Mini Identification: Identifying Non Standard Minis
Identifying Non Standard Minis
So you’ve been through some or all of the identification sections: “Identifying Minis by Chassis Number/VIN – Standard Cars,” “Identifying Minis by Engine/Power Unit,”and “Identifying Minis by Mark.”Something doesn’t add up. Maybe your car seems to be a cross between a couple of types of Minis (VIN says one thing car says another, for example), or the Chassis Number/VIN plate is missing.
Earlier sections of this article described both the Mr. Potato Head aspect of the Mini (easily changed features), and the reasons for making changes to Minis. In any case, something doesn’t add up and you want to know more. Keep in mind that there may not be any one conclusive answer. A Mini may have had so many changes over the years that its original factory identity is lost, or someone may have spent a lot of time deliberately creating a valuable Mini out of a less valuable one. Over time a Mini may change so as to not be identifiable with a high degree of certainty.
Even though there may be Minis that are difficult to pin down, most of them can be figured out by using what you’ve learned about standard Minis and some combination of methods discussed below.
One way of homing in on what type of Mini you really have is to follow a “Preponderance of Evidence” method. Make use of the previous sections on identifying Minis and see what yours is the closest to – with what type of Mini does yours share the most characteristics.
This method works well with many Minis, especially, the “revinned” cars; i.e., those that are late model cars that do not meet U.S. standards for importation and that have had an earlier car’s Chassis Number/VIN added so the cars can be imported illegally. Your car is supposed to be a 1967. You’ve checked the engine bay and there is an MPi engine. Radiator is behind the grill. No distributor. The interior has all the earmarks of a 90s car. Brakes are 8.4” disc in front and there is a catalytic converter. That’s a lot to add into the “not a 1967 column” and a lot to add into the “late 96 through 2000 column”!
Another method of deciding what type of Mini you really have is to evaluate the parts that are harder to change from one type of Mini to another and weigh them heavier when deciding. A good example is the sliding window versus roll up window issue