Long Distances, Many Mini Miles

Tues., May 15, 2007 – A new group formed to recognize long-distance drivers of classic Minis has launched this week, an organization calling itself the “North American Classic Mini Brigade.”

Brigade awards will go to classic Mini owners, drivers and co-drivers who have made a transcontinental trip, East to West, North to South, (or vice versa), or a trip to any two Mini Meets West and East in the same year. Qualifying for membership in the elite group is also open to those who have made similar long-distance drives in an “A Series” engine-powered classic Mini (or Mini variant) in North America.

The group’s aim is “to encourage the preparation, use and enjoyment of the classic Mini and the fellowship of Mini owners in North America,” according to group founders Karl Strauch and Rick Higgs. “The motivation comes from our own long-distance travels in classic Minis, from those who have gone before us and for those whom we encourage to follow,” according to their joint announcement.

Members will receive a Certificate of Membership and Brigade grille badge for their classic Mini, a badge design incorporating a modified St. George’s Cross, the flag of England.

The initial Brigade members will be recognized at Mini Meet East 2007 in Alcoa, Tennessee, as well as at Mini Meet West 2007 in Hood River, Oregon. A significant list of qualifiers has already been identified, and the group is soliciting additional nominations.

“A classic Mini can be a reliable and enjoyable means of travel in North America, if suitably prepared and driven. The classic Mini is especially suited to the secondary roads that reach into the most beautiful natural places on the continent, where its superior handling is to be enjoyed and where its economy is realized,” according to group founders.

Higgs, 63, of British Columbia, Canada, currently drives a bright yellow Mk3 Mini fitted with a 1380cc power unit and gearing more suited for highway use. Towed behind is a unique, matching custom trailer built from portions of two classic Minis.

Strauch, of Wildwood, Missouri, counts among his many Mini journeys a round trip to Alaska, in a somewhat famous classic Mini dubbed the “Blue Goose” by the car’s owner.

First Sale, Strangest Sale

May 12, 2007 – After I bought my first Mini, I was relentlessly propositioned by a whole lot of people who saw it. People stopped me on the streets. People left notes on my car. Mostly, people wanted to buy it. People even offered “stupid money” for it. But my Mini – a ’66 Austin Cooper S – was Not For Sale.

After some thought, I got three more, and had them shipped from overseas. The first sold in less than two weeks – with no advertising – and soon left for its new home. Nothing very strange about that, but what was strange was what the buyer requested.

Billy R., a longtime Mini mechanic in Studio City, California, came, kicked the tires, only briefly looked it over – and announced he wanted it. Except, he didn’t want most of it. He wanted to give back the engine, transmission, exhaust system, wheels and tires, wheel arches (flares), front and rear suspension, and the brakes. All he wanted, he said, was a black Mini body – to build into what he wanted. It seems the first Mini he ever had was black. And that’s he had to have again.

Over the years, while running his racing suspension business – and his Mini repair and restoration business, Billy accumulated – or built – everything he’d want in his ultimate Mini. The one that would be a keeper. The one that would be his daily driver. He had already built a fast road 1380cc engine (with all the good stuff inside), and had mounted it on a reworked four-speed, four-synchro, rod-shift transmission. He had ready the coilover suspension, a downdraft Weber carb, performance intake and exhaust systems, including a twin-box RC-40 exhaust. He had the 12″ alloys, performance tires and the wheel arches he wanted, and he had the seats.

Two weeks later, he called to say the car was done, and to please come pick up all the other parts. And so I did, and saw what Billy built. And what he soon after drove up to Portland, Oregon, where he now lives. I caught up with him a few years later at Mini Meet West, held that year in Florence, Oregon.

Another Mini sold, another friend made.

Pictured here is his Mini, fresh from the port.

A Big Bus, a Small World

May 12, 2007 – One of the reasons people tell me why they drive a Mini is that they like to drive something unusual – something that will get noticed.

