Canadian photographer Warwick Patterson normally leads a pretty high-stress life, shooting stills and video of hurtling rally cars for the Subaru works team – check out www.formulaphoto.com. For relaxation, he co-runs Classic Car Adventures which organises classic-car driving events on the spectacular and mostly empty mountain and desert roads of British Columbia. For yet more relaxation, he restored this very nice low-miles 1964 Mini.
Pics AndrewSnucins/Classic Car Adventures/Iain Ayre
The relaxation came to an end as the 2012 Spring Thaw loomed up, and Warwick’s debuting Mini was still in many pieces. A deputation from the Vancouver Mini Club bearing spanners a few weeks before the event helped the reassembly to some extent, but the pressure increased as the deadline drew closer and closer. At midnight on the Friday night before an event that starts at 9am on a Saturday, the car rolled out of Warwick’s garage and was fired up for the first time, and at 2am its inaugural test run was successfully concluded at a motel by the event start venue in Hope, BC.
A brief morning inspection revealed that nothing important had fallen off, and Warwick and his mate Dave launched the Spring Thaw trip in their usual cheerful way, with 60 assorted classic cars charging off, route books at page one and odometers zeroed.
There was a major contingent from the Vancouver Mini Club, including the Deputy Prime MINIster, i.e. me, and the Prime MINIster, i.e. Larry Sutton, who drives a very nice Cooper S. Sadly, Larry’s Cooper didn’t actually make it out of the car park: of the 800-kilometre event, he managed about 50 metres. Never mind, local member Nolan had a spare Mini so that was fetched instead for Larry to drive.
On this trip, I was navigating for Warwick in his Mini. That was not a tough job, mind you, as he had written the rally route and had re-checked it a couple of days previously. There’s always a chance that unexpected new roadworks or a rock fall will foul up the whole route.
“D’you want to come in the Mini as navigator?” Warwick had asked me earlier.
“But you already know where you’re going. You wrote the route book.”
“Exactly,” said Warwick, rather unkindly, I thought. “You probably won’t get us lost.”
I don’t have a top reputation as a rally navigator, having a tendency to gaze out of the window thinking about cornflakes or The Wind in the Willows rather than counting kilometres. Actually I don’t have a top reputation as a rally driver either, having come last in a Belgian rally when partnering the bloke who organized the rally. Even his cheating didn’t help. But to be fair, we were driving a large and asthmatic old Mercedes with a small engine, not the sharpest of rallying tools on tiny Belgian sideroads.
As it happens, the Thaw offers a perfect scenario for running-in a brand new Mini engine, with a mixture of different revs and speeds, the most important point being to avoid the engine lugging in a high gear at low revs. At the same time, you have to keep the overall revs under about 3500rpm for the first 1000 miles. The roads of BC provide exactly this sort of driving, as they wind up and down mountains and through areas of semi-desert. Vancouver is on the coast and about as wet as Manchester, but once you’re across the coast mountains and into the interior, the sky is usually blue. The Spring Thaw is held in the spring because there’s a perfect interlude between winter snow and summer heat when the old people on Harleys and in motorhomes have not yet come out of hibernation, and the roads are clear and free.
Warwick’s Mini has been kept as original as possible, with one major exception – its original asthmatic and geriatric 850 has been replaced with a well-frisky Martin Webber 1275 engine and box, refitted with the car’s original magic wand gear lever. Even with the engine as tight as a Scotsman* and the brand new piston rings still bedding themselves in on the shiny new bores, the engine has an enthusiastic kick to it. Warwick did fairly well in restraining himself on the throttle, although it’s always fun to outhandle Porsches, but as the car had been finished the night before the trip, it was wise to check the fluids frequently just in case. *I can legally say that because I’m an expat Scot.
Frequent fluid level checking resulted in the first expensive mistake. As we roared away from a stop, I noticed the bonnet beginning to move and said “Stop! – the bonnet’s coming up.” Warwick is Canadian and thinks bonnets are called hoods, but even so he hit the brakes just as the bonnet flipped up, but fortunately just before it hit the windscreen. It smacked back down again. The hinges had bent the lip of the scuttle, but damage was tiny compared to the mess it would have made if the bonnet had hit the freshly painted roof and the new windscreen. Phew. The wiring clip by the bonnet catch hadn’t been tucked right up under the panel, and the hook couldn’t locate properly: worth bearing in mind if you’re rewiring or restoring a Mini.
Off we went again, and there was a faint clatter from the roof.
“What was that?” asked Warwick. And then, ominously, “I know what it was.” We stopped.
“What was that?” repeated Steve from the next Mini behind. “I just ran over something that looked electronic.” Oh dear. RIP Warwick’s iPhone. Protective phone cases are quite good, but if an iphone falls off the roof of one Mini at 80kph and gets run over by another Mini, I’m afraid it’s toast, no matter how cool the styling.
His car is a low-mileage example, bought in sound condition and very original. Restoration was mostly a matter of refurbishing mechanicals that were already in fairly good shape – new bearings, bushes, pipes and hoses, the re-skinning of the seats, and a repaint in the same colour. There was a minor error with the interior colour choice – the turquoise Warwick chose is a nice colour in itself, but it turned out not to go very well with the mid-blue paint. No worries, somebody else will find a use for it once he’s chosen something else.
As this Mini is so original, Warwick has elected to do nothing to the car that can’t be undone to return it to completely stock, although it’s unlikely that anybody would want to replace the new 1275 with an 850. With today’s traffic speeds, particularly in the surprisingly lawless British Columbia traffic, the smallest of the Mini engines has such a feeble performance that it’s not practical to use an 850 Mini as regular transport. If you have to go down to third gear at 40mph to go up a hill, people will have to wait: some moron will inevitably overtake on a blind bend.
With the Martin Webber 1275, the Mini’s engine was designed rather than just built. The torque-to-bhp relationship was considered as it related to the engine’s purpose. The car will be used for Classic Car Adventures events – so its engine needs to be well within reliability limits, not a limited-life temperamental screamer. It needs torque for relaxed cruising, but it also needs a decent amount of bhp higher up the tacho for playing about when Warwick feels a bit frisky and comes across some tempting mountain roads and a fellow duellist.
As an experienced Mini engine chef, Martin knows how much chili to sprinkle on the cam profile design to achieve just the right flavour.
During the weekend in question, the engine did feel a little tight at first, although willing enough. It dictated its own limits as it broke itself in, revving freely and happily by the end of the trip. There’s a precedent for breaking in Mini engines with an element of brutality: in 1966, a brand new Mini Cooper S race-spec engine was supplied by BMC’s Competition Department for the Mini Marcos entered in the Le Mans 24-hour race. It had never even been started before it was bolted into the car and rolled off a trailer at the circuit. It was immediately thrashed as fast as it would rev, and it was so tight and running so hot that an additional radiator had to be fitted during a pit-stop to get the coolant temperature down to a bearable level. This same engine achieved over 140mph down the pre-chicane-years Mulsanne straight during that race, so applying pure violence to new Mini engines can pay off. There’s certainly no danger of glazing the bores doing it that way, is there?