Restoration of a Classic Cooper S

Case studies

Article from Mini Magazine Cooper Star

Masterminded by a Hollywood scriptwriter, this rare S was returned to life by Somerford Mini.

There are certain cars that just envoke an instant response from people. Silver Aston Martin DB5? Yep, we're thinking James Bond. White Beetle? Its got to be Herbie. Robin Reliant van? We're thinking Only Fools and Horses too. What happens though, when you park a stunning and very, very rare Fiesta Yellow MkI 1275 Cooper S in a quaint country village? I'll tell you what happens. You get a van-load of hairy-arsed builders driving past, hanging out of the windows and shouting "Oi! Heartbeat!" at you while giving you the thumbs-up.

They have a point though – looking at the S in these photos it could be recreating a scene from every granny's favourite Sunday evening viewing. There's a bit of a surprise there though, as the Mini is owned by LA Based TV and film scriptwriter Ant Hines, whose work has included material for 'They Think it's All Over', 'Dennis Pennis' and 'Ali G', with his most recent being the massively successful 'Borat' film. Not exactly Heartbeat territory then, so how did the car come to be in the Wiltshire countryside with a group of Mini Magazine journalists?

Well, the answer lies with Ant's brother Pete Hines, who also happens to be the owner of parts and restoration company Somerford Mini, and was tasked with restoring the car. Also on hand to help was Workshop Manager, Graham Phillips, and as it turns out Ant, Pete and Graham were all at school together and shared a love of cars. Pete and Graham both owned Minis back then and were members of the local Mini Club, so when Pete was looking for an idea for his own business a Mini restoration company seemed like the obvious choice. In the meantime, Ant's career took him from music to TV to Hollywood, but he never lost that affection for classic cars and especially the Mini. "I got into Minis through Pete really," says Ant, "when I was 17 I had to travel to work every day and Pete used to drive me in his Mini – a 1969 MkII – and that got me hooked. I loved bombing along the country lanes! My first car was a Fiat 500 though, which was good fun. If you rolled the roof back and put a brick on the accelerator you could just about manage to sit on the top of the seat back, with your head out of the roof and reach the steering wheel!

Once hooked on Minis, Ant's collection began to grow as Pete told us: "Ant has the 1275 GT too, as well as a MKI Cooper which is a basket-case," says Pete "two Mokes – one of which is on the road – a '64 Minivan with only 10,000 miles from new on the clock which is on the road but needs a sympathetic resto and a '74 Pick-up which needs some work. He'll have to wait though, as we're booked up until 2010!"

This S was the Mini that Ant really wanted though. "The MkI 1275 Cooper S was the most desirable Mini to me," Ant says. "I was working in LA at the time I found this one. In my spare time I used to look at cars on eBay. It was a fairly random purchase, I didn't really mean to buy it but before I knew it I had bid and won! I think eBay is a dangerous thing if you're away from home and have time on your hands...!" in the end Ant paid £2300 for the Mini and as you can see from the 'before' photos in this feature, it was in a bit of a mess. "I was lucky though," he says, "as the description was very vague, but underneath it was a very rare dry suspension 1275 S.

The car was delivered, a wreck really.

It had been appallingly de-seamed, in fact it had been done so badly that we were not able to salvage the bodyshell

I think there were less than 30 made in this colour combination in 1964 – maybe it was a bit too garish for people back in the '60s! This might seem like a lot of money for a car that needed a complete rebuild, but talking to Pete it seems this isn't so unusual these days and that values for even the scabbiest sought-after models such as the MKI S are on the up. "We've had people that have spent £3500 on a box of bits, so Ant's was good value!" Pete says "we always say to make sure you have the bits that are unique to the car - the bodywork is not that important as we'll usually replace most of it anyway. This one had the 120mph speedo which was unique to the early ones and he was lucky as, although the head and carb weren't there, it had the original block, rods and the gearbox with the 22G333 casing, which is quite rare".

Despite juicy original parts such as the speedo though, you only have to look at the 'before' photos to see that there wasn't an awful lot else that could be salvaged from the original shell. The Mini was barely recognisable as a MKI S and had been treated to a home-deseaming job, a matt black paint job with fetching red coach lines, some home-made arches, which Pete reckons were made out of 'biscuit tin or something!', and a bonnet scoop and a home-made flip-front which would do most boy racers proud. It had home-made arches and had been deseamed with an arc welder, which had trashed the shell," Pete says "it was amongst the worst Minis we had done, but they're increasingly coming in that state now," he says, "you can't beat new metal at the end of the day, especially if the replacement panels are available".

A suitable car was found from our stock to use as the base shell to carry out the restoration. Although this car was in a bad way and very corroded, it was 'good honest rust' and had not been modified. It doesn't really matter that the shell is so badly corroded as we replace at least 50% of the body panels as a matter of course.

The only parts of the donor shell remaining now are the front and rear bulkheads and parcel shelf - even the roof had to be replaced thanks to the gutter being missing, plus numerous dents and advanced corrosion. Most of the panels fitted were Heritage which are made on the original tooling and fit superbly and were not available. Somerford either used MMachine panels or modified Heritage ones to fit. Some parts had to be fabricated from scratch, "for example the boot lid" Graham says. "The MKI Heritage boot lid wasn't available when we did this Mini, so it has a MKIII boot lid but we added the depression from the MKI boot lid." It's not just a case of making sure each part of the car is exactly as it should be - actually using the car is important and Somerford Mini spend a lot of time getting the panel fit just so. "We spent about two days per door at the point where the A panels are fitted to make sure that the doors fit properly and the sliding window catches can be moved with one finger!" Graham says "It's hard to get stuff to fit on Minis as the tooling is antiquated and the car is antiquated!".