Shown here is a rather unusual bus, and it’s one that will definitely get noticed! I snapped this pic at East Meets West Mini Meet in 2004. It has cool Union Jacks and a motorhome interior, but what I like about it is those tail fins! (Another car I lusted after in high school was my buddy’s ’57 Chevy, with its big fins, but that’s another story…).

This behemoth bus now lives with its new owner in Texas, reports previous owner Al G., of Wainfleet, Ontario Canada. Al, better known as “Big Al the Mini Mover,” has towed many a Mini, including some behind this bus, in the 12 years he’s owned Minis. He’s found Minis local to him, but many he imports from the UK via Nova Scotia. Canadians have an advantage when it comes to importing vehicles, since its laws allow cars as new as 15 years (?) or older. In the U.S., we’re limited to 25 years old or older; in some states, such as California, it’s older than that.

If you are in Eastern Canada, or Northwestern U.S., and you can’t find a Minis that meets your needs on our website, give big Al a shout. I’ve never heard of anyone who’s been less than happy with what they got through him.

I first met Big Al at my first Mini Meet in 1999, in Colorado Springs, just a handful of months after I adopted my first Mini. I had two of my sons, ages 8 and 5 in tow, and I was a complete newbie – but everyone was very friendly. I asked Big Al lots of questions about the Mini he had brought; yet he had a lot of patience and was only too happy to answer my newbie questions.

He had towed down a “barn find” Mini that was an all-original, early ’60’s Mk1. It was one of those unmolested early ones that come up only rarely. Al almost apologetically showed he’d replaced the original water pump, but said he had another of the correct vintage, (or maybe had the original to be rebuilt?).

Several years later, when I had left my day job to become a full-time dealer, I had a woman in my showroom looking at a Mini pickup. It was her second trip to look at it, and had cash in to buy it. She then said she’d seen another truck advertised – but for more money – and I figured out it was one Big Al had, a light gray one. I told her I had seen it in Colorado, and that it was the nicest truck I’d seen, and well worth the (higher) asking price. She slipped her cash back in her jeans and headed home to buy it. If you ask me if Big Al’s a competitor, I’d explain that most of us dealers are more like associates, and work together as a network. If you speak with Big Al, tell him MiniGuy says hello!

Billy’s Before…

Here’s what Billy he started with. It’s hard to see, but it’s got a vinyl roof too.

Spring Has Sprung, it’s Time for Fun…

Wed., May 9, 2007 – With the snow thawed and the sun shining, members of the Idaho British Car Club recently took their first run of the year, a trip through the twisties in the mountains north of Boise. “New” (BMW) MINI owner Realy Ann W. sent along this pic of the lone classic (aka “real” as some may say), Mini making the day’s run. Of course, any real run must involve munching and, in this case, that would be breakfast at Trudy’s Restaurant in Idaho City.

Eric D. is shown standing beside his ’78 Mini, and behind him is Realy Ann’s silver/black 2003 MINI.

She’s currently adopting the (light) “Saxon Green” Mk1 Morris Mini off our “Consignment – For Sale by Owner” pages, this after we sent more than 100 pictures and read off all 8 pages of notes from our “inch-by-inch” inspection of the car earlier that day.

If you’d like to see it, it’s ID# AB3406.

With relatively few classic Minis in the area, owners are basically forced to associate with their British brethren (and sisters?), such as the Austin Healeys, Triumph Spitfires and the like that made the day’s trip. After a long winter’s hibernation, there are often mechanical “adventures” that turn up, but nobody broke down this time – a first for the annual outings!

Realy Ann has already shown the pics to all her club friends, who are eagerly anticipating the new addition to the club.

Note: For our regular readers, we always appreciate hearing about all your many Mini adventures, so please keep those pics and stories coming…

Twins Separated at Birth, Perhaps…

Fri., May 11, 2007 – Pictured here is a canary yellow ’64 Chevelle El Camino, but hang on a bit for that story.

As a student at Van Nuys High School in the early ’70’s, there were a number of my classmates who drove Minis and Mini Coopers. As mentioned in an earlier feature (April 5), my longing for a Mini bloomed during this period, but alas, it was not to be. When I went shopping for my first car, my Father had rather strong opinions as to what I should be driving. “Get a truck,” he said, “and you’ll always find work!”

