1961 Austin 850 Mini

I am the current owner of a 1961 Austin Mini. 

Like so many, it doesn’t run. Yet. The previous owner had intentions to restore it but never did. It was rough, exceptionally dirty, but solid enough. I picked it up with the idea of “trying to avoid a full restoration”. I didn’t (and still don’t) want a show car, I want something where I can experiment stuff, have some fun and still have a decent looking classic Mini that doesn’t look weird. I thought this would be a 3 to 6 months project. 

Job number one was to get it clean. The more I cleaned, the more parts started to accumulate out of the car. Soon enough it was practically a bare shell. The front left hand side of the car revealed it had been in an accident. After some investigation, it seems very likely that 1964 was the year of the crash. A couple of parts were replaced including the front windshield, left wing and left door panel. It was put back on the road in 1965 with a new paint job, red with a black roof, instead of the original Farina Grey color.

Fifty two years later, with the suspension and engine aside it was clear the engine bay needed “some” work. 17 holes were welded back in the RH inner wing, all areas scraped to bare metal, some re-shaping done (where possible) and a new coat of red matched to body color.

The original front subframe had been straightened and welded in several places (probably after the crash) so I discarded it and got a good used “dry” subframe to help ensuring I have a good basis for the suspension. Following the experimentation theme of the car, all steel trumpets were replaced by hi-los, the lower arms by new adjustable ones and a set of old Lockheed 7.5″ Cooper S brakes were added. All these parts were finished to look like original parts from the car – mostly by being painted black.

The rear part of the suspension and brakes followed the same path as the front – new bearings, hoses, rubber bushings, 5/8″ wheel cylinders, all nuts and bolts and of course, the hi-los conversion. The brake bias valve was rebuilt using the correct spring that matches the Cooper S braking system.

Meanwhile, the floors had the same treatment as did the interior of the boot. Just to keep things clean but not overly restored. Underneath, a new coat of black was applied to match the look the car previously had. 

The body paint work does have some cracks and chips missing here and there, but I think that’s part of what makes this Mini unique. It just looks different from others.

I think the tricky part is to find the sweet spot between just cleaning some of the parts and overly restore them. Obviously most parts will be rebuilt, some will even be new or NOS, but making them fit and look coherent when we look at the car as whole… that is the challenge here. 

Next – where the previous owner attacked the paint work looking for the original color. Not easy to recreate that, especially the roof texture.

18 months later we have a rolling shell. Yes, things took a while longer as they always seem to. I wasn’t counting on a full mechanical rebuild at the beginning, but as I went through the parts and started to replace major components like the front subframe, the way to go was getting clearer and clearer. This is also exciting because it opens this project up to new opportunities, starting with the engine which will follow next.


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