Welcome back to the AROnline Car of the Month. For May 2018, it’s a pre-launch MINI One, which has been given a great deal of love and attention by its owner, Martin Chamberlain.
Here, Martin tells the story of his latest pride and joy, and the sheer amount of work he’s putting in to return it back to its April 2001 glory is very impressive indeed.
Words and photography: Martin Chamberlain
I had become aware of the rarity of Y-reg MINIs about a year ago. With the aid of the fantastic Y Register on Facebook, run by Tanya Field, I started to learn more about the importance of these early cars. It soon became apparent that the OBL-registered cars were the one to have and, as a consequence, I began to keep an eye on eBay and the classifieds to see what cropped up.
It didn’t take long before one of my Facebook friends, and ex-Practical Classics Restoration Editor, Neil Campbell, announced that his OBL MINI was up for sale. Immediately, I expressed my interest in his car.
The car, Y192 OBL, also known as ‘Mouse’ is an Indi Blue MINI One, and is chassis no 77. It was built on 25 April 2001 and, as far as I am aware, is the second earliest MINI One on the road. Prior to Neil’s ownership, a certain Keith Adams was the custodian.
Doing the deal on the ‘phone
I had a chat with Neil on the ‘phone, and agreed to travel up to Coventry to see the car the following weekend. Neil met me at the station in Mouse, and I had a good look over the car. Neil was perfectly honest with me on the ‘phone about the condition of the car, and I was not disappointed, as it was exactly as described.
The deal was done, and I drove Mouse the 190 Miles home to the Kent coast. Some people take a trailer to pick up their projects, but I’m a firm believer in driving them home, to get a feel for them and note any niggles. Plus I am a fully paid-up member of the AA should the worst happen, not that I’ve ever had to use them!
As it happens, the car drove home with only a few minor niggles coming to light.
Undercover of the night
And by the time we’d made it home, I was happy with the potential of this early MINI. It joins my fleet of three Austin Maxis, which includes the oldest known 1750, a Mazda MX-5 Mk1, and my modern MINI Cooper Clubman.
By then it was a case of grappling with reality. Once I’d got home and was able to give Mouse a good look over, it was clear this One wasn’t a pretty sight. For a start, there wasn’t a single straight panel on it. It suffered from a mixture of dents and scratches, scrapes and cracks.
It showed every one of its 131,000 miles and 13 owners! But it is what it is, and it is a very special car indeed. I quickly found myself enjoying the game of spotting the differences between these pre-launch MINIs and later ones. Sad, I know…
Putting it back to standard
First job was to source some correct wheels, as it was wearing 17-inch Cooper S alloys. Some correct 15-inch alloys were sourced via eBay, and I had the tyres taken off at a local wheel centre. From there, they were blasted and powder coated at Rye Metal Finishers, and I was very pleased with the job. They look like new. Fresh rubber all round, and new centre caps, finished off that job.
Then Mouse was invited to be on the Y Register stand at Brooklands Mini day by Tanya Field. I was quite chuffed to be asked! The stand attracted quite a bit of attention, but I was always conscious of the state of Mouse’s bodywork, despite giving her a damned good clean up beforehand.
So, I ‘phoned up my bodywork guy, who had previously worked on two of my Maxis and my MX-5. It was time to get it booked in for the works, but I was reminded that he needed to finish my Transit first! Once he had finished that, to his usual impeccable standard, it was the MINI’s turn in the bodyshop.
Lots of small jobs make one giant task
Brian Fletcher at Scratches bodyshop, Hythe, Kent had his work cut out with Mouse, especially as I am probably what is classed as an ‘awkward customer’.
I found myself pointing out the differences between OBL MINIs and conventional ones to him. One thing I did know was that I wanted to repair all existing panels, rather than replace them.
So, he quickly got to the task, and such was his level of detail that he even carefully removed the sloppily-applied number plate tape on the rear hatch (to preserve the label which has the chassis number), and carefully masked around it before painting.
The bonnet took hours of work, and it’s fair to say that it would have been much easier to obtain a replacement item, but I feel the original panels are more desirable.
Getting the love and attention it richly deserves
The rear bumper had a crack in it and, upon removal, it revealed a rather nasty shunt up the rear of the car. The metal bumper reinforcement bar was damaged beyond repair, and the back panel stoved in. This was repaired, but it goes to show what damage a plastic bumper can hide.
The roof was a particular pain, as it was covered in dents and ever so fragile. This seems to be the case with the pre-launch MINI roof panel, which does not have the same reinforcement as later cars. Brian spent hours on this, and now it is perfect, if I say so myself.
The boot also fitted very badly, so much so that the boot open light was permanently on. A new boot hinge and adjustment cured this.
Out of the shop and into Martin’s life
I collected Mouse from the bodyshop last week, and she looks like new, a million dollars. I’m so pleased with how it’s turned out. Wearing its correct font number plates with the MINI logo from DMB Graphics, it looks like it’s just come off the line. I haven’t put back the old badges, as they were pretty scabby, so I have ordered some new ones from Mintech Spares, who have been a great help with the project thus far.
The worn out silver panels on the door cards were expertly painted and matched to the original paint by Brian too. However, there is still some work to be done to the interior, mainly trying to find a trimmer who can replicate the pre-production ridge on the driver’s seat, as that has been swapped for a later item in the same fabric – MINI front seats are notoriously fragile.
Now to get to work on the various mechanical gremlins….
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.