Rather unmotivated, I began my search for a truck, since he’d be fronting the money (as a loan, of course) for its purchase. One I looked at was a 1953 Chevy pickup – or rather two of them. Between the two, there was a complete truck. The guy wanted a whopping $110 for the pair of them, but I said I’d have to think about it overnight. Needless to say, they were gone in the morning. (And, don’t get started at what the ’53’s bring today!)

After a time, my brother and I came up with a plan.

We decided that a Chevy El Camino just might be slid under Dad’s nose, since it’s sorta a truck. We didn’t really tell him that was essentially a Chevelle SS with a large open trunk.

We found one for $425, and it went home with us. Or at least, after we jump-started it. And did so time after time, or push-started it because we didn’t always bring jumper cables. I still own the first set I finally sprung for.

Pictured here is a ’64 El Camino – a bright canary yellow one – pretty much exactly like what mine looked like back in my late teens, when it sported a hand-rubbed lacquer paint job. By my hands, of course. My wheels are a little different, otherwise this one’s its exact twin. I spotted it at a car show not long ago, and just had to snap a pic.

When I first became began earning my title of MiniGuy, I towed many a Mini home from the ports in my beloved El Camino. It’s been mine for 30 years, but it now sits forlorn – and in need of another restoration – in front of my home, where it’s a constant source of aggravation to my wife.

It doesn’t get driven much these days, since I tricked her into letting me buy my first Mini back in 1999 – or at least that’s her claim now. And the rest is history, as they say…

See, this one started and ended with classic Minis…

Assembly is Reverse of Dissasembly

Fri., May 11, 2007 – Sometimes life just isn’t fair. It’s just not.

Growing up, I had a good friend, Cory W., who shared my madness for Minis, yet both of us went without. He once told me a story that has stuck with me all these years.

It seems that a neighbor kid of his had a great uncle, or so we decided.

This uncle had a Mini, a Cooper S I believe, that he offered to his nephew – for free.

But, there was a catch.

His uncle felt very strongly that kids should know all about their cars, and how to work on them.

Here’s his deal. The kid – I can’t remember his name – would get the Mini for free, providing he dismantle it all the way down to the last nut and screw, then put it back together. If he did, it was his to keep.

I never heard if he did it or not, but I’ve never forgotten the story. Sheesh, some guys have all the luck.

Pictured here is what I’d probably have ended up with, along with bunches of boxes of parts that somehow had become “extra”…had I tried to accomplish the same thing…

Twisted Mind, Twisted Metal…

Tues., May 8, 2007 – If you haven’t realized it by now, the MiniGuy has a bit of a twisted sense of humor and a penchant for unusual things and stories.

Here’s a pic from a website I occasionally visit,, a rather unorthodox site dedicated to displaying pics of crashed exotic and expensive cars.

There’s also a “Weird-Funny” section, which is where I found the one pictured here.

On the site, I had seen a classic Mini shown in an unusual accident, but I’m not finding it just now in a quick look.

In the meantime, this pic shows how one of our friendly California Highway Patrol officers ended up parked in an unusual fashion. According to the website, the CHP car struck the Datsun pickup as the driver was making a left turn into a private driveway.

Check out the site – but – you may find it hard to leave….

When I locate that classic Mini pic, I’ll post it here. If you have other classic Mini-related “oops”-type items, drop us a note!

SoCal ‘mini’ Mini Meet – Let’s do it Again?

Mon., May 7, 2007 – With all the talk about the upcoming Mini Meets, it reminded me of the “mini” Mini Meet we held some years back, when things were in full swing at my old retail showroom in Ventura.

Shown here are just a few of the Minis that showed up, from as far south as San Diego and as far north as Seattle.

Following the gathering at our showroom and some workshops and BBQ, the Minis headed out for a long drive on the curvy roads in the region, with several stops along the way. A variety of other events were part of the Saturday schedule as well .

