If it doesn’t leak, you’re out of oil.

Minis leak, mainly due to a combination of age, questionable engineering design, dumb previous owners, and BL’s legendary build quality. We seem to have done a great job of preserving the Mini’s originality- it leaks like a sieve. Unacceptable.

Coolant leaks: I have a new appreciation for the wicking capability of waterless coolant. It’s been soaking through all the cooling system paper gaskets, and I strongly suspect it’s prevented the head gasket from sealing properly. Here’s the heater tap:


That gasket beneath it is supposed to be dry. Ugh. A bit of research (ok, I asked the guys at NZ Gaskets) and I had a sheet of lovely S207 controlled-swell gasket paper, designed to swell when it gets wet and prevent wicking. I’ve also applied a thin smear of Hylomar Blue, just in case the coolant was wicking through the machine marks on the surface.




I also changed the head gasket again, but this time I didn’t fill the engine with coolant straight away. Instead, I heat cycled the engine a couple of times (ran the engine until it was warm to the touch, then left it to cool completely) to seat the head gasket, re-torqued the head bolts, and *then* filled it with coolant. So far it seems to have worked…

The oil leaks were (hopefully) dealt with using more of the same gasket paper. The timing cover housing was a bit distorted, so I ground it flat using valve grinding paste on a sheet of glass- and then fitted it with silicone. I’m not proud of myself: Silicone is evil, unnecessary, and cheating, but removing the timing cover is a shit of a job and I really don’t want to do it again. Besides, I used blue silicone so it kind of looks like just more blue gasket paper.



We also changed the speedo housing cover gasket, just because it was there. The cover is another piece of incomprehensible engineering- the left engine mount is on the end of the cover, so the cover is supporting half the engine’s weight, yet it’s filled with engine oil and sealed to the gearbox with a vertical gasket.


Engine steady madness

The Mini’s a lot louder than I expected, with a couple of really nasty resonant frequencies; at idle, of course, and around 80kph in top gear. A closer inspection reveals that the clearance between the air box and firewall at the back of the motor has disappeared, and reappeared at the front between the starter motor and oil cooler. Looks like the engine has settled a bit further back than I anticipated, and I suspect engine vibration is being transferred from the air box directly into the firewall. Gah.

Fixing it is (relatively) easy- make a longer top engine steady. But first, I need to know how much the engine moves while driving, so I don’t end up damaging anything else.

I’m sure this is how professionals do it:


After a short, but enthusiastic drive:


Ok, the air box moves about 5mm, mostly backwards, pivoting about the engine mounts which are near the bottom of the engine. Easy. Make new engine steady, install new engine steady, freak out a bit about how tight everything is.

The old one was painted. Paint takes too long to dry. So the new one is zinc plated. Bling!



I’ve got spacious 10mm between airbox and firewall,

…and about 6mm between starter and oil cooler. Which is halfway down the engine, so should only move half as much as the airbox. I hope. Maybe I’ll look at moving the oil cooler forward a gnats.


The result is a bit less impressive than I hoped. The vibration is a lot better when accelerating hard, and a couple of the more strident rattles have disappeared from the instrument cluster, but there’s still a nasty boom at 3000rpm and at idle. Hmm.

Break in. Break down. Broke.

A quick update:

100km completed. Break in oil has been changed for regular oil, and there wasn’t anything too nasty in the old oil, just a pearly sheen.

We’re still chasing oil leaks, mostly from the front end of the engine. I’ll pull the radiator next week and deal to all the leaks at once.

Things are starting to loosen up, but the steering is still far too tight, the gear change is baulky, the tyres slick, and the engine more powerful than expected. Driving can be… interesting… if you’re not paying complete attention.

The sporty engine might be a bit too sporty. We’ve had to swap the 1.5 ratio rockers for standard ones, as the idle was a bit mental. We’re also thinking of removing the extra top engine steady in an attempt to make the interior a bit quieter.

We had our first breakdown! The starter bendix refused to engage, and Brian had to push start the mini in teh Supercheap Auto carpark. Disassembly of the bendix revealed that oil from the starter motor bushing had migrated to the bendix, gumming it up with new clutch dust. I’ve cleaned it and refitted it, but I noticed a fair bit of wear on the worm drive and pinion teeth, so I’ve ordered a new bendix anyway.

Three steps forward…

So, it lives, and well enough to pass a WOF (Warrant of Fitness- a 6-monthly roadworthiness check), get a 12 month registration, and a full wheel alignment.


