Oh Lucky Min’!
TV’s Car SOS front man, Fuzz Townshend, reveals all about the Carole Nash Insurance Consultants Ltd competition winning car.
Some guys have all the luck and when their names were plucked out of the hat as winners of the Carole Nash, Car SOS campaign competition, Melissa and Gerard were delighted. Who wouldn’t be, with £5000.00 lovely smackers to spend at Fuzz’s Westgate Classics workshop, on repairs to their classic car.
Their beloved ’89 Mini had been in their hands only for a year or two, but they had seriously succumbed to its diminutive charms. Meanwhile, the Mini was in the process of succumbing to the ravages of age, but despite this the word from the couple was that it was just running slightly roughly and needed a spot of tidying up here and there.
Now, the rules of the competition stated that the winning car needed to have a current MoT certificate and be taxed, in basic terms, ‘on the road’ as it were. Indeed, the Mini qualified on both counts and so was duly shipped across the water from its Northern Ireland home to take up residence at Fuzz’s place.
On arrival it looked alright. Okay, from a reasonable distance it looked alright, you know, generally speaking, straight enough. However, such cars are the dark horses of the classic movement and in this particular case behind the cheery façade lay a heart of pure evil.
Classic Minis can rot away at a prodigious pace if not kept in check. Let’s face it, they were only made to remain respectable for around 5 or 6 years, just long enough for first owners to repeat the romance with a younger model.
Second owners would have had a very different experience, with the car decaying as if it had glimpsed the automotive Gorgon and turned immediately to irredeemable oxide.
With rusted end-of-life examples having been ever present in scrapyards since the mid’ 60s, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that this particular cheery chap would be just the same.
At this point in the tale, I feel that we need a spot of perspective. Five thousand quid is a goodly amount of dosh, but in a workshop… okay, in my workshop, £1k buys the time of one worker for 33 hours. Using time rather than cash is, I feel, a better measure for getting an idea of how far money goes when it comes to restoring a car.
Three or so keen workers can, in a mad scramble, strip a car to its component parts in a day, but that’s already over 20 hours used. Factor in undertaking the process methodically, assessing, labelling components, listing jobs found and ordering parts, and we’re at close to double that figure.
Meanwhile, back in the workshop, the Mini was given the once over by the body guys, their xray eyes searching beyond the paint surface for poorly executed repairs, the palms of their gnarled hands touch-surveying every square centimetre of the external panels.
Things weren’t looking too good. Rot hot spots had been found in all of the usual places. Door bottoms were venting to atmosphere, window pans were bulging, set to catapult concealing filler as rust exploded beneath. The A-post filler panels were coyly revealing exactly where moisture and muck had been allowed the luxury of settlement.
The car was guided across to the two post lift and raised so that the inspection could continue underneath. What was revealed was more unpleasant than an Arctic explorer’s underpants, post pole expedition.
With the wheels removed, some proper prodding could take place and no sooner had we commenced this, so screwdrivers started disappearing up to their handles through an extensive network of holes. And if there’s one thing which cannot be painted, it is a hole.
Now, some clever so-and-so had known this fact and had decided that the best way forwards would be to mask said orifices with glass reinforced plastic and filler, to an artful degree. As we started pulling away the matting, the full extent of the Mini’s decline was revealed.
The rear corners had been savaged by corrosion, meaning that the boot floor and everything below had all but vanished.
Further forwards, the rotting sills had been craftily sculpted with fibreglass to appear sound and worse was still to come when we found that the rear subframe had been mounted on yet more of the stuff.
In short, the car was an absolute death trap and it was appalling to think that persons unknown had knowingly contributed to this nightmarish scramble. Melissa, Gerard and their family had been travelling around in this. One big pothole at speed could have caused the unthinkable to occur.
So the real work began: The interior was stripped out, catalogued and stored out of harm’s way. Out came the glass to be similarly squirreled away, all this allowing us to really see what was going on. The car was in a bad way and so before the doors were removed their apertures were braced.
