This blog is the story of adapting a 1980 Austin Mini van to become (hopefully) an economical, efficient, reliable and somewhat quick twenty-first century driver. It might actually have become a commuter car but, I retired from work at International Paper late in 2016. I had attempted, unsuccessfully, to begin this blog some time ago to chronicle “the build”. Problem was, between job, family, other activities and actually working on the car, there was no time to create a blog. Recent changes have reinvigorated the blog. First, I have been making progress on the car, particularly after my retirement. Body work has been finished and the Mini has been coated in primer. Additionally, blogging time has been opened up due to a recent accident I had involving an articulating ladder which led to a broken right foot when it collapsed. My objective now will be to present the work on the Mini as it has progressed to this point.
Back in 2007 was the first time we witnessed gas prices exceed $3.50. At that point I started to think about how to address the need for more economical transportation. I confess that I am a gearhead with in inclination toward hot rodding and a love of British sports cars. Before this I have restored a 1957 MGA and a 1974 MGB-GT which included an Oldsmobile 215 V8 conversion. Thinking about what I might work with for this project, one car that came to mind was the English “Mini”. The classic Mini, designed by Alec Issigonis, was in production for 41 years starting in 1959. The Mini became the forerunner for modern front wheel drive economy cars with its transverse mounted engine and integrated gear box. My research found that only a very few MK-I and MK-II Minis were actually exported to the US during the early production period. Upon seeing a few photos of the Van version I decided that was the type of Mini I wanted. I wanted something different and didn’t want to start with a well restored car.
With more that 5,500,000 minis having been manufactured there are a good number (mostly over in England) which have been restored to original standards. There are many more that have been modified, whether for racing on the track or turned into hot rods of various types. My desires are somewhere in between. I am looking for reliable, quick performance and economical operation. The original Mini Van had modest performance at best. It had a 75 mph top speed, with fuel economy of perhaps 35 mpg.
So I began searching the internet. Eventually I located a towing service in Charleston, SC, which also imported Minis to the states. They had what appeared to be a well used, largely original 1980 Austin Mini Van in their inventory. Black paint wasn’t a problem because that would be gone anyway. So, in October 2008 I sent a deposit and made plans to get a tow dolly for the trip. It took about 4-1/2 hours to drive the 300 miles to Charleston. On a Saturday afternoon, after a short test drive around the city, we strapped the Mini onto the dolly and I returned to Stone Mountain.
These days a discussion over what defines a hot rod can become very heated. Back in “the day” and even now, tradition focused around a ’32 Ford powered by a flathead V-8. Through the years all manner of 1930-40s roadsters became hot rods, and the small block Chevy V-8 became the default power. As the years have passed to include more different ages and types we have now added a group defined as “street rods.” More recently sedans from the 1950-60s have become popular with a variety of Chevy LS, Chrysler Hemi or Ford performance motors up front. And today cars right up to the turn of the century become a base for highly modified performance builds with all manner of engine, suspension, body, and other performance modifications.
But at the root of this, whether it was in the 50’s, the 80’s or even now, has always been a desire to use what is available to modify your car for better, faster performance. Part of the definition today might be there is no limit. A different engine, new chassis, upgraded suspension, body and interior modifications, all can be part of the build for a “hot rod”/”street rod.” And why put a restriction on the type or age of a car? The automotive hobby has transitioned from a traditional original restoration to personalizing the car to the owners desires.