Wed., April 25, 2007 – Reading stories to my three boys, now 15, 13 and 10, one of their favorites was the story about “the little train that could.” As the story goes, the little train chugged up the steep hill, saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” until he crests the hill in a victorious moment.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of that story when I saw Rick’s little warrior – a Samurai warrior no less….
Then of course, that kinda reminded me of taking a standard Mini with an 850cc up the Conejo Grade on my way home. I’m told it’s one of the steepest freeway grades in the state.
While an 850cc Mini will cruise at freeway speeds on the flats, you’ll be over in the truck lanes on your way up that grade. All the while, your little Mini is saying, I think I can, I think I can – in a British accent, of course…
Tues., April 24, 2007 – Seeing the “Mini” kit car above reminded me of a practice that allowed the Mini’s UK-based parent company to avoid “the tax man,” if you will, when sending Minis to some foreign countries.
Hey, we were able to get Minis and an inference to the recent April 15 tax deadline into this one feature! (For our out-of-country readers, that’s the deadline for people in the U.S. to file/pay their taxes with the Infernal Revenue Service, oops, make that Internal…).
Alright, back to the topic. In many foreign countries, import taxes on motor vehicles were so high that automakers would send “CKD” cars into such countries, for assembly there, almost as if they were a “kit car.”
CKD, as it came to be known, meant “Completely Knocked Down.” The UK factory would send pretty much all the parts in crates, on pallets and in boxes and baskets to assembly plants in the other countries. Okay, not really baskets, as that would make them “basket cases,” meaning a project car that will likely never see the road again. Well, few will, at any rate.
Oops, off-topic again.
CKD Minis were sent to a variety of countries, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – even countries as close as Ireland – and perhaps dozens of others, I’m told. (Please fill me in if you know of others, or can tell me more).
Also, in some countries, a certain percentage of Mini parts had to be locally manufactured, which helps explain why things like “Australian” doors came to be. The so-called Australian doors are highly sought-after, because they are external-hinge Mk1-type doors but – instead of sliding windows – the windows are roll-ups and there’s a “wind wing” too. For some reason, in other countries, what we call a wind wing is called a “quarter light.” Don’t ask me why. Sorta like “boot,” “bonnet” and “hood” for what we call a trunk, a hood, and a convertible (ie: canvas or vinyl) top.
Anyway, the point is that real Minis did come as kit cars – of a sort.
Which also reminds me. It used to be said that – it you had enough money – you could pretty much make your own Mini using all new parts obtained from the factory. One could order bare body shells, doors, bootlids and bonnets, and pretty much all the other parts, even complete, ready-to-bolt-in assemblies such as rear subframes. The subframe assemblies typically would have all suspension parts, brakes, brake lines and drums fitted and were ready to roll. The complete body shells were available for purchase for many years, but that production halted some years ago. Many Mini folk are hoping that the new owners of the original tooling will begin to produce new shells again, particularly the Mk1 shells.
Wow! That must have great to get a brand-new original shell, even in the various Mini models. For example, I know of one brand-spanking-new Mini pickup body shell that someone has socked away for when it will be built up – someday…
By the way, there’s a ground-up, built-from-new-parts Mk3 Mini coming up for sale on our site soon. The expert Mini restorer/builder started with a genuine, factory-new crated shell, one of the last that were available for private purchase – and has the pics to prove it!
For more on CKD Minis, in this case, ones built in Australia, see the feature below dated April 8, “Australian Mini-Maker Meets MiniGuy.”
Sat., April 21 – The Vespa car has passed away, but the new Vespa scooter – as has happened with the classic Mini – has been restyled to a more modern look, and engineered to increase reliability and cut emissions and run more fuel-efficient.
Here’s the rear view from behind, which also shows the full-length sunroof extending down the back. Some classic Minis came with sunroofs, or have had ones added later.
See, another couple references to Minis!
Did we mention the Vespa is made in Italy? Well, as it happens, a number of Minis were built there under license and badged as Innocentis. We’ll be featuring “Innos” in the future…
P.s. – If you go to www.dictionary.com and look up “arrivederce,” it defines the Italian word as “until we see each other again; good-bye for the present.”