Now for the minor setbacks: on the way back from the wheel alignment, one of the rocker adjusters came loose and wound itself out. The noise was horrific, but hopefully no damage has been done to the lovely new cam.

*Update*: Future me here, just letting you know that the follower under this lifter was still in good shape when half the followers turned out to be bad.


Off with its head!



It turns out that the fancy copper head gasket we fitted wasn’t so fancy after all, so we’re fitting a good standard gasket (a Payen BK450).


While the engine’s apart, we’ll also fix the speedometer which reads bizarrely low (I’m thinking someone pulled the needle off and replaced it in the wrong position), and the heater which rattles like a bag of spanners.

Here’s Brian reinstalling the speedo drive cable. Or sobbing disconsolately. I forget which. Maybe both.


It lives! Ergo, it leaks!

For the last couple of days we’ve been adding fluids to the Mini. And then wiping those fluids off the floor, finding the leaks, and adding more fluid. The only thing that hasn’t leaked (so far) is the petrol.

And then this happened:

Yup, that’s a genuine first start. Some boring bits are edited out, but that’s pretty much it.

Of course, it’s now leaking more than ever: the combination of a Cooper S ball-bearing style oil pressure relief valve, an unmodified relief spring, and *very* tight bearing clearances has caused an oil pressure of more than 100psi (how much more we can’t say, as the gauge only goes that far), which has popped the head gasket up near #1 cylinder. No surprises there.

Still. While we wait for a new head gasket to arrive, we can fix the oil pressure and get the engine tuned a bit. And chase down some more of those leaks.

…aaand we’re done. For now.

A few last bits go on- the parcel shelf liners:



Rear view mirrors are one of my pet hates- most of those lovely bullet style mirrors are held on with self-tapping screws through the sheet metal, and some kind of plastic plinth. Like ours were:

I hate the way they vibrate and wobble about. So I threw away the plastic plinth and made up a proper aluminium one, held on by machine screws into a reinforcing plate inside the door.


…then I disguised it with the shell of the old plastic plinth. Madness.



One or two final bits of trim…


and we’re done!



The grille still needs to be painted to match the roof, but I’ll get around to that sometime. For now, it’s time to add all the fluids and prepare for a first startup.

Glass goes in…

New rubbers make windscreen installation much easier, but they can be wilful beasts when they’re fresh out of the packet. We installed the rubbers into the screen apertures a day or two before installing the glass, which gave them time to conform to shape.


So easy! Yeah, right. The trick is not to tear the rubber seals while installing the glass, and for that you need some kind of lubricant. The cheap way of doing it is to use lots of soapy water, inside and out- but there was no way we were getting soapy water all over our nice new interior.


Rubber grease to the rescue. Still thoroughly messy, but made for a much easier installation.


The rear quarter windows were much easier and cleaner to install though, again, the rubber seals will need some time to conform.


Something something blow the bloody doors on something.

I think we’re about ready for some doors. But first: the special spanner.


Yup. Enclosing the top a-pillar hinge bracket might have some advantages, but ease of door installation isn’t one of them. Hence the special spanner for tightening one of the hinge nuts. Still, it works.


It’s kind of weird to see the car with doors, but they sure are shiny, and they fit… as well as any Mini’s doors ever fitted.


All the power for the pocket lights and the central locking (Brian shouts “wank!” from across the room) comes through the check strap, so we can finally see the interior with all its lighting in place. Lovely.

Interior finished!

This is the first time we’ve seen the new upholstery in the car, and it looks really good! Here’s Brian installing the driver’s seat:




And comfortable too- though it appears we might have ordered new seatbelts which are too short. They reach when the seat’s all the way back (which is a good driving position), but move the seats forwards and they get a bit tight. New seat belts ordered from Seatbelt Planet.


Might as well install the rest then…



IMG_20150706_182015 The headrests aren’t original for 1963- the seat frames are out of a later Mini- but since we’re both too old for whiplash we made a couple of concessions to safety. Besides, the head rests are removable if we want to go back to the standard look:


Bonnet and grille…

It’s starting to look like a real car now! But first, a before shot:


Brian’s fitted all the wiring and padding to the bonnet.


When we test-assembled everything I added location pins to the bonnet hinges, which made reassembly super easy. No fiddling with bonnet alignment here!




We even tested the underbonnet lighting, which performed a lot better than my camera did:


Even the interior lighting- the small piece that’s currently working- looks good. Woohoo!