At this point, a sane person would walk away, but we were committed to doing something about this. A new shell would have been a budget busting, but quick solution. Another path could have been to simply purchase another car, but that could mean out of the frying pan and into the fire.
The other option was to buy the individual repair panels and take a hit on the time. After all, we had a complete, if rather frilly car. We chose this latter path, gambling on how much more corrosion we’d find.
Of course, in the end we found plenty more and just to place the cherry on top of the cake, when the brakes were checked for basic operation, the longitudinal pipe to the rear gave up the ghost and the steering ball joints were shot.
So, to recap, we had a rotten car that didn’t run well, couldn’t stop and had trouble getting around corners in an orderly manner. What’s not to like?
Work commenced at the rear of the car. With the rear screen removed it became apparent that the seal hadn’t been doing its job and rust had taken hold of the lip. Compounded by the rot at the base of this panel, the decision was taken to replace the lot, from the aperture down.
The rear valance all but fell off, which allowed a decent view of the rearmost subframe mounting points. Unsurprisingly these were rusted beyond redemption and the car was beginning to look like a fool’s errand.
Rather than just repair the corners, we opted for a complete rear boot floor section as we wanted the lip to be of known solid steel. This would also serve to sort out the above mentioned subframe mounts.
The rear lower panel was removed using a razor disc and a new repair section offered up in place along with floor repair panel. Measured thrice and jiggled into place, a start could now be made on welding in fresh steel, using a spot welder wherever possible on the original seams.
With the subframe out of the way, the perilous state of the forward rear mounting points became apparent. For a car with a current MoT certificate, this was unforgivable. Bring back the licence to prod with a screwdriver, I say.
The further we went, the more we found. The floors, where they met the sills had been plugged up with fibreglass. Even where the pans met the centre tunnel had rotted away. It was as if the car had been sat on a salt marsh for a year.
There was nothing else to do but to replace the whole lot with fresh panels. At this point it became all too apparent that we may as well have started with a fresh shell, but we were too far in now and to compound matters, we were about to get very busy on a new series of Car SOS.
Gradually, plate after plate was cut away as we endeavoured to find where the remains of the original car started. Years of compounded patch up jobs had turned this car into a right old dog’s breakfast.
Eventually, we bit the bullet and removed the floor pans, these being replaced using fresh items supplied by the David Manners Group Ltd. Failure to do this would have meant perpetuating the piecemeal process that had driven this Mini to its current state of affairs.
On both sides, the complete sill assembly was replaced. As mentioned before, they had been heavily bodged using fibreglass and were no longer playing a supporting role in keeping the car together. It’s unimaginable to think what would have happened had the car been broadsided.
One of the doors was so bad that a complete new item was sourced, again from DMG Ltd, but we managed to save the other, although whether this was time well spent could be debated. Rust had nibbled away at the bottom of the repairable door, so a repair section was introduced.
Time marched on and during a filming trip to Scandinavia, the chaps at my Westgate Classics workshop had the car primed and painted before I could get any shots of it, but with the reveal deadline looming there was no option but to press on.
Naturally, a few last minute tweaks were necessary, including the fitting of new brake lines, caliper seals and wheel cylinders. Also, the rough running had to be diagnosed, this turning out to be the fuel transfer tube from the float chamber rammed too far into the carburettor.
The car was MoT tested and then transported to the NEC for its reveal at the Classic Motor Show on the Carole Nash Insurance Consultants Ltd stand. It’s rather a shame cars can’t talk, as I’d have loved this one to tell of its salvation from the crusher.
Melissa and Gerard attended the show on the third day and in a short ceremony, their Mini was reunited with them, to smiles all round. Indeed, the brave couple decided to give the car a decent shake down, with a trip home via the Stranraer ferry.
Conclusions? It was great seeing an original shell saved, but the amount of time taken made it a questionable exercise. This was minimum £8 job in the end. However, the main eye opener was the condition of the car, given that it had a current MoT when it arrived.
If you own a Mini or are about to buy one, get your screwdrivers out and have a good old poke.