The Cooper name has long been synonymous with Minis, dating back to 1961 when BMC marketed the first Mini-Cooper. John Cooper himself was an established racer and engineer; his father, Charles Cooper, ran a garage in Surbiton that specialised in race car maintenance, and John left school at 15 to become an apprentice toolmaker. After a stint in the RAF in WW2, he and his father set up a business building small, affordable single-seat race car for privateers. The rear-engined design was revolutionary, and by the 1950s legendary names like Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham and Bruce McLaren were driving Coopers in Formula One.
Fast-forward to 1960 and we find John Cooper approaching Mini designer Alec Issigonis with the idea of a performance Mini – he knew the A-series engine’s potential from his work with Formula Juniors, although Issigonis was unsure as his vision for the Mini was for everyman utility, not performance. Cooper went over his head to BMC Chairman George Harriman, who could see the advantages, and the Mini-Cooper was launched in September 1961. It had twin SU carbs, a revised head and exhaust system, close-ratio gearbox and front disc brakes. Developed in tandem was the Cooper S, a more powerful version with a larger 1,071cc engine and bigger disc brakes. The Mini Cooper nameplate was an instant classic, taking countless rally wins (most notably at Monte Carlo) and becoming an icon of swinging London. The legacy is sufficiently strong that the badge resides on high-performance new-wave MINIs to this day – and when it came to restoring and rebuilding this ’66 Morris, the Cooper S ethos was squarely in the crosshairs.
This car was first registered in April 1966. Decoding the VIN, we can see that it was originally a non-Cooper Morris in Super De Luxe trim. The car enjoyed a full and comprehensive rebuild in 2016, and the spec decisions were governed by an intriguing brief: the man who commissioned the project demanded a Mini that could be rapidly and comfortably driven from the north of England to Vienna in one hit. The idea was to turn the classic into a luxurious grand tourer, in the style of a Singer Porsche or other high-end restomod; the ethos was to combine the best parts of the Mini’s various generations over the decades, offering superior power, superlative comfort and reliability in a single package to create a design icon. So the result is a car which runs a very highly developed 1380 fast-road motor, tamed with a single carb and stock flywheel for everyday usability, with comfortable yet planted suspension, strong brakes, and a sumptuous interior trimmed in Connolly hide and tweed with a quality sound system.
The perfect Mini? Well, if those things are on your wishlist then it very well may be.
The restoration work took a full 1,200 hours, and it’s estimated that building another car to the same standard and spec today would cost in excess of £50,000. The seller tells us that the donor car was a remarkably low-mileage example, showing just 7,500 miles or so on the clock, and the total mileage today (with the numbers reset at time of rebuild) is only 1,651. In essence, this is a fabulously prepared and fastidiously built fast-road Mini, with genuine GT credentials, which is now available for a fraction of the build cost.
There’s a large and comprehensive file of documentation with this car, with the V5 showing the Mini to be a 1966 Morris Super De Luxe which was officially registered with a 1275 engine. The VIN on the V5 matches that on the car, and there’s a simply huge sheaf of documentation detailing all of the parts sourced for the rebuild. The spares specialist Mini Sport was certainly kept busy at this time, as there are plenty of invoices from them, and all of the engine internals from Swiftune are itemised too. There are information sheets detailing the specs of the cams and the braking and fuelling systems, as well as dynamometer printouts for the pistons. All of the work is carefully itemised, along with helpful summaries from the owner to explain it all. Most recently, there’s an invoice from classic specialist Autofficina showing that, in 2020, the car received a new starter solenoid and various other attention to get it tip-top.
Some Mini interiors are spartan and basic. This one is not. The seats and door cards have been luxuriously trimmed in soft Connolly leather with tweed inserts, the comfy front buckets having removable headrests. A quality sound system has been installed, with a retro-styled modern head unit mounted beneath the dash and Infinity 6x9 speakers custom-mounted in the rear below the seats. The gauges are all functioning correctly, with the auxiliary rev counter featuring an oil pressure warning light for peace of mind, and the Mini is fitted with sliding door windows and heated front and rear screens. The rear windows are pop-out items, and the rear seats have three-point seatbelts. The carpets are in superb condition, as is the headlining, and the steering wheel is a tasteful Astrali. Inside the boot it’s all dry, solid, and tidily carpeted. Affixed inside the bootlid is a strapped bag for top-up fluids and suchlike, and under the carpet is the spare wheel and battery.
The bodywork of the Mini is outstanding throughout. The car was reshelled in period with a Mk3 shell as Mk1 shells weren’t then available, and it’s since been altered to Mk1-style specs. The paintwork is excellent inside and out, the underside of the car appears to be remarkably good, and the panel fit is even and tidy throughout the car. The boot features the iconic hinged flip-down number plate, and the fillers for the twin tanks lock correctly. All of the window glass is excellent, as are the light lenses. The chrome trim is all straight and free from pitting and patination, and you can see from the knurled knobs at the front that this car has the removable grille. A rally lamp is fitted at the rear as a reversing light, but aside from that it’s clear that the plan here was to present a tasteful aesthetic rather than an overtly racy one.
A set of 10” Minilite wheels are fitted, in as-new condition, and they wear Dunlop SP Sport tyres which were specially sourced for this car. Overall, a beautifully presented Mini that drew a great many admiring glances and thumbs-ups during our photoshoot.
Frankly, this thing sounds glorious – as you’d expect it to, with the amount of work that’s gone on under the bonnet. That 1275 motor has been bored out to 1380cc and essentially taken as far as it’s possible for an A-Series to go while still remaining tractable and usable as a road car. The engine’s running a ported head with 35.7mm and 30mm valves, along with modified valve seats, bronze guides and Rimflo valves. The pistons are lightweight forged 73.5mm Omega items, and the Swiftune SW5 cam is highly regarded as a great all-rounder for a 1380 motor. With alloy-tipped roller rockers, balanced crank and rods, and a compression ratio of 10.2:1, this engine is safe to rev to 7,500rpm. There are ARP bolts on the con rods, mains and head, and the camshaft has a duplex chain and vernier pulley. To keep the car friendly and everyday-usable, the engine has been matched to a standard flywheel and a single 1.75HIF carb instead of twin carbs, and it really does run beautifully – supremely smooth with no histrionics, it’ll even happily run in top gear at 30mph without hiccupping.
The gearbox is stock with new bearings and synchro rings throughout (built to race standard with quick-shift), plus a 3.1:1 diff, and it shifts very cleanly and precisely. Suspension-wise, we’re looking at hi-los all round with adjustable Gaz shocks, the steering benefits from a new rack, and the brakes are Cooper S discs with uprated pads.
The car starts, runs and drives very well indeed, it makes a fantastic sound as it barks through the revs, and the handling is superb – a comfortable and cosseting ride, yet it corners completely flat. A very well built Mini indeed.
There are two key hooks with this car which can’t help but draw you in. Firstly, there’s the fact that the spec and the fit-and-finish are exemplary. Secondly, everything’s been done. You won’t be drawing up a lengthy to-do list with this Mini, it’s ready for its next set of adventures. And it really isn’t often that you come across a specification like this. The engine has been built as an all-out fast-road effort, then ever-so slightly dialled back to make it suitable and tractable for everyday driving and grand touring. The chassis has been set up for comfort as well as playful handling. And the interior is just about the most luxurious we’ve seen in a classic Mini. It all adds up to something truly impressive. And given that it would cost in excess of £50k to build another one like this, it looks like rather good value, doesn’t it?
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