Estimate: £15,000 - £17,000
The original Mini was a wonderful machine, thanks in no small part to its ‘Swiss Army Knife’ like versatility. It may have been miniature in size, but it was massive on potential. You could of course simply enjoy the Mini as the two-door saloon Issigonis originally penned. Or you could have an estate in the form of the Traveller, or a van, or a pick-up, or it could be a performance car thanks to some fettling from John Cooper. It could be absolutely anything.
The Mini could, as of 1961, also be a high-end, luxury car. Riley and Wolseley were keen to offer a car that was small and frugal, as was popular at the time, but that was also highly appointed and dripping with chrome and leather. As such, the two companies paired up and much to the chagrin of Issigonis, they added 8.5inches to the back of the Mini, fitted fins, changed the front end and rebranded the car as the Elf in the case of Riley, and the Hornet in the case of Wolseley.
The cars were bodied by Fisher & Ludlow, who built the shells complete with rear fins, extended rear floor and differing front panels. Early cars were built ‘seamless’ with smooth wings, however, this was soon reverted back due to cost.
Both cars were extremely popular, with around 30,000 of each being built over three model generations from 1961 through to 1968. However, despite their initial popularity, the Elf and hornet soon fell from favour, with the used car market favouring the more commonplace standard Mini. As such, few survive today, which is what makes this Hornet so very special indeed. Especially when you consider the condition of it.
This pretty little Mk3 Hornet is one of the last, having been built in late 1967 before being registered on the 8th of January 1968. The first owner kept hold of the car until 1981, before passing on to the second owner who kept the car until 2014. Sadly though, during the years with the second owner, the Wolseley fell into a state of considerable disrepair. For any other Hornet, this would have almost certainly spelled the end of the road. As you can see though, that wasn’t the case. Far, far from it in fact.
Turning up to shoot this car for this auction listing, we were greeted by a car being rolled out of an enviably neat and tidy garage. But a garage that’s used. Jars carefully labelled and filled with fittings and fixings, tools aplenty, and walls full of photographs of past cars. It’s important to tell you this because it gives you an insight into the mind of the current owner; a man who is detail oriented and who takes a huge amount of pride in what he does. This Hornet isn’t a car that’s been thrown together. It is a car that’s been rebuilt, in painstaking detail, from the ground up. It’s a car that follows the line of the Minis owned before it. Cars that have been show winners, TV stars and the subject of magazine features. This Hornet has been restored by exactly the kind of person you’d want to restore your car.
The restoration was completed in 2017 after a busy three years of activity. The car, a 998cc four-speed manual MkIII Hornet was in a bad way, but it wasn’t bad enough to scare off the current owner. The bones of the car were enough to warrant a rebuild.
When talking about a restored car it’s easy to throw out the old cliche of no nut being left unturned. However, in the case of this Hornet, that’s exactly the case. Furthermore, there isn’t a nut that hasn’t been replaced with new. Every hose, line and fixing is new, the paint is new, the floors are new, the seals are new, it’s staggering, as you’ll see as you read on.
Since the Hornet’s completion, it has been used on dry days only, it has lived in a heated, dry garage and it has been cared for every step of the way. With this Hornet, you’re not buying an old car, you’re buying what is, in essence, a brand new old car. In fact, it’s probably better than when it was new.
The car comes with a raft of paperwork, most of which pertains to the current owner’s tenure and the money he has spent on parts. Most of the work has been done by himself, with the exception of the paint and some engine machining work. As such, the paperwork is awash with invoices for every part, panel, screw and grommet.
Some £1,800 was spent on new panels, which is backed up in the paperwork. The paint and final body work came in at £3,400, which is again proven via invoices. There is paperwork to show the machining work carried out to the original 998cc such as a re-bore and a reground crank. Invoices for paint, supplies, copper pipework, seat stuffing, headlining, the list goes on and on.
Then there is the visual provenance. A stack of invoices is always pleasing to see, make no mistake. However, there is nothing more enthralling than a visual storyboard of a car’s journey from ruin to restored. And that’s what you have here in the guise of two photo albums, each laden with images of the Hornet as the build advanced. You can see for yourself the work that has been done, the rot that has been cut out, the new floors going in, the new front panel, the repairs to the doors, sills and pillars, the new trim being fitted, the engine being rebuilt and fitted, the gearbox too. It’s all here for you to see in wonderful detail.
Slide into the red leather of the Hornet’s interior and you’re in for a treat. The carpets are all brand new, as is the headlining and the red seat belts. The seats, however, are original and have been re-stuffed and re-dyed. The door cards are period correct, too, and have been carefully restored and refitted. The dash veneer is in excellent polished condition, the vents are from a more modern car (but the Hornet did indeed have vents, so they are correct in that sense) and the clocks and dials all function well. The wind-up windows (new for this model) work without a flaw, the switchgear is all in excellent order and there is even a period, positive earth radio fitted to the passenger side of the dash. The only point that may raise a question for the Hornet elite is the inclusion of hazard lights - these were fitted by the current owner as a (in our opinion) worthwhile safety option.