Sun., April 22, 2007 – Yesterday’s Italian Job movie feature, an amateur-made video by a teenager who uses Legos to construct the Minis, characters, and other vehicles, spurred a thought of how many Mini owners – or people looking for one – that I’ve encountered over the years who are also Vespa owners or aficionados. I guess there’s something about quirky basic-transportation European/British cars and scooters that were plentiful in their time – yet now draw much attention here in States. And, as I thought of Vespa scooters, it reminded me of another tiny car offered to me a while back – a car with a Vespa nameplate. Following are a couple pics. I don’t know that much about the Vespa car, so drop me a note if you can help me out…
Thurs., April 19, 2007 – (Here’s just a quickie. I’ll add more features later today. Remember, this page is updated daily).
Here’s another sent to us for our series of “Big ‘n Little” shots. This one’s alongside a Ford Excursion, which, in my opinion, is a bit much for one person to take to the market and return with a couple bags of groceries…
Wed., April 18, 2007 – Found this pic in my favorites files. Shown here are classic Minis and MINIs gathered for the premiere screening of the remake of the ’60’s movie, the Italian Job. The cars are lined up drive-in-style toward the side of a large white building. You can’t see it in this shot but my former personal Mini – my red ’63 woodie wagon – is up in front, on the right. We all had a great time…
Tues., April 17, 2007 – Looks like our Northeast friends are being pummeled yet again by another nor’easter…
Reading MSN’s coverage of this latest in a long line of storms reminded my of this pic I recently found. It’s one of our Minis adopted out of our old showroom, one that’s now at its new home in Northern California. This Mini’s only in a light dusting, nowhere near what’s going on in out East…
Along with widespread flooding, there’s some snowing too. Here’s a snippet from the MSN news site:
“Vermont got about 17 inches of snow, with flakes still falling Monday across sections of Pennsylvania, New York and Maine.”
Mon., Apr.16, 2007 – Yup, you read it right. We’re fixin’ to catch the little varmints anywhere and everywhere – dead or alive, pristine or project…
Like the one pictured here, they can be very elusive. The tricky little guys have been to hide in garages, under tarps, on driveways, under trees, sometimes right out in the open – and if you look quickly you might spot one whizzing past. Keep your eyes peeled- they can be hard to spot. If it weren’t for the shadow below this Mini, you wouldn’t even know this one’s even there!
If y’all have one you might be willing to surrender to a new home – or know of one that might be, then pardner, give us a call – right quick-like, y’ hear?
Don’t worry , we ain’t gonna hurt ’em. We have a catch-and-release policy so more folks can enjoy them…
Sat., April 14, 2007 – Went to the Southwest Unique Little Car Show looking for Minis – and other cool tiny cars, and spotted this one passing by. (See, there’s our reference to Minis, so now you can just sit back and enjoy the rest of this feature)…
I’ve always liked these. As a kid on a fishing trip with my Dad, I saw what I thought was a rather unusual boat approach the launch ramp – and drive right up it. All agog, we watched it putter away, with its dripping little propeller sticking out under the bumper.
The funny-lookin’ car is an “Amphicar,” and they were built between 1961-1968.
I could tell you all about the “Amphicar,” but I’d rather let photographer/journalist Shannon Lee Mannion tell it in his article:
Take a look – and a read – but don’t forget to come back here to see our “Consignment – For Sale by Owner” pages, since that’s what pays the bills…
Sun., April 15, 2007 – People gawking at you in your Mini isn’t anything new – but I had to gawk when I saw this one. It’s a “Segway” scooter, which allows the rider to stay upright while gyroscopes and computer controllers keep it upright, and allow starting, stopping and turning.