The following day, the cavalcade of Minis traveled over to the British Car Show hosted by the Central Coast British Car Club (CCBCC), an event that takes place this year on Sunday, July 22 at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. An “autojumble” (aka: British parts swap meet) is slated to be held in conjunction with the event.

For more information, see: ( )

If you haven’t been to a CCBCC show in awhile, please note the event is no longer held at the Ventura harbor, just so you don’t miss it…

How about it, anyone up for another two-day “Mini Mini Meet” in conjunction with the with show? Drop us an email if you’d like to be involved…

Mini Coopers Used as Police Cars?

Sun., May 6, 2007 – Found this model car on a German site while trolling the web – and it spurred a recollection of another interesting bit of Mini lore.

In a nutshell, in the 1960’s, Mini Cooper S’s were used as police cars in the UK and in Australia, and perhaps in other countries. There’s much more to the story, and we’ll be telling it soon…

We’ll also be showcasing a genuine one that’s made it to a new home in the States.

Longtime Mini enthusiast Chuck H. owns that one that he picked up after seeing it at a past Spring Thing event in Florida.

We’ll be covering more on the topic – and showing Chuck’s police model in a future article…

Sorry, I’m Late; Was On a Road – and Under a Mini …

Sat., May 5, 2007 – Please excuse my late posting of this on these daily-updated News/Features pages…

I was on the road to do an “inch-by-inch” inspection of this “Saxon Green” Mk1 Mini that’s in amazing orginal condition.

New pics – about a zillion of them – and lots of info from the inspection will be posted to our “Consignment – For Sale by Owner pages, most likely early in the week.

We don’t expect this one to last – as
we’ve already got someone in Idaho who’s asked us to hold it until she can get a full report, and a Southern California gentleman behind her!

If you have a Mk1 Mini in very original condition – or know of one that might be for sale – please let us know as we’ve a long list of people looking to adopt one from their current owners….

Little… And Little-er?

Fri., May 4, 2007 – We get a lot of “Big ‘n Little” shots, but here’s one of a “little” and a “little-er”…
We’ll be covering more on the Mini Moke (in the background) in a future feature…

The First Mini Meet: Reno, Circa 1973

Thurs., May 3, 2007 – Here’s yet another from my favorites file.

Shown here is what I’m told is the first large-scale gathering of classic Minis in the U.S., an event that took place in 1973, in Reno, Nevada. I’m told participants came from far and wide, including a now-friend of mine from Seattle.

The last Minis sold in the United States were mid-’67 models, when Mk2 models briefly appeared. After some six years, the classic Mini community was already building.

My first Mini (see article Feb. 11, 2004) was apparently there too, according to its long-time previous owner. No trailer queen – it was driven there, I’m told.

I’m not sure how the word got out so far and wide, but this gathering marked the start of what we now call “Mini Meets.”

As mentioned in a previous article or two, this year’s “Mini Meet West” will be held in Oregon, and “Mini Meet East” will be in Tennessee.

Kudos to all the host Mini clubs – and a score of volunteers – who make these memorable events happen!

For a larger image, Click Here or go to:
And, if you know more about the ’73 meet, we’d love to hear from you…

Here’s Another From Our Letters File…

Wed., May 2, 2007 – As MiniGuy, I get a lot of emails, including ones with questions. Our motto here is that there is no such thing as a stupid question.

And here’s to all who so patiently answered my endless questions when I was a newbie…

This letter came today…

—–Original Message—–
From: ((R.W., a serviceman in Germany))
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 8:20 AM

Greetings from Germany!

I am a US service member stationed overseas. I currently own a 1996 Rover Mini as well as a 2002 Mini Cooper S and am looking to buy a classic mini. My question to you is about price vs. value.

I have the opportunity to purchase an 1973 Innocenti Mini Cooper S 1400. I’m told it has been completely restored and customized, has a 120HP-Engine, and that all modifications were carried out professionally, with the bills to back it up/prove it. I am told that the total cost for the restoration/mods is/was over $21,000. The body is straight, there have apparently been no crashes and there is no rust on the car. I am also told that the car was only used for show, not for racing and that the engine has only 1.000 km since overhaul.