Then there is the all important boot, which was arguably the most distinctive feature of this car given that it added 8.5 inches to the traditional Mini’s shape. Open up the boot and, well, look at the rest of the car. It’s hardly going to be anything other than immaculate in here, is it? The paint is fresh, the carpets are new, the dividing board covers a perfect boot floor with mint steels wheel and new tyre along with a new battery complete with equally new (positive) earth strap. The fuel tank is free from any damage at all, and has been repainted in gloss black. It’s all very much box fresh in here.
The interior is magnificent, but it’s the exterior where this car really shines. Both literally and figuratively. It is, and we can say this with absolute confidence, near flawless. The only ‘issue’ we could see was some slight pitting of the chrome on the bonnet-mounted strip that runs from front to back. That’s it. Everything else is as new. The 2k Yukon Grey over Birch Grey paint has been expertly applied, and is flawless. There is no overspray, no runs, no imperfections, nothing. It’s remarkable. As too is the brightwork, which has been saved and professionally restored and gleams by way of thanks.
The glass is all original with the exception of the windscreen which has been replaced with a safer laminated item. All the seals for the screens, doors, windows and boot have been replaced with new. The doors, which have no hang and no imperfections, shut with a pleasing ‘thunk’ that would make a new car blush.
Look at the car closer, and stick your nose behind the wheels with new tyres and original Wolseley stainless steel hubcaps and you’ll be greeted with inner arches that show no rust, no stone damage and no poor repairs. Instead, all you’ll see is more of that expertly-applied Birch Grey paint.
Then there’s the underside of this Hornet, which is unequivocally better than when the car was new, mainly because when it was new, nobody polished it! But that’s what’s happened here. All the lines are clean and free of corrosion, the suspension lines have been replaced with copper, which is both pleasing to the eye and longer lasting. The new floors have been painted perfectly and painstakingly polished to a high shine. If the whole lot wasn’t upside down, you could eat your dinner off it. Though you’d make a mess, and that would be a shame.
Open the bonnet and it’s more of the same in terms of condition and presentation. The 998cc A Series engine that has been rebuilt (we’ll go into that below) gleams with a new coat of BMC engine green. All the fixings, fittings and hoses are new and even the brake and clutch cylinders have been polished. All the original labels and stickers have been replaced, while period correct HT leads finish off the originality. Lower down, the cooling fins on the rebuilt gearbox show no strike damage.
The odometer indicated that this car has covered 82,000 but in reality, what you’re looking at here is a car that has been so extensively rebuilt that the mileage has in effect been reset. The current owner has rebuilt the engine and transmission from the ground up, and in the process has scrubbed off the years of use.
The 998cc A Series unit has been re-bored, the crank has been re-ground, hardened valve seats have been fitted so it runs on unleaded, the oil pump is new, the timing chain too. The cylinder head has been cleaned and overhauled, and a new head gasket has been fitted. The water pump, ignition system, leads, plugs, solenoid… it’s all new. As is the exhaust, which is a difficult thing to sort on the Hornet given the extra length.
The transmission has also been rebuilt. A four-speed 3-synchro unit (this was new for the MkIII), the current owner has stripped it completely and rebuilt it from the ground up including the synchros, the layshaft, the main bearings, needle rollers, idle bearings, diff bearings, the whole lot.
As we mentioned earlier, the suspension lines for the Hydrolastic system have been replaced with new copper lines, the suspension itself is all new, as are the brakes and brake lines. The subframes have all been stripped, blasted and painted in 2k black paint before being fitted with new fixings and bushes.
We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again; this is to all intents and purposes, a brand new Hornet. The attention to detail is staggering.
You will not find another car so well restored and in such incredible condition, that’s it. That’s the bottom line with this car. I\t has been built by a man who is brimming with passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for the Mini range, but more than that, he’s also a man of obvious and enviable skill. For many, achieving a restoration of this standard would be the cumulative effort of various companies - a trim shop, a paint shop, a body shop. This isn’t though, it’s a car that with the exception of the paint and some machining, has been built by one man and as such, the attention to detail and care that has been put into the build is astonishing.
If you want a Hornet, and you want it to be the best, this is it. No, it’s not a survivor, it’s a restoration, but in the grand scheme of restorations, this is an exemplary display of how it should be done. This car, once forgotten, neglected and succumbing to the rust, has been brought back and thrust forward to a near concours condition. Bid on this, and you won’t regret it. Furthermore, it’s not a chance you’re going to be presented with again.