MINI in My Blood

1071 SMINI IN MY BLOOD

 

 

 I read with interest the story about Karl Strauch in the Best Customer Stories area of MINI Web Train recently.  I met Karl for the first time at Mid-Ohio race track back in the 90s, at one of the SCCA run-off events, where I was a crew member for a friend, Chris Kopley, who was racing a Mini in the GT-5 class.  I had known Karl through the MADMEN newsletter for several years prior to that. Then I thought – hey! My “story” is just as interesting, so I figured I’d take up the ole pen and scribble down a few ramblings.

 

 

 

 

 

Mini first came into my life in 1964, while I was in high school, trying to do my homework at my desk. This little noisy box would drive by my window, downshift twice, and take a left hand turn after my house! Wow did that get my attention. Then I found out the then rare S belonged to an older brother of one of my high school mates. I was over to their house often, after that. My friend got his own Mini – an 850 Mini Cooper – as a senior in high school. We put on a single Weber downdraft carburetor and had a lot of fun tuning that Mini. Another friend in my high school class got a new 1275 S just before graduating and I was really jealous.

 

The next year, I went off to college, sans car. Got some good grades and the next year, I was allowed to buy my own car if I had enough money to pay for it, which after a few summer jobs, I did. Well, I searched and looked all around, and found a well used (it had been rolled) 1962 (?) Mini Cooper 1071 S. It was on Long Island, and I was in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, just outside Reading. I stuffed the cash in my pockets, took the train and drove the car home. Somewhere in New Jersey one of the tired flat-top pistons got a hole in the crown, and I became a moving smoke machine, much to the annoyance of any motorists near by. I finally made it home after stopping at every gas station for oil. The ensuing days taught me a lot about the inner workings of the Mini engine, and transmission. Both were rebuilt and the car was a screamer! It would rev to 9 grand in a heartbeat and went like greased lightening.

The only drawback was when the hood release would fail and the hood would slam open, whacking the windshield. Luckily, this only happened at about 90 mph and was easily fixed with a small bungy cord.

 

An old picture of my first Mini is below :

 

 

 

The color is by Rust-O-Leum, an uncertain shade of Green. I firmly believe it is their variant of British Racing Green. Good grief, that was one ugly car! But, nothing could be as much fun! And, all my girlfriends loved it, too!

 

My college pals and I had a lot of fun with that car – here it is on the campus – in an area that it should not be it!  (And MINI thinks :”Sidewalk” is new)

 

 

 

 

By the fall, the car was ready to go to school with me.  It had no heater (it was a race car, remember), a roll cage, and no carpeting. I carried several blankets with me and drank a lot of coffee to keep warm. Then I later put in a heater from an Austin America – worked great!  Luxurious, too. The compression was so high, I had to start it in winter with a squirt of ether in the carbs. Nice trick, but it got me through college. Then I sold it and went to Europe for a year to study foreign languages.

 

Back in the USA, I found a job and bought another used Mini. This one was a 1969 Cooper S 1275 that had been imported from the UK and was right hand drive. I bought it from a used car guy in Pennsylvania who was actually in the process of moving his business to Connecticut. Little was I to know that soon I would be moving to that state myself!

 

 

 

 

It needed work, so I rebuilt the mechanicals, stripped the paint and had a restoration shop (Automotive Restorations, just starting up shop in Connecticut – they are now a very highly respected restoration shop) respray the car in a color almost identical to Electric Blue, with a white roof. It had huge wide-body type fender flares (‘Fortech” racing flares) and a highly modified motor and transmission.

 

This next picture is what the car looked liked when it was done. I drove it to many East Coast Mini Meets, including Atlanta, Georgia, Columbus, Ohio and Montreal, Canada. It won many a prize in concours shows. In Montreal, I helped organize the autocross and had a great time. Those Canadians sure know how to party!

 

 

By then it was 1974, and I started Mini Owners of Connecticut, a club for Mini fans. I wrote a monthly newsletter for about 4 years and we organized many Mini Meets at a variety of locations. We had over 200 members, all over the US and Canada. I drove that blue S all over – Mini Meets in Ohio, Georgia and Canada. I was teaching school, and in the summers I repaired Minis and other British cars in my garage. Those days were when the Mini actually did get into my blood! Remember, even then the cars were old with a tendency to produce rust. They were also heavily modified by many of their owners, resulting in all kinds of holes, rips and tears. These things resulted in many a bloody kuckle , deep cut and other nasty things which got into my blood stream! I bought and sold a lot of Minis – 17 is my best estimate.  Here’s a few pictures of a MINI Meet  – day 1 of 2, at my home at the time. We had a lot of people there and several events including a cook-out, a lawnkhana and in the evening, a showing of the best movie – The Italian Job, staring Michael Caine and Benny Hill !

 

 

 

This next picture shows me and a Mini pick-up truck. It had a 998 motor that wouldn’t quit and would run 70 on the highways all day long.

 

I later sold this one to Dave Brownell of Special Interest Automobiles Magazine, part of the Hemmings Motor News group.

