The Al Mini Garage

When we first visited Rick, we took the liberty of poring over every shiny inch of his unique aluminum-panelled 1962 Mini Cooper S. However, we weren’t there just for the car.

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In today’s installment, we take a look at Rick’s garage.

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First off, it’s pretty open, so light and ventilation are not a problem for working on the car. That being said, it isn’t a particularly secure arrangement for tools and such.

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Which is why Rick has a room in the rear of the area. This is where he keeps his tools, spare parts and his woodworking equipment. We mentioned before that Rick performed a lot of hands-on work in the restoration of his yellow Mini, and the organisation of this room bears witness to the same sort of careful attention.

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Consumables are neatly lined up along a pair of shelves along the wall…

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…and the spraying equipment is strung up opposite. It’s all extremely neat, the kind that can only be when it’s always been kept that way. Hasty clean-ups will inevitably leave a few small traces here and there, and there was none of that here.

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Hung up on the wall above the spraying equipment is the aluminum bonnet from the yellow Mini. Rick tells us that his friends have a habit of reacting quite violently while watching him on track. Apparently they spend the day in the paddock shouting and panicking whenever he gets in close proximity with another car. According to Rick, they’re most worried about the aluminum-skinned doors. Far be it from me to worry about doors on a race car, but perhaps they have a point, upon considering that only two thousand original sets were produced, and sourcing a pair today runs well into six figures.

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But again, Rick’s Mini isn’t destined to be a preserved non-runner. He races it, and intends to keep on racing it until such time that he’s satisfied his need for speed (probably never). So it naturally follows – even more so in light of his near-fanatical attention to detail – that he keeps spares and parts well-stocked.

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To that end he has these: genuine Cooper S engine blocks, guarded against the elements by a thick wrapping of plastic. Because of the popularity of the Mini, people have taken their A-Series motors and done them up to match the Cooper S block specifications. Rick says that genuine, original Cooper S blocks are held with impossibly high regard in the Mini community today, partly because of the proliferation of kitted-up A-Series copies, and partly because of their cost and relative rarity. So if having one block is impressive, then having two must be deserving of a medal, correct? Wrong.

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Because having three genuine, original Cooper S blocks is what truly deserves a medal. In fact, you could toss in a plaque, commemorative mug, and certificate of appreciation as well. Rick says that the British contingent was properly shocked by his possession of three of these blocks.

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Along the back wall, behind the woodworking area, Rick’s cabinets hold the medium-sized mechanical spare parts. These cabinets, by the way, are all lockable.

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Impressively, very few items were out in the air. If not kept in their original packaging, they were wrapped in plastic film, just like the engine blocks, or encased in bubble wrap.

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Here’s a head pulled from one of the Cooper S blocks. Note how impeccably clean it is; it almost looks like a piece of modern art. Well, in most regards it is an actual piece of art, just a very mechanical one, and one that is rarely ever in such a condition. Aside from the small details of Mk 1 Mini body fittings and distinguishing features, Rick has studied up on what makes the Mini’s A-Series motor tick. He even went so far as to telling us his secret to extracting power from the small engines. In the interest of keeping Rick’s competitive advantage, we’re not going to pass the secret along. Although we’re quite sure that it’s a pretty open secret anyway, you didn’t hear it from us.

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Another small room contains hundreds of smaller nuts and bolts that keep the cars together. Rick isn’t about to give any of these away, because he’s not done working on Minis yet…

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…not when he has this hidden away. This teal Mini isn’t another aluminum-panelled special but is astronomically valuable to his family. The Mini is a familiar sight to Rick, but in his memories it was white. Rare it is that you’re able to recover a car you’ve sold, but given the right circumstances – and car – you can absolutely do it. This Mini used to be white, and it used to have Rick’s father on the registration.

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After being sold by Rick’s father, the car was sold one more time to another man, so it wasn’t without some luck that Rick managed to track the car down. When they bought it, the car was a half-finished shell that had to be brought down from the attic, as the third owner’s area was prone to flooding.

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The car was also no longer white. Instead, it was in faded red. Remember how we told you that the paint on Rick’s yellow Mini was by the fourth shop that worked on it? Obviously, no other shop would touch this very special Mini, and it’s impressive just how fine their work is. What really drives the point home is the paint on this car; for the way that it looks, the paintwork still isn’t finished. The car is still due back for final polishing and finishing, if you can believe that the paint still needs it.

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That’s the steering rack.

I mean, the bottom of the firewall is an area of car that generally nobody looks at, but the paint finish here is still every bit as fine as any other area on the car. This is truly quality work, but it bears keeping in mind that such quality work rarely comes cheap.

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This is also a Mk 1 Mini, so it still features the distinctive exterior hinges, but is an Australian build Mini, with a few differences to tell it apart from British-built cars.

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While the boot badges say “Morris”, this is still a Cooper S, so the performance potential is the same as the British-built cars. That being said, there are three differences that easily set this Mini apart from its cousins across the pond.

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One is in the cowl. On British-built MK1s, the cowl is flat where the wipers attach, but on Australian builds, there are two divots at the base of the attachment points.

