Now that the body has a rotisserie holding it up it was time to make a closer evaluation of the condition of the Mini. Although the seller had maintained everything was in good condition (solid) I was a bit leery observing the amount of rubberized undercoating that was obvious on the underside and interior floor of the car. After a few days spent sanding, stripping and scraping I realized that the body was somewhat closer to being a rust bucket than it was a “clean original”. The previous thirty years in England had not been kind. There was rust throughout the bottom panels and enough holes or bad spots in the passenger area that some replacements would be required. Thankfully the top, sides, hood and fenders were strong – just a few spots on the doors. Out came the air-saw and before I was done there were four holes in the bottom pan as well as most of the rear valance cut off to remove badly rusted sections.
One good aspect of the “Little British Car” hobby is the availability of replacement parts. There are a few suppliers here in the U.S. (Moss Motors, Mini Mania, and Mini City) who have large catalogs. In addition, a bonus with the Mini is that changes for different models were not significant over the years. Parts for the Mini Van suspension are the same as those on the Mini Mk II. Research online took me to Mini Sport, located in North-east England – but as close as my desktop on the computer. Amazingly enough Mini Sport had available Genuine or Original Spec. Reproduction panels for all of the major parts I needed.
In addition to eight or so reproduction panels which came from Mini Sport, before body work was finished I fabricated about thirty-two assorted smaller patches myself using pieces of 16 and 20 gauge metal. With the assistance of local British car mechanic Phil Osborn and his trusty MIG welder we worked at various times for a total of about three days fitting and welding everything into place.
After we had finished the welding repairs it was back to stripping paint. This is the third British car I have worked on restoring so I am somewhat familiar with removing old paint and rust, etc. My goal was to take everything down to bare metal and not make too big of a mess. Due to the noise involved I prefer not to use the air tools for long periods of time. I find that an electric drill and disks may be slow but they get the job done. To start things off I got a Chicago 3/8″ VSR drill at Harbor Freight. This little jewel was about $10 to purchase (on sale) and has held up for the whole restoration job. I started work with an assortment of 4-1/2 and 5″ flap discs. These were a bit rough so I switched to Harbor Freight Warrior Twist-lock Abrasive Discs. I ended up using 40 and 80 grit in 2″, 3″ and 4″ sizes. These discs did the job and I went through quite a few packs of them. One area that was not very receptive to sanding was the firewall in front and on the inside. I used my portable sand-blasting rig to strip that and also the steel road wheels.
After sandblasting there was a modification to the lower firewall area which will help the MTD fit with the D15B7 engine. This involved cutting out the old lower section and replacing it with a metal panel provided by Mini-Tec. It will also help facilitate switching the steering from right side (British) to left side (U.S.). Meanwhile, during my spare time on a few weekends I have been working at Richard Neals’ pulling the engine out of the Honda Civic donor car. I ended up with a good complete D15B7 engine/drive-train and a few additional boxes of parts. The engine is now hanging on a hoist in our garage.
Total time spent in stripping/sanding before primer was about 270 hours. Of course this took place over a period of months (during two years). The problem with this type of work is that you need to block out a number of hours of time to accomplish anything. It’s difficult to grab just a few minutes hear and there. You spend too much time preparing and cleaning up relative to the amount of work completed.