I can't believe that it's getting on for two years since I last wrote an update on My Mini Project. Since then all I did with Lucy was to run the engine for a few minutes every month and to keep the battery charged. Then I missed a month, then another, then six. Now Lucy won't start. I turn the key and the orange and red lights lit up but when I turn the key further nothing happens. No click. Nothing. No noise whatsoever.
Another month went by. I needed to free up some space in my garage and had a look around. There were stacks of Mini parts lying on the floor and on shelving. Most were from the donor car I stripped a few years back. The metal parts were rusting away. I sorted through what I had and made a pile of the parts that I don't need and can't see myself needing any-time soon. They need refurbishing and will only rust further if left lying around for another year or so. I took photos and put them on eBay in the hope of raising funds for the parts that I will need.
When one guy came around to collect a part he bought from me he asked if he could look under Lucy's bonnet as he is trying to restore a Mini and wanted to see how a particular part fitted to the engine block. It was good to know that these spares were going to good homes to help other Minis stay on the road. I popped the bonnet, he took a look, figured out the solution to his problem, said thanks.
After he left I looked in the engine bay again and gazed at the rust. I don't remember everything looking so rusty last time I looked. I tried to close the bonnet but it just kept bouncing back up. I tried the bonnet release mechanism to see if it was stuck. I pushed then pulled the cable release. Something made a snapping noise. Damn.
Later when I opened the driver's door I started noticing more rust. The hinge and A panels were rusted through. The sills were almost gone again. I did a walk around the car. Paint was bubbling. Chrome was rusting. My nice shiny RC40 exhaust was covered in rust.
Lucy was rusting away just sitting in a dry garage!
My Falken tyres were looking a little soft at the bottom. I tried to move the car to rotate the wheels. Nothing. It would not budge. I checked the handbrake. It was off. The wheels had seized.
Well, I'd been looking for something fun and technical to work on recently and it looks like I just found it. This time as I have the use of another car I'm going to take my time and restore my Mini.
First things first, I need to get the engine to start.
20th April 2014
I couldn't wait to get started so the next morning I removed the battery from the Mini to put it on charge, except the charger said it was already fully charged. I didn't believe it as it had been stood for the best part of the year without turning the engine over.
My father-in-law popped around with his charger and started to charge my battery while we hooked up his spare to the Mini. The motor tried to start the engine but wasn't having much success. At least I now know my battery was not fully charged and that the starter motor was still working.
We removed the spark plugs and HT leads and turned the engine over. As there was now no air to compress in each chamber the engine turned over really fast and fuel vapour came out of each cylinder. Looking good.
A quick clean and refit of each spark plug and we tried again. The engine started then died. I pulled the choke out a little and tried again. The engine rumbled to life. Ah the distinctive sound of an RC40!
With the Mini engine happily purring away we tried to reverse the car out of the garage but it only raised up on its rear suspension every time we tried so we turned the engine off.
To free the rear wheels we had to jack each side up and remove the road wheel, then remove the hub cover and take a look at the brakes. Both rear handbrake cables had seized and the L-shaped pivot bracket had to be removed. Both were a pain to get off and the split pin snapped in each pivot bolt and so I have no handbrake at the moment as my father-in-law took the pivot bolts away to drill out the remains of the split pins.
The brake shoes and springs were removed as was the L-shaped brackets. The brackets were cleaned up and greased and replaced. The inside of the hubs were wire-brushed and everything was put back together and the wheels were put back on. We manually pushed the car backwards to check if the front wheels were also seized. Luckily they were not.
Back in the car I turned the ignition and the engine fired straight away. I reversed out of the garage and drove the car up and down the driveway. This is the first time I've driven Lucy in a long time. Even if it was only a few meters.
Out in the sun for the first time in over a year we inspected the Mini. It turned out that the rust wasn't as bad as I first thought. It was mostly cosmetic except for the drivers door around the A-panel and sills. The bonnet release mechanism hadn't snapped and still worked. We checked my battery's charging progress. No joy, I'll need a new battery.
My father-in-law said Lucy might even get through an MOT as is. With the handbrake fixed and a new battery that is. It got me thinking. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to drive my Mini through the Suffolk countryside this summer?
21st April 2014
Another weekend already. Where does the time go? It's a sunny Sunday and successful eBay winning bidders are dropping by to collect Mini spares and stopping for a chat and to look Lucy over. In-between visits I'm inspecting Lucy for signs of rust. There's paint bubbling here and there but nothing major. A patch under the rear left window flakes away when touched. The inside sill lip on the passengers side will need welding and the sill underneath will also need some tlc.
Those dropping by to collect the parts they bought on eBay stop for a chat about classic cars and how hard it is getting to source parts. I'm pleased that these spares are going to good homes to help keep other classics on the road
It's a known fact that if you don't use something regularly that you tend not to think about it or work with it as much. So a good tip is to switch to it as something you use daily so that it receives your full attention.
Work and daily life had pushed getting the Mini back on the road to the back of my mind, but I've decided to switch to the Mini as my daily drive which has made me focus on getting the car ready asap.
I made a sort of start by clearing out the garage. I rolled the Mini out of the garage as the battery was long dead and would no longer hold a charge. I discovered piles of nuts and berries in the garage, an indication that we had mice, which is part and parcel of living in the countryside. After the clean up I pushed the Mini back into the garage.
A week later and a local chap who specialises in body repairs at a reasonable cost, popped around to quote on some much needed welding work. He asked to look under the bonnet and we found a right mess in there. It looked like two sponges had had a fight and the remains were all over the engine bay. It turned out that mice had ripped up the bulkhead soundproofing for nesting material the blighters!
Cut to today and I've fitted a brand new battery to Lucy. My 4-year old daughter and I climb into the Mini and I turn the key, it tries to start but just didn't quite catch. We try again and cough cough splutter vroom she's alive! We drive the Mini out of the garage and I let my daughter steer as we drive around our off-road driveway and gravel paths. She's grinning and giggling loudly as she can sit on the seat and see out of the window, something she can't do in mummy or daddies bigger cars.
We wash the grime and dust off of Lucy and darn it she looks pretty good. The outer sills look in need of some TLC and under the front headlights too, both common rust areas on a Mini, I already know I need a new driver's side A-panel and hinge panel and I'll be ordering them from Mini spares shortly for my welder chap to sort. Next I need to drive up on my ramps and take a look under the car, then its a case of getting the car ready for an MOT. The aim is to have Lucy become my daily drive asap so that I can address any issues as they arrive and not ignore them.
I've already started thinking about some modifications that I'll be doing as we head into winter. The first will be to replace the Mini headlights with brighter more powerful after market versions, which will also mean a more powerful alternator. I'll also change the interior from the dull boring grey Mini City upholstery, and I'll change the steering wheel to something better, possibly a mountney. Stay tuned!
13th September 2014
I will continue updating my progress here so bookmark this project page if you wish to track my progress. Once I've got the engine to start and I've assessed the work ahead of me I'll create new project pages for each new job I tackle.
I appreciate every email I've received over the years from fellow Mini owners working on their own projects and I try to answer them all within a day or so of receiving them. So even if it's just to say hi and thanks for the site and sharing what I learn, drop me an email at email@example.com as I'd love to hear from you. It's good to know that there are others out there keeping these great little cars ticking over.