I love Mini’s – but I am a bit beyond my experience when it comes to knowing if this is a great deal or not. All of my mechanic friends are mechanically impressed with the car, but they do not really have anything to do with classic Mini’s and are unsure of which models are which – and which models command the higher price ranges.

Can you give me any tips? I like the car (see the pics I’ve included), but the price tag ($15,600 USD) seems a bit steep. I can afford it, but I do not know if this is a great deal or not. I am sort of on the fence between being a Mini “Purist” and a Mini “Fun”ist.

Help!!!! Any suggestions/tips/thoughts would be more than welcome. Thanks in advance, – ((R.M.))

And Our Reply…

—–Original Message—–
From: Michael “MiniGuy” Lewis – []
Sent: Wednesday, May 02, 2007 11:07 AM

Hello and thanks for the message, and the five pics you sent.

re: value
It really depends on what you are looking for. The car is highly modified/customized. For most classic Mini buyers, there are too many features that are undesirable. On the other hand, if you want a very unique Mini, you couldn’t build one for anywhere near that price.

For me:
1.) Racing buckets are a pain for everyday use.
2.) The roll cage makes entry and exit a real inconvenience
3.) I can’t see the belts, but I’m guessing they are four-point harnesses. If so, the rear seat is probably unusable.
4.) The body is de-seamed, or at least in the back. If it’s not done extremely well, it will crack the bondo/paint. If it’s really, really not done well, the car can basically start cracking in half because the strength of the external seams isn’t there.
5.) There are no bumpers front and rear. That’s illegal for a street car in many areas. Forget about parallel parking anywhere, it will just get beat up with no bumpers or grille guards to protect it.
6.) Left-hand drive (LHD) is generally a plus for American buyers, but a negative for purists or potential buyers in RHD countries (UK, Japan, New Zealand, etc. etc.)
7.) A ’73 Mini cannot be legally registered in California; you’d have to check regulations in whatever state(s) you plan to use it.
8.) The color means it will likely be more difficult to sell. It’s orange – one of the toughest colors to sell. I’ve sold about [x x x] classic Minis, so I can vouch for that.
9.) Originality: The fact that it may have been a genuine Innocenti will make no difference whatsoever to a collector, or your average Mini enthusiast. It might has well have been built using a basic Mini…

Overall, if it were me, I’d pass on it.

But — if you want a car that will definitely put a silly grin on your face, get lots of attention, and hold its own in a car gathering or car show, and, like all Minis, corner like it’s on rails – then factor that into your decision.

re: price?
That’s for you to decide. What will $15,600 buy? Maybe a Hyundai, Saturn, Fiat or something else that’s boring. But those you can drive anywhere, anytime, listen to the radio when the car is running, and you don’t have to carry tools…

Let me know how it goes.

Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you…

p.s.- thanks for serving our country!

-Michael “MiniGuy” Lewis

This is Just Plain Wrong…

Sun., April 29, 2007 – Got this pic from a reader, who spotted it in coverage of a recent “car” show.

This “gull wing” MINI is just plain wrong – in so many ways.

Of course, classic Mini owners might say that with more than one million MINIs already on the road (see April 10), one “destroyed” in a million is just a good start…

Hey, that reminds me of the old joke.

What do you call 1,000 lawyers on the bottom of the ocean?

A good start….

p.s. – It was an attorney who told that one to me, so sue him – not me – okay?

Catch Me if You Can, Says MINCOMP’s Gilcrease!

Mon., April 30, 2007 – This shot of the MINCOMP Mini and its owner/builder/driver Bill Gilcrease (on the left) is a very rare one.

Why rare? Because normally when you see the race car, it’s just a green-and-yellow blur!

