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Snicket The Mini

It’s somewhat amazing that its taken me this long, but I finally added a classic Mini to the stable.

Its funny. I’m kinda impulsive, but not…. I know what I want, when I see it.


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I have been keeping an eye on Trademe for a new project, since I’m basically wrapping the Vitesse up as it’s about as good as it needs to be now. Trademe is a dangerous place to hang out, the people are generally horrible, and the prices are the worst, but sometimes something even worse happens…. I see a car and it “clicks”, and I know that’s what I want.

That happened the other day, when I spotted a nice little ’76 MK3 Mini 1000 on there. It had current Rego and WOF, and apparently it drove well and the rust was “nothing that would affect warrants, yet”. It also had an interior that was “showing signs of age but is original and complete”. For a road legal classic Mini, it was decently priced too.

Naturally I arranged to view the car, and had a look the other day. Well… I didn’t end up taking it home. It looked OK in photos. A bit patchy, with obvious paint differences, but no glaringly obvious rust holes. The interior was worn out with a mismatched drivers seat, but didn’t look bad.

I get there to view the car, and “oh, the battery is dead so it needs a jump”. Well ok, not the first time I have seen this, and not a deal breaker. He jumps the car, starts it up and it idles rough as anything, but is idling. No big plumes of smoke or anything, so its promising. One thing I noticed when I was checking out the car before he started it, was that the radiator and engine were hot, so obviously it had been running already that day. We’ll come back to this fact.

Whilst he was faffing about jump starting the car I had a good look around, and wow, she was rough! The reason you can’t see any rust in the photos? It had been quickly and badly painted over. Every single panel had bubbling paint/rust to some degree. The interior was falling to bits, with missing trim, no carpets, mismatched and torn seats, and a general sense of decay and neglect.

Since I was there, and I was looking for a project, I thought I may as well take it for a drive and see how it goes. Who knows, if it runs like a mighty stallion, I might just take the project on anyway. Having a stuffed battery, I was told I could test drive it, but only up and down the road within eyeshot of the seller just in case I stall it and it needs to be jump started again. So I jump in the hot seat, click it into gear and off I go.

“Hows it running” the guy said when I returned. “Like a bag of Sh*t” I quickly whipped back. And it was. It was bucking, surging, backfiring and misfiring badly. “oh, it must need warming up with the choke. Jump in the passenger’s seat and I’ll take it for a drive”. Needless to say the choke made no difference since the engine was already well and truly up to temperature, and even with his magical abilities, it ran like rubbish. “Must be the flat battery then”, so he hooks up the jumper leads again, but even with this amazing technology, it ran badly. Nope. Even if I wanted to drive it home, the suburb it was in had one road in and out, which was over a steep hill. There was no way this car would make it over that hill.

I told him to let me know if he gets it running properly, and wished him a good day. Good luck to him.

So with that disappointment, I headed home. Later that evening I checked Trademe, and low and behold another round nose classic Mini had just been listed locally. This time it was advertised as “rust free, runs and drives well”. The photos looked good, showing decent paint (in green too!) and interior. It had some massive 13×7 alloys on it, but no flares. The downside? It was deregistered due to the previous owner forgetting to put the rego on hold a few years ago.

This isn’t a huge issue on older cars, so I teed up a time to view the car anyway.

I get there and once again the car isn’t ready. “It just needs the brakes bled, it was meant to be done” the seller states. Ok, no worries. I have a look around the car anyway. For once the seller was right, the body was damn tidy with minimal rust, and no obvious bubbling. Compared to the red one, this car was factory fresh. The one thing that was pointed out was that the wide wheels don’t clear the standard arches, and you can’t turn full lock.

The seller attempted to bleed the brakes for over an hour, but they just couldn’t get a good pedal. We gave up for the day, and I left them to trying to bleed it more.

The next day I get a call about lunch time, saying that the brakes were bled and it was ready to go. I head on down there, jump in the car and attempt to take it for a test drive. I get stopped straight away; the engine is pouring out oil! It turned out that the feed for the mechanical oil pressure gauge was leaking, so the seller crimped off the pipe, and the leak stopped. The brakes still don’t work. Eventually I worked out that if you double pump the brakes at least one of the front brakes would work, but you had to be damn careful not to lock the wheel. I managed to get it down the road and around the block, and although the clutch pedal engages on the floor and is soft, the car drove pretty well. Gearbox was smooth, and the suspension did its thing. I did note that the speedo wasn’t working, but that’s not an issue (turns out its not connected).

I get back to the workshop again and advise that the brakes still aren’t working properly, so they try to bleed them again. Still no pedal. No worries, I said i don’t care how it gets to my house, but if you can get it there I’ll buy it. We settled on a price, without the wide wheels (he had the standard wheels with near new tires), and he said he would get a trailer and deliver it.

About 10 minutes after I get home I hear this odd, very British sounding ruckus heading up the street. Oh hey, its my Mini, and the sellers other Mini. It turns out he just chose to drive it the 20 mins to my place, despite having little to no brakes, and no reg/wof. It made it here OK though.

So what do I have?

It’s a MK4 1980 NZ built Leyland Mini 1000. The reason the brakes needed to be bled is that there was an issue with the original 998cc engine, so the seller swapped in the 998cc from his earlier MK3 Mini, which necessitated dropping the front subframe. There are a few small changes, but generally the engines are basically the same between the two cars.

It hasn’t had a warrant in a few years

There are a few issues, other than the speedo and brakes not working. So far this is what I have found in my travels:

Electrical gremlins aplenty (One headlight works, no tail lights, intermittent dash lights, no temp gauge, no indicators or hazards, no brake check or rear window de-mister lights, The starter solenoid tried to melt two of its wires, no wipers, no blower fan). I suspect most of them must be linked, there will be something unplugged somewhere.
The front LH brake cylinders are leaking and have nuked the shoes.
The front seats have almost no padding left in them. Someone has stuffed some foam into them to try to help, but they aren’t too good.
No choke, the cable is too long? and isn’t connected
No heater control, the valve is wrong and doesn’t match the cable.
An oil leak from either the rocker cover gasket or oil cap
Uninsulated spark plug leads
Oil leak from shifter rod
LH outer CV boot torn
A smell of fuel from the fuel tank area
No radio despite wires running all over the show
Battery isn’t secured and is missing its cover
Boot floor cover missing

So that’s the bad stuff. The good stuff is that the body is solid, the engine and gearbox seem to work well, it handles OK, and the interior is mostly there. It has a sweet vinyl roof. Oh, and its very similar green to my old Marina.

My plan is to get it drivable, and then take it for a re-registration check to see what it needs, or if it will pass and be back on the road. I want to drive the heck out of this car, so need to get it legal.

I also plan on tidying the interior and exterior up, maybe look for some better wheels (to fit uncut arches), change the exhaust and then enjoy it.

For now, here’s some photos.

Oh yeah, it’s called Snicket. After Lemony Snicket, due to the Mini LE decal on the side…. “Le Mini”

Update 31-12-21:

The chap I sold the car to emailed me yesterday. Unfortuntely he stripped the car ready for a lovely new coat of paint, only for the panelbeater to take his money and run. After a year of going through the courts to try and get his money back, he is no longer in a position to keep the project going or to keep storing it, so its looking for a new home now.

A real shame to see Snicket in this way, but it is what it is. I hope it can find a new home that will put it on the road again, and not just scrap it.


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