Once the shell was finished and prepped Somerford painted it in two-pack, inside, outside and underneath – Fiesta Yellow for the body and Old English White for the roof – as per the original spec. The process is the same for each area of the car. "We certainly would not dream of going anywhere near it with Hammerite and under-seal, "Pete says.

Meanwhile the engine had been sent to Richard Longman for restoring and tuning. "Ant wanted a '60s engine builder's name on the engine so it went to Longman, although normally rebuild work is carried out in-house," Pete says. "Obviously Downton wasn't as option! It's a Stage 3 head spec polished and ported, but with the original valve sizes."

Luckily the original engine and gearbox was still with the car, but both needed some work. The original cylinder head and carbs were missing so had to be replaced, plus some home-engineering had to be repaired. "It has a 12G940 head replacing the original AEG163 which was missing. These are rare anyway - the valves were slightly bigger which caused the head to crack in between the valves," Graham says, "the engine was rusted and seized and was already bored to plus - 60 but we've had it sleeved back to 1293cc.

A suitable car was found from our stock to use as the base shell to carry out the restoration. Although this car was in a bad way and very corroded, it was 'good honest rust' and had not been modified. It doesn't really matter that the shell is so badly corroded as we replace at least 50% of the body panels as a matter of course.

Restored body shell awaiting final paint process.

"The gearbox is a rare 22G333 Cooper casing with the correct S ratio gears and a 3.44 diff. The gearbox had been butchered for straight-cut gears at some time in its life, but the original spec gears have now been put back in.

On the road the Mini is smooth and responsive, and although the engine noise is there, it isn't as intrusive as with many tuned engines. Pete told us: "The spec is essentially standard. It has a 276 cam, is lightened and balanced, has twin 1.5 inch carbs and a LCB – just the '60s performance spec without being too wild. Its subtly modified and still very driveable and we're hoping it will prove very reliable.

With the shell and engine sorted you'd think things were almost done, but next came the arduous task of tracking down all the original trim and cosmetic parts.

Although the car had come with an interior it was unusable as someone had painted it black (no doubt to match the exterior!). Luckily though, a full set of Powder Blue and Grey/Gold Brocade trim was sourced through Newton and looks a treat against the Fiesta Yellow paintwork – Ant reckons it looks almost like a "Mr Kipling Fondant Fancy cake" and we have to agree! Meanwhile, Ant had been busy on eBay again sourcing obsolete parts the car needed.

The Mini's Heritage certificate reveals the car had the optional 4.5 inch wheels from new, so it was important the car was restored with a set. These were sourced from eBay and Ant paid £70 - £80 each for them, Somerford then shotblasted, straightened and painted them. He also found a '60s Les Leston steering wheel, which he took back to the States with him and restored it himself before carefully packing it into a suitcase to bring back to the car. "I think it's done far more miles off cars than on them," he laughs, "I had it on a baking tray when I was in LA and worked on the spokes with wet'n'dry paper while watching CNN on the telly!" Another eBay find was the right-hand tank which, although not included from new on this Mini, is a genuine Cooper S one. Luckily, other parts weren't so arduous to source as Somerford have a pretty comprehensive back catalogue of parts available. Pete reckons the company has 12,000 parts catalogued and can supply three-quarters of those, as long as they're given a bit of notice for the rarer ones. Around 6500 are in stock most of the time, but added to that is the wealth of Mini knowledge held by the team at Somerford – if you need to know anything about a Mini's spec or which parts you need, Somerford can help.


The car is now starting to take shape.

All in all, around £700 was spent re-chroming the parts of the car that could be salvaged from original such as the rear light surrounds, then the other parts were sourced from the Somerford parts store – right down to the rare BMC seatbelts, which weren't from a Mini originally so had to be cut down to fit then re-stitched. In fact, this car is so perfect it could almost have fallen through a timewarp – the only thing giving it away being the Koni dampers which were fitted to improve the ride after the engine was tuned. A quick coat of black paint through and no-one would ever know!

So – now the Mini's finished will Ant have it shipped out to LA? "Well, I've got seven Minis in Britain and hope to get the collection down to three or four, but will be keeping the S," he says. "I was going to ship the GT out to America, but I've recently been given a 1966 Austin Cooper S out here which has only covered 44,000 miles from new, so I'll use that out here. It's going to Graham Reid at Heritage Garage in Costa Mesa, California soon to have the engine rebuilt and some mods to help it cope better with the hot weather. Cooper Ss can overheat in Surrey, let alone in LA! Other than that I drive an old Saab and a Norton motorbike – I'm really not into American cars."


Restoration of a Classic Cooper S (12 images)

  • Cooper S 2
  • Cooper S 1
  • Cooper S 3
  • Cooper S 4
  • Cooper S 5
  • Cooper S 6

  • Cooper S 7
  • Cooper S 8
  • Cooper S 9
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  • Cooper S 11
  • Cooper S 12


Well, if you ever wanted variety on a feature this has to be it – we've had everything from Britain to LA, rare Coopers to tasteless home-mods. Heartbeat to Borat. With his recent Oscar nomination though, we couldn't resist asking Ant to give us an idea of what Borat would make of the Mini: "Borat would have mixed feelings about the Mini; on the one hand its small size would make it very nippy when being pulled by his horse (or retard brother, Bilo), but on the other hand, he'd probably only be able to carry a maximum of two wives on the roof..." So there you have it. If we're honest though, after the amount of work that's gone into this Mini the MiniMag team are making it their personal responsibility to go round and slap anyone who dares sit on this immaculate Mini's roof or harm the bodywork in any way!

Finished Car FrontDetail of BootRebuilt Enginecooper right
 Finished Car Rear