Not the most encouraging anecdote with which to start a Mini buying guide but it’s best you remove your rose-tinted specs now. Williams has: “I only buy garaged Minis, generally from retired folk who appreciate and know how to look after them.”
The model goes back to 1959 but here we’re interested in the last-of-the-line Rover Mini, also called the Mk7, of 1996-2000.
By 1990, the Mini’s venerable 998cc engine had gone, replaced by a 1275cc unit. In 1992, this got single-point fuel injection and then, in 1996, with the arrival of the Mk7, multi-point complete with distributor-less ignition, electronic management and a coil per plug. The old side-mounted radiator was moved to the front, the alternator was beefed up and a higher final drive ratio was fitted.
As for the body, the wheel arches became more flared, the headlights got adjustable levelling and side impact beams were fitted. New seats and headlining, thicker carpet, new control stalks and trims, remote central locking, seatbelt pre-tensioners and a driver’s airbag completed the interior makeover.
Versions included the standard 1.3i, the Cooper 1.3i and its sporty spin-offs, and specials such as the Paul Smith, Classic Se7en and Knightsbridge. It was all done in response to research that had found the Mini was popular among fashion-conscious, professional singles; perhaps the same research BMW drew on for its replacement.
Today, a nice, garaged Mk7 looks better than ever. It may lack the cachet of a classic Cooper, say, or a standard version with sliding windows and a cable door opener, but you’ll pay less (although we found a 2001 Cooper Sport 500 with 500 miles for a stiff £28k) and have something that rides and goes that little bit better. Buy a good one, as opposed to a bad one, and its price will only go one way, too.
How to get one in your garage
An expert’s view
Richard Williams, Richard Williams Classic Minis: “I spend 90% of my time looking for good Minis and 10% selling them. I’m only interested in well-maintained garaged cars because that’s what people want and are prepared to pay for. For example, I had 17 very nice Minis two weeks ago and now I’ve only three left. You can buy far cheaper Minis than mine from around £3000 but you may need to spend at least as much again getting such a car to an acceptable condition. Then, when people research its MOT history and find it was once failed for rust, not even the expensive bodywork you’ve done will persuade them to buy it! Good ones are out there but you’ll need to look at five cars to find one worth having.”