The classic mini cooper was an extremely innovative vehicle for its time, and an icon of British history. They were manufactured by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), dating back to the 1950’s. The classic mini design was based upon it being a budget car. Although the classic mini cooper offered just the basics, its unique design made this a fun and stylish car to drive. Everyone had them. From working-class families to the likes of celebrities. To this day the classic mini coopers appeal to British car enthusiasts, racers, collectors, and microcar fans.
I am a car enthusiast who wanted a relatively simple car DIY project, restoring a classic 1989 mini cooper was my car of choice. To my surprise, this project slowly began to consume my life. Do not be fooled by its size, it can be more work than you think. However, totally worth it!
The highest quality parts available were used when restoring this classic 1989 mini cooper. In addition, have tried my best to ensure it looks like the original.
If you wish to know my experience in building such a car, then read on.
What I Started With
I purchased a bare shell for a 1989 mini cooper classic, racing flame red model. It still had the original 998cc engine. This type of mini classic is very rare, with only 1000 manufactured. Approximately 200 exist today. Three colour ranges of this model exist being:
Mini Cooper Classic Check Mate: Consists of a black and white roof.
Mini Cooper Classic Flame Red: Has a red and white roof.
Mini Cooper Classic Racing Green: Consists of a green and white roof.
There were various rust patches around the mini cooper classic chassis. I managed to clean up this rust easily with a flap disk on a grinder. I did not modify the chassis, as I wanted it to match the original. Only two small areas required welding.
The chassis was taken to a professional paint shop, where it was prepped prior to receiving a bare metal re-spray. This included spraying of the wheel arches and inside the bonnet. The colours were selected to replicate an original flame red 1989 mini. I then added decals and badges, which consists of a ‘Flame’ logo.
It was important to me that the engine on my classic 1989 mini cooper worked smooth as, and looks immaculate. The only way I could achieve this is by replacing a few parts, with the help of a Haynes manual. These are very handy books as they provide step-by-step instructions, along with images. I first started by replacing the cylinder head and gasket to ensure a good seal between block and head. If you are going to do this, make sure you follow the manufactures guidelines when fitting the cylinder head. Also, choose a cylinder head that is specifically made for your engine. Very old head gaskets are guaranteed to be worn, so it is always a good idea to change them.
Getting the engine to run smoothly took many days to get right. I eventually achieved this by replacing my original Lucas 45D mechanical point’s ignition distributor for an electronic ignition system with NGK spark plugs. This upgrade resulted in more reliable spark timings. Another critical component that needed changing was the HIF38 carburettor. They are made up of different parts, which can become inefficient. H stands for Horizontal, and IF means Integrated Float. The 38 is the width of the throat in millimetres. This carburettor had worn, which means it was no longer the optimum dimensions it was manufactured to, leading to engine combustion issues. I decided to up upgrade to a brand new HIF44 SU carburettor, to improve my power in the higher rev range. In general, bigger carburettors on the same engine would produce more power at the high end (high revs/min). However, this does also mean the engine will have less power at low revs/min. It is personal preference how you want your mini to be tuned.
Airflow and filtration was improved by installing a new air filter manufactured by K and N. This helped to increase horsepower and acceleration.
A new aluminium radiator was installed to ensure the new refurbished engine gets the cooling it needs. In-fact the new radiator is superior to the mini original for that model due to its improved design.
Once the whole car and powertrain had been assembled, the engine was expertly tuned. I then painted the engine block and cylinder head a bright yellow, to prevent rusting.
I fitted original mini copper front callipers, disks and pads. Along with new rear cylinders and shoes. I then bled new fluid throughout the system. I also fitted new bushes and pins in the pedal box and servo arms.
I installed KYB shock absorbers all round. I decided to change the standard rubber suspension bushes to polyurethane ones. The latter is more durable, and therefore more stable and longer lasting. Only downside is that it has to be greased well to prevent it squeaking. Bushes are the points where the vehicle chassis is joined to a moving suspension component. Their main purpose is to reduce noise and vibration.
I have replaced both track rod ends, the rack gaiters and the upper bush in the column.
Wheels / Tires
A new set of 12″ rover minilite wheels were installed, with locking nuts. In addition, brand new Yoko A539 tyres, which are great all-round sports tires.
Interior and Trim
The inside consists of cobra bucket seats. Newton Commercial supplied interior trim, they handcraft interior trim to the original design. In this case the trim is black ‘crayons’ fabric, including rear seats and door cards. An original radio cassette has also been fitted.
Exterior trim consists of Chrome bumpers and a black grille centre. Wheel trims are full-width white. New window seals were installed, along with original windows.
Mini cooper classics have not been made for a long time and will not ever again. As such, their value is ever increasing. As more and more Classic Minis are scrapped, yours will become more valuable. Therefore, it is essential you look after your revamped mini to help protect your investment. Personally, I keep my classic 1989 mini cooper in a garage, no matter what the weather.
If you enjoy DIY guides in general, then you may be interested in my DIY Guides Blog.
If you are going to start your own mini cooper classic project, then good luck!