Well, that’s what the company says, but I’m still not convinced there’s some sort of magic – or interplanetary hijinks – going on…
p.s. – I had to look up the spelling of “segue,” since it’s more often heard spoken than seen written. According to www.dictionary.com, (where I check the spellings of words I’m not sure of), “segue” can be defined as “any smooth, uninterrupted transition from one thing to another”…
And with that, we’ll segue to more on the Segway… ( http://www.segway.com )
Here’s from the company’s website:
A Lean, Green, Eco-Friendly Machine:
As the leader in two-wheeled electric transportation, it’s always been Segway’s vision to produce environmentally friendly short-distance transportation alternatives. Today, more and more people are using the Segway PT as an eco-friendly electric transportation alternative for many of the short journeys that are typically made by car. In fact, The EPA estimates that Americans take 900 million car journeys every day, but did you know that half of these trips are less than five miles long and solo drivers? What would happen if you replaced some of those car trips with a Segway PT?
Now just think if we were able to replace 10% of those 900 million car trips with an eco-friendly Segway PT. If each one of these trips was three miles long, that’s 6.2 million fewer gallons of gas consumed and 286 million fewer pounds of CO2 emitted every day.
Wow! Just think, a cool toy that helps stamp out Global Warming…
Thurs., April 12, 2007 – Don Racine, a long-time “MiniManiac” with a lot of stories (some of which we’ll be featuring here), sent this pic of the new 2007 MINI and its comparison to the classic….
The type’s teeny-tiny, so here’s what it says:
Biggest Mini Yet
The latest Mini Cooper may be small by American standards, but it is 2.4 inches longer than last year’s [ie: 2006] model, and about two feet longer than the original.
(If you can’t see it, the outline is superimposed over the original Mini).
We got an email yesterday from “R.W.” (from Boise, Idaho) that starts, “I recently discovered your website, while trolling for Minis for sale. I have a 2003 MINI, but am interested in an older one, as well.”
And what’s that giggling I hear from classic Mini owners?
Fri., April 13, 2007 – I first met Jason N. in 1999 when he flew out from Florida and showed up at my home in Agoura Hills, back when I was just beginning to earn my title of “MiniGuy.” After ogling my Minis, he pulled out pics of a Mini project he barely had underway. He told me it was going to have “suicide doors,” but I had no idea that it would turn out like this!
Jason’s first Mini was a ’67 Cooper S that he sold shortly after he got married, but he said it was a big mistake. Err, selling the Mini, not getting married!
This one – which he calls “Shorty” – was one of his first two Minis, and was just a shell when he adopted it.
There’s some sort of unwritten rule that nobody’s allowed to own just one Mini – and Jason’s been bitten by the bug too.
While working on this one, he bought a pink Mini pickup (which he still has, and says he has “big plans” for it). He also picked up a ’62 panel van that he’s working on now. He also has a ’67 wagon, as well as a 59′ Morris Mini that he bought as just a rolling shell, and intends to fully restore it to original. While some of his creations are full custom, he says he likes “to play both side of the fence between fully custom and original.”
Here’s some specs on his first full-custom Mini, “Shorty.”
Once upon a time, it started life as a 1963 Mk1 Mini, “born of goodly parents,” you might say.
Then add the metal magic – all done by Jason: A 4″ chop-top, “suicide” (front opening) doors, totally “shaved” (including the seams, gutters, handles, lights, bootlid); a re-hinged bootlid that opens to the side, and flush-fitted LED hot-rod taillights. Inside the cabin, is his-own fabricated 10-point roll cage. Outside, he grafted in a Toyota 4Runner hood scoop, then topped it all off with a sunroof plucked from a 2005 (new) MINI.
The custom fiberglass bumper is Jason’s own hand-built creation. The custom fiberglass dash and door panels are also Jason’s work.
The exterior’s finished off with a Brandy-Wine “Kandy” paint he applied himself.
Under the bonnet, Jason jammed a Honda single-overhead-cam (SOHC) VTEC engine, with a ported and polished head, ultralight JUN flywheel, MSD Ignition, APEX VTEC controller, NOS injection, cold air intake, and full stainless header and exhaust.
Inside the cabin (er, cockpit?), along with his custom-built rollbar, there’s Cobra racing seats done in suede – with embroidered “Mini” logos. In-car entertainment (ICE) is powered by a 4,000-watt “earthquake” amplifier and twin 12″ DBX “earthquake” woofers. In the custom-built fiberglass dash is a full complement of Autometer gauges. In a nod to its original ’63 Mini feature, it has a push-button starter – but this one’s in the dash – not on the floor.