 

I also dealt with Mini parts, buying out an old British Leyland dealership’s inventory of Mini parts, and having a ball. I even started a business, with a partner, and we were quite busy. John Esposito now has a great reputation for transmission rebuilds from Quantum Mechanics, up near Monroe, Connecticut.

 

Then I started to get interested in autocrossing and ran many events, but found myself attracted to higher speeds and road racing. Seems I knew a few people who were racing Minis in SCCA. I went to Lime Rock Park, near my new home in CT, and got a photographer’s pass (remember that Mini newsletter) and stood around with the corner workers, taking racing pictures of Minis and other cool race cars. I met up with Bill and Lynn Fralick, from New Hampshire, who were racing a very fast Mini and became a steady crew member for 2 years. Soon, I couldn’t hold myself back and went looking for a Mini race car.

 

Found one, again on Long Island, that had not been rolled, so I bought it in 1979, with an open trailer, and went racing! A friend in my town was a great welder and body work guy who ran his own business and did all my roll cage welding and body work. The car was rebuilt totally, cage and all, yearly. Also discovered I knew, from college days, one of the best Mini motor builders in the country, who helped me out with some great engines. Bob Griffith and Bhp are still well respected for quality work.

 

The picture below shows the car in it’s first season on the track, with some of my other Minis in the driveway.

 

 

 

I was very successful in racing, winning the New England Regional Championship and the North Atlantic Road Racing Championship many times, and qualifying for the SCCA National Championships often, but never going because it was held during the school year. One year, I became quite ill, (hack, hack) and was forced to vacation at sunny Road Atlanta for the week of the runoffs. My doctor was my main crew member and engine re-builder.  Being that I married his sister, it was all in the family. We had a super time, the car ran great and was featured on the GT5 race video that year. Unfortunately, the trick crank-fired ignition system failed just before the race and we did not start the race on time. I did, however, beat one of my season long rivals! How sweet it was.

 

Following two heavy crashes that necessitated frame straightening and major repairs, I sold the race car in 1991. The wonderful blue street car had, a few years earlier, gone to a new home in Florida to finance the racing team. I was very sad and depressed – no Minis. But I still had plenty of Mini friends – 2 of them racing Minis locally, and tons of others from my club involvements and activities with Minis. Interesting these friends lived all over the world! I found their doors were always open to me when I went traveling!

 

In between Minis, I had a 1966 850 Spider, a 1976 (?) Datsun 260 Z – all tricked out, and a 1995 Mustang Cobra that I did a little track time at Bridgehampton and Lime Rock with. Then MOMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York)…what year was that? July of 1999 ?….and…….the new MINI prototype appeared. I was there at the opening of that show at MOMA, and so were many of my “classic” Mini pals, one of whom, Debbie Franks, had her Mini there on display along with the concept MINI.

 

 

 

Saw Deb this past weekend, at Lime Rock as she picked up her new GP MINI.

 

I had to wait 4 years to get my next real car, a new MINI. I have claimed on many MINI websites to be the first person in the US to place a deposit on a MINI, on Sept of 2000. I was still teaching school, and eventually thought it would be pretty cool to work for MINI. So, I talked to the manager of my local BMW dealer, submitted an application, met for an interview, and  became the first employee of their new MINI franchise, to be called MINI of Fairfield County, with a building in Stamford, CT. I started working there in Feb of 2002, on a part time basis, after school.

 

 

 

I retired from teaching on June 23, 2006 and started full time at MINI of Fairfield County as the Internet Manager.  Being a “Motoring Advisor” is a lot like teaching. The more people know about MINIs, the more appealing the car is to them.  The MINI can and does fit the needs of many motorists. The only people not driving a MINI today are simply those who have not realized that the car actually does suit their needs. Still having a blast playing with MINIs after all these years!

 

 

My next MINI, #19, will be a 2006 MINI Cooper S with John Cooper Works GP kit, roof # 1636, is scheduled to be here by the time you should be reading this article, in late October, 2006. Waiting in my garage now are a John Cooper Works steering wheel, leather and alcantra, and a John Cooper Works front stress bar. Other modifications are in the planning stages. I can’t wait.

 

 

 

I just sold this lovely and favorite MINI to an owner of an 02 Cooper, who lives close by. My special edition GP #1636 was in my garage in Nov. 2006. Now, just passing 12,500 miles.

Here, shown on Lime Rock in April of 2007. Next, plans call for a Mini Moke for rocking and rolling around the North Carolina plantation.

Lime Rock

 

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4 Responses

  1. That is such a kool pic at the top of the page! I graduated in 1965.

    I’d like to place your website on my website blogroll over at TwistyBitz?

  2. Thanks! I graduated high school in 1965, college in 1969.

    That’d be fine to put a link on your blogroll – thanks!

  3. Wow, 2 old guys! Do you hate the name they gave us???? Boomers. I hate it!

    I won a scholarship to a prestigious art school here in LA and then the draft took me and my scholarship. Went to Art Center School of Design Pasadena later in life.

    I’ll put your on my blog later this week, I hope.

  4. Loved reading about another Mini fanatic:) I have owned My 1960 Morris Mini-Minor since 1972.

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