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The most minute telltale is in the drip rail drain. On British-built cars, there is a seam in the rail that lets water out. In the same general area, Australian-built cars have two holes drilled into the rail. Production efficiency was likely the driving reason behind this change, as drilling a pair of holes was likely much faster than shaping out a seam in the rail.

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In the windows and doors are where you will find the third – and biggest – difference. The Australian-built Minis jumped the British Minis when it came to offering roll-up windows; Aussie-built cars got them even in Mk 1 guise, while the British had to wait until the Mk 3 cars to get such luxury. Here you can see how the door structure was changed to accommodate roll-up windows. It isn’t hollowed-out anymore, and the door pockets are much smaller compared to British Mk 1s. You can even catch a glimpse of the lowering mechanism inside the door structure.

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The suspension is still the same system using rubber cones instead of conventional steel springs, so you get the same beautiful handling as with any other Mk 1, even if you get less interior cargo space.

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As with the yellow aluminum-panelled Mini, Rick is sourcing most of the parts from Britain. Now equipped with experience from the restoration of the aluminum Mini, he now has a bit more leeway to really pore over the details as seemingly insignificant as the bolts holding the car together.

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One thing that cannot be discounted is the well-preserved condition of the body. Not a single panel on this car has been patched, ground down or otherwise mended for any sort of damage from any sort of source. Were that the case, these dimples, a result of the original welds from the time this car was first assembled, would have disappeared.

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Even in its current unfinished state, it’s easy to see that this Mini will absolutely be one of the finest in the world. Sure, the concourse crowd may tick a few points off for it not being strictly original, but I doubt there are many Minis left in such condition. Besides, this is a family heirloom in vehicular form, and that alone is worth more than any concourse trophy.

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While he was in the US, Rick worked as an install manager for car audio systems, so he’s used to putting his hands on a car. He also amassed a considerable wealth of tools while in the US, which he keeps perfectly organised in these tool chests. This isn’t your typical off-the-shelf toolbox, that’s for sure. For the obsessive-compulsive, a look inside the tool chest is a dream; there’s a slot specific to each piece in the chest, and every tool group is neatly arranged by size.

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Since both the aluminum Mini and the teal Mini have exceptionally healthy bodies, Rick didn’t want to risk any damage while transporting the bodies to and from the paint shop. To that end, Rick built his own chassis cradle to hold the cars in transit.

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This cradle is built to exacting specifications, to hold exactly one Mini chassis securely. Aside from the cradle, Rick also designed his own chassis rotisserie, again built exactly to Mini specifications.

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Rick finishes his builds so well, even the vehicle he uses to pulls his custom-built cradle and trailer around deserves mention. Would you really have expected anything less?

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The tow vehicle is a clean white J76 Toyota Land Cruiser, coming off the continuation production series.

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Rick felt that the current J200 – now just past seven years of age – was priced a little too high. The same was true of the J80 series, most of which were priced far too high for the condition they were in. Thus Rick went for the J76, which while being an old platform, could still be bought new and at reasonable prices. There is no problem here, because the J70-Series’ rectilinear design is aging remarkably well.

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The J76 has also been modified, this time for off-road prowess. As you’re probably expecting by now, no expense was spared in the mild modification of the J76, now sporting a tasteful ARB kit and a two-inch lift to accentuate the J76’s capabilities and looks.

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This dropped tow hook provides the anchor point for the custom trailer. Tow hooks are ridiculously sturdy, so anyone driving behind a vehicle so equipped would do well to avoid tailgating.

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Rick says that getting parts for the Mini is bound to get easier as time goes by. The following for the car is very strong, and more and more parts are being reproduced. He does issue a warning of sorts for those looking to buy their own classic Mini: check the car thoroughly. Classic Minis are, after all, extremely photogenic, and it is very easy to fall in love with one and buy it without properly assessing the car’s mechanical condition.

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Rick had to source all his parts from Britain, mainly because that’s where all the parts are. That’s where his warning is well-served, because while parts may be plentiful, they are all across a significant span of water. He doesn’t mean to dissuade, and in fact his advice makes sense: acquisition is only ever the first part of purchasing a used car, especially an old one. No matter how good it looks in pictures, the expensive bits can always be concealed beneath shiny paint.

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Rick has come a long way from the days when he looked upon the Mini with disdain. What started out as just a hobby has grown into a full-time passion of not only working on the cars, but racing them as well. Standing on the left is Rick’s father, who also raced Minis back in the day.

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For now, Rick’s time is divided between the upkeep of his yellow aluminum-clad Mini, and the restoration of his father’s Aussie-build Morris Cooper S. It’s a small car, but the air of nostalgia hangs heavy around it, and you can tell by the glint in his eyes that Rick wants to do this restoration right. With all the lessons he’s learned from his yellow Cooper S, we’ve no doubt that this Morris will soon be looking like the day it rolled off the production line.

He currently has no plans to sell either of his Minis – he simply loves them too much – but when he does – very unlikely – perhaps his son will take up the stead and find them again years on down the road, and the garage will look just like this.

– Words by Kristoff Franco, pictures by Eugene Calimag

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