What’s particularly noteworthy about the MINCOMP Mini is that it’s built utilizing a purpose-built, space-frame chassis and still maintains the front-wheel-drive (FWD) configuration that the classic Mini is so famous for! It’s not one of those rear-wheel-drive (RWD) or rear/mid-engined caricatures of a classic Mini…

Bill’s shop, MINCOMP, in Costa Mesa (SoCal), is one of several excellent repair/restoration/race build shops that we at MiniGuy highly recommend.

If you’d like a list – or know of a shop that should be on the list – please drop us a note.

And, when you see Bill – tell him MiniGuy says hello!

Another Postcard, and a Where Are You Now?

Sat., April 28, 2007 – We’ve sent Minis all over the country – many that were custom builds and sent direct from our overseas builders. This one was built for Shelton S., from Texas.

This is a “postcard” he sent of his Mini while at a racetrack event some years ago.

If you know how he may be contacted, or you are Shelton, w’d love to have you drop us a note…

Hey, I Thought I’d Seen its (Perhaps?) Parent…

Thurs, April 26-2007 – Last month, I spotted this and had no idea why I was inexplicably compelled to snap a pic of this creation. Now I know why!

Come ta Poppa, My Little MINIKINS!

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream!

Thurs., April 26, 2007 – This Mini-based ice cream truck gives new meaning to the phrase, “What a cool Mini!”

While the “Scamp” Mini-based “kit car” below (see April 24) left a pretty bad taste in my mouth, this Mini’s a sweet way to help forget that rotten taste…

This one’s on eBuy in the UK, and the bidding’s hot – With 7 days left, it’s already at GBP 2,827.77 (Approximately US $5,663.46), and it hasn’t hit reserve yet.

Check it out, it’s on eBay UK as Item Number 110118857216.

And Here’s a Classic Mini Limo!

Fri., April 27, 2007 – Here’s a crummy picture of a really nice car – a classic Mini limo conversion owned by my friend Jan H., who lives not far from me in Woodland Hills, (Southern) California. It’s a reeeaaaally nice car, and we’ll be doing a full feature on it soon…
Just had to leave you with a “real” (classic) Mini Limo, not one of those “new” (BMW) MINIs – even if the classic doesn’t have a wacko hot tub in the back…

For MiniGuy, or for Midgets? Er,

Thurs, April 26 – Hmm…I’m 6’4″ – do ya think I’d fit?

Oops, I meant no disrepect for “little people,” but that just didn’t rhyme with “MiniGuy”…

What do you think, perhaps it should be: [or for] “Mini Folk”…?

On eBay UK, it’s Item Number 110118857216.

And it’s the Ultimate in Impractibility!

Thurs., April 25, 2007 – More views, and don’t forget to check out the hot tub in the back.

Pretty much wipes out any thought of sharp cornering, eh?

Today is Picture Day!

Thurs., April 26, 2007 – We have so many pics submitted by readers, or ones we’ve taken, or ones we just stumbled upon while cruising the web, that we’re looking to find new homes for them, as it were.

We’re doing a little housekeeping, so here’s just a few…

MINI Becomes Maxi…

Thurs., April 26, 2007 – This one’s by someone with way too much time on their hands…and who can’t count the number of wheels that should be on a MINI…

Ya Wanna Trade ‘fer a Mini?

Wed., April 25, 2007 – We often get visits or calls from people who’d like to trade their car/truck/bike/kidney/firstborn for a Mini. Here’s just one of them…

This 4×4 looks big next to the Mini, but it’s actually a Suzuki Samurai, the little pipsqueak of the “four-by” world. The diminutive (that’s tiny, if you need to look it up) little jeep has developed a sort of cult following.

Rick B. brought his in and told us of trompin’ the big boys in sand and in the steeps, or so he says, because of its lighter weight and nimble handling.

Don’t know ’bout that, but I’m sure this one gets lots of attention.

Rick B. found a new home for it, then picked up a project Mk2 Mini (ie: ’68-’69) that he plans to stuff a Honda VTEC engine in, (so it will put out 160hp or so).

This shot’s taken at our old showroom in Ventura, where we generally had 15 or so classic Minis and Mini Coopers on display. Sort of Disneyland for Mini folks – and I got to go to “work” there every day….