Wheels are Ultralight 13″ alloys, with MG Metro Turbo vented discs and 4-pot calipers in the front. Its suspension features Hi-Lows, front and rear.
Jason told us, “All the work on this car was done by me – in my garage here in Jacksonville. That includes all the way from rolling it over on its side to work on the bottom, to bending the roll cage, to fabricating the metal work, to applying the paint. (Although I did have a little help with the paint from a friend down in Ft. Lauderdale, as it was my first ‘kandy’ paint job). This was my first attempt at making these custom fiberglass parts, and I made molds of all the pieces so they can be reproduced for other Mini enthusiasts that may be interested in them.”
For more pics of Jason’s Mini, take a look at our “Not For Sale” section…
UPDATE, UPDATE, UPDATE: After posting Jason’s Mini, he dropped me a note:
“Even though my car is on your “Not For Sale” page…We all know everything is for sale – at the right price.”
Hmm…If you have the “right price” in mind, or if you’d just like more info, contact us and we’ll put you in touch with Jason.
Tues., April 10, 2007 – BMW’s “new” MINI hit a milestone this week – its one millionth MINI made. Here’s two pics….
Yes, some classic Mini purists will howl, saying the MINI is just a small BMW, and bears no relation to the classic Mini – save in name only.
Hmm… Does that mean a 2006 Corvette doesn’t have the right to carry the Corvette badge, since it’s so far distant from the ’59 Corvette?
When it comes to the “new” MINI, I run into two different types of owners. One, the classic Mini, who buys it because they can use it as a daily driver – and take longer trips – and they don’t have to carry tools.
The second type is new MINI owners, who are often calling me because they want a “real one.”
I say, there’s room for all of us. So let’s Motor…
Now, should there be separate clubs for classic and new MINI owners? What do you say? Drop us a note with your attitudes – and we’ll later reveal the results here of our un-scientific poll…
Sun., April 8, 2007 – It seems like everywhere I go in a Mini, people are always stopping me to talk about the car, and many have fond memories of the one they used to have, or their friend had, or someone else that they knew. Lots of the stories are interesting – and some really stand out.
Such it was the day that Bob M., of Westlake, California sought me out after reading about me in an L.A. Times article.
Turns out Bob – starting in 1960 at age 16 – worked in the Australia plant that built the Morris Mini, when the Mini had been on the market only one year.
Rather than have me tell his story, I’ll let him tell it in this piece he wrote at my request.
The history of Australian Minis is not very well documented, and I learned much from his account.
Thanks, Bob, for sharing your story with us.
p.s. – Pictured here is a ’63 Morris Mini, which is essentially the same as the ’59, with some minor changes, mostly in the cabin. Under the bonnet sat an electric fuel pump located there – one which also had a glass bowl. Inside, the seat mountings are different, the speedo has a clear speedo needle and there are courtesy lights in the rear side bins. The most important difference is a lack of “swedging” around the windshield opening, (which greatly contributed to water leaks). There’s more minor differences, and I’d appreciate being filled in by anyone who knows more about the topic. For all intents and purposes, the Minis look the same.
And here’s Bob’s story…
“Mini and Me”
by Bob M[******], Westlake, California
In February 1960, I entered the front gates of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) factory in Zetland, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, to begin my working life as a trainee mechanical engineer in the BMC Apprentice School. I was 16 years old.
Only months earlier, the radical twins, Mini and Austin Seven, had been launched in Britain, around the same time as the Triumph Herald…….British engineering was riding the crest of a creative wave. But in Australia, BMC was assembling the PininFarina styled Austin A40 to the tune of 40 a day, and was planning only eight Minis per day (Morris Minis, as the Austin version was not in the plan), on the assumption that Aussies would prefer the larger car. Also in the mix were various Austins, Morrises, Wolseleys, Rileys, MGs and other British automobiles of common heritage (and in many cases, with Pininfarina styling).
The BMC factory had been built on the site of the Zetland horse-racing track, so was large and flat. Many of the buildings had been brought in from England and reassembled on site, and were entirely unsuitable for the hotter Sydney climate. There was a building for making engines and suspensions, a press and body shop, and the RotoDip rustproofing line, where complete bodies-in-white were skewered like giant chickens and rotated through rustproofing baths. Then everything came together in the Final Assembly Building, which ejected finished cars with monotonous regularity. The factory worked three shifts: 7 a.m.- 3:30 p.m., 3:30-11:30 p.m. and 11:30-7 a.m., manned mainly by “New Australians” who were supervised by English foremen who, to a man, swore like troopers. My vocabulary blossomed.
Assembling a Mini was simple: the floorpan was set down, then the front engine bay and fenders were welded on, followed by the monosides (rare in those days), the rear panel, and the roof. Most were joined by external flanges, which were spot-welded by hand. Suddenly, you had a body-in-white, requiring no lead-loading (unlike most BMC cars) and was ready for the RotoDip, followed by the Paint Shop.
The engine-gearbox unit was dropped in, suspension pieces (rubber cones, etc.) were added, lots of piping and wiring, this and that, and soon you had a car. Simple and fast.
However, the first Minis had bronze synchromesh cones in the gearbox, so we had to strip all gearboxes, and put in new hardened steel cones. Apprentices, like myself, were naturals for this boring task. We were given new engine-gearbox assemblies, and off we went. In an eight-hour day, the best I did was to refit five gearboxes and reassemble the power unit. I can still do this in my sleep!
While we struggled to fix Minis, our warranty department was handling the case of a little old lady who had bought a Wolseley with “Manumatic” transmission – which was a stick shift with a button on the end to electrically release and re-engage the clutch. She thought it was an automatic, and naturally complained about the low top speed, high noise levels, excessive petrol consumption…but fantastic acceleration up to 20! The poor car had lived in first gear for thousands of miles!
The first Minis had an ignition key in the center of the dash, but a starter button on the floor tunnel, just near the handbrake. Ladies often caught their high heels in this button so eventually a change to a regular key-start was required.
I bought my Mini in 1963, at the employee discount, which netted me a Shadow Blue Mini for 632 Pounds (I was earning about 15 pounds a week). The heater was an optional extra at around 10 pounds, and of course A/C was unheard of (it would have sapped all of the engine’s 34 horsepower anyway). Also extra were non-retracting seat belts (but I bought some spring loaded plastic belt retractor gizmos for a pittance), and a seat extender…2 pieces of metal which bolted between the seat mounting points on the floor, and the matching parts of the seat frame. I’m tall.
The A-series Mini engine (around 850cc) had been borrowed from the Morris Minor (and Austin A30) and was transversely mounted so that its exhaust ports would face the back of the car, thus simplifying the exhaust plumbing. Because the A series lacked a cross-flow head, the single SU carburetor was also at the back of the engine, which relegated the spark plugs, coil and distributor to the front. Alas, the radiator was in the left front wheel well, so it was unable to protect the electrics from any water entering the grille. The battery was in the boot, as was the SU electric fuel pump (another weak point). The electrics were a mess. Lucas gets the blame for this in history, despite SU’s contribution. Rain was a real enemy. (A popular joke goes: Why do Brits drink warm beer? Because Lucas makes their refrigerators).
Driving the first Mini was even more fun than they tell you these days, partly because of the tiny drum brakes. The wheels were only 10 inches in diameter, so the drums were even smaller – and shrouded by the wheels. It was easy to run out of brakes, but the car fit between narrow gaps, and “turned on a zack” (Aussie sixpence), so we survived. The door side windows were sliders, and the inside front door handle was a piece of coated wire. The external door handles pivoted, which made them easy to force with a length of pipe. My Mini was thus stolen, and I lost my two dearest possessions: a National 10 (transistor radio…THE one to own in 1963….the closest 24 hour a day pop music station was in Melbourne….600 miles away!) and a Minolta SR1-B SLR camera. Sheesh!
Top speed was a bit north of 73 mph, but was affected by which brand of tyre you used. Whichever brand it was, tyres wore smooth amazingly quickly in the early days; I got 6,000 miles out of a pair of Olympics on the front.
One evening, close to home, I left my seatbelt off (last time I ever did this…you are about to see why) and T-boned a drunk driver who suddenly and impossibly appeared in my windscreen having driven for a mile the wrong way up a one-way street, and thus had reached an intersection which had no obvious need to have a red light pointing the wrong way – until then! I hit him at about 30 mph, and bounced off my seat and into the ceiling. My shins hit the metal pressing which formed the lower rim of the dash. I still have the scars. Alec Issigonis had always said that the steering column would not intrude in such a crash.- and I discovered he was right.
After a year, Mini and I separated. I moved up to a Morris 1100, an even better car, but one lost in history. Next was an Austin 1800 (“Land crab”) which was also a great, underpowered, under-appreciated car. Then I left BMC, and have yet drive one of their successors’ cars again.
Sat., April 7, 2007 – When we had our retail showroom in Ventura, it was visible from the northbound lanes of the 101 freeway, and from the 33 freeway to Ojai as it split off from the 101. Consequently, we had a lot of folks drop in – and we made a lot of friends and heard some great stories.
One day, Mini owner/artist Jim Snow dropped in to see our showroom – but he came all the way from the Big Bear/Lake Arrowhead region. In his arms, he carried this 20″x 30″ painting, which he then presented to me – as a gift.
Depicted is Calvin piloting the wooden car, with his pal Hobbs hanging on behind, both grinning as they hurtle through a fence, taking with them road signs for Ventura and for Highway 126, which is just south of us, in their wake.
You just might want to take a close look at the careening, mostly out-of-control soapbox racer, and you may see some familiar features: a “moustache grille,” external door hinges, Minilite-style (8-spoke) wheels, and pair of a bonnet stripes…
In real life, Jim has a full-size Cooper “S” that he drove for a long time. He then started pulling it apart to restore it – some 20 years ago – and it’s now sitting alongside his cabin, deteriorating out in the weather, since he lost his garage in a move. If he sells enough of his paintings, he says, he’ll start restoring his Mini again.
Below is another of his paintings, his version of the ’64 Monte Carlo rally.
Unfortunately, Jim likes to keep his paintings – not sell them – which can be a problem for an artist looking to pay the bills…
While these two are somewhat cartoonish, Jim’s real talent likes in landscapes and scenic works. Should you like to get in touch with Jim for perhaps a painting of your own, drop us a message and we’ll put you together.
Whaddya say we help him out with a few “dimes,” which in the case will need to be $10,000 “dimes” if he’s to do his Cooper S up right!
Fri., April 6, 2007 – On a sidetrack that eventually led me to own my own Mini – some 25 years later – was a Honda N600 sedan, just like the ones pictured here. Actually, I had two or three of them. Two of my sisters bought theirs new, and one of my brothers and I picked up some pre-owned ones. One big, happy Honda household. But that’s another story…
Take a close look. Hmm… See any similarities to a car we all know and love – and sometimes want to leave on the side of the road?
Let’s factor in the general shape, the length, width and height, the 10″ wheels, and the capability to carry four full-size passengers. Then add in the “corner bars and overriders.” (ala deluxe Mini models and Mini Coopers). Then add that the little cars were built in both right-hand-drive (RHD) and LHD configurations. Most fitted with four-speed transmissions that originally had non-synchro first gears; some came with (likewise crappy, unreliable) automatic transmissions. Will cruise at freeway speeds without really breathing hard. Launched with under-1,000cc engines. Okay, the N600 has a 600cc engine, but you get the idea.
The rumor I heard was that Mr. Honda’s son took a drive in – or owned – a Mini Cooper – and was so excited about it that he talked his father into building one.
I don’t know if that’s true – but it makes a good story and I’m sticking with it!
p.s. – Following the cessation of U.S. sales of the Honda 600 and the Morris/Austin Mini, Austin launched its “Austin America,” and Honda countered with its Honda “Civic.” Enough said?