, Tennessee for this year’s Mini Meet East.

The event starts today and runs through Sunday, July 1st …

Going? We’re looking for your pics and stories…

Click Here to go to the event website or go to:

Here’s the official event schedule:

12-4 p.m. – Registration
5-8 p.m. – Registration
8:30 p.m. – Evening Drive – Gather at Holiday Inn Express/Mainstay Parking

8-11 a.m. – Registration at Holiday Inn Express
9-4 p.m. – Kids Event Trip to The Lost Sea
9 -10 a.m. – Place cars on Concours field
10 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Concours
5-7 p.m. – Registration at Hospitality Tent
5-8 p.m. – Funkhana/Creeper Races
8:15 p.m. – Concours & funkhana Awards
9:45 p.m. – Movie

7-9 a.m. – Charity breakfast at Texas Roadhouse
8-9:30a a.m. – Registration at Holiday Inn Express
9 a.m. – Rally Driver’s Meeting
9:30 – 1st Rally Car off
10 a.m. – Scenic Drive to McCord Farm picnic (for those who don’t wish to rally)
11:30 a.m. -Lunch begins/rallyists arrive
2 p.m. – Rally Awards/Classic Mini Brigade
3 p.m. – Panoramic Photo
7 p.m. – RC Car Races and awards
8 p.m. – Savid Vizard at hospitality tent
Fireworks Annual display by City of Alcoa, viewable from event site

9:30 a.m. – Autocross Tech/Course Walk
11 a.m. – Tech Ends
11:30 a.m. – Mandatory Driver’s Meeting
12 p.m. – First Car Off
3:30-4 p.m. – Autocross Awards

Can’t make it to Mini Meet East?

Mini Meet West 2007 will be in Hood River, Oregon from July 10-12th.

Click Here to go to the event website or go to:

A Mini Moke Wannabe – But at Half Price!

Tues., June 25, 2007 – Here’s one from our “Consignment Too – For Sale by Owner” page, where we feature cool cars that aren’t classic Minis.

Mini Mokes – with Summer upon us – are fetching $10k or so for decent ones.

With that it mind, I can’t figure out why this street-legal VW-powered dune buggy hasn’t sold for its $5,500 asking price. I think that maybe because our listing didn’t mention that it’s street-legal (rather than just a toy for the dunes or off-road), until this morning.

Has a professionally rebuilt engine with less than 100 miles on it.

If there was any space left in my garage for toys – I’d have it in mine. Uh, with my wife’s permission of course… Sigh…

By the way, if you have another interesting car that’s not a classic Mini, feel free to drop us a note about having it listed on that page…

Yet Another (Used-To-Be-A) Mini, This Time a Truck..

Mon., June 25, 2007 – Here’s another reader submission of a used-to-be-a-Mini-at-one-time “Mini,” in this case a ’79 pickup…

Don’t know why we enjoy these so much…
The owner/builder reports he has spent more than six years building it. No idea how many hours that works out be, but it’s a lot of hours wasted/invested on this one-of-a-kind (thankfully!) 1979 Mini pickup.

Among a bazillion custom mods are features such as a Suzuki Swift GTI 16-valve engine w/ 5 speed, half-cut “butterfly” doors, a smoke machine (smoke exits from the sides) and a full-on PC running XP software with a touch streen inside and a monitor in the rear.
It’s on eBay UK again (after multiple previous tries), but the auction has closed with no bites at the minimum bid of 4,850GBP…

We can’t imagine why…

Fly Away…

Are those wings? Maybe it will just fly away…

From The Ground Up

Fri., June 22, 2007 – When I tricked my wife into getting my first Mini (or so she says!), I bought it with the intent of tinkering with it in the evenings as a way to reduce stress from my then-job as a journalist. My specialty involved advanced-transportation technology, including alternative-fuel vehicles. It was a great job, but that’s another story.

The idea of my new hobby was that – after we put our three boys to bed – I’d be out in the garage for a couple hours fiddling and listening to my favorite tunes. As it turned out, I didn’t get a chance to do much tinkering. So many people asked me how they could get a Mini of their own that my then-hobby quickly turned into a business – which, as it turned out, just added to my stress…

Anyway, one of my dreams had been to take my Mini completely apart – every nut, bolt and screw – and restore it, piece by piece. I haven’t yet been able to fulfill that dream – although I’ve commissioned a number of Minis built up that way, primarily from our network of overseas craftsmen.

A reader recently tipped me off to a great series of videos of someone doing just what I had dreamed of doing myself. And here they are:

Click Here to See Part One or go to:

Click Here to See Part Two or go to:

Click Here to See Part Three or go to:

Video submission: YouTube username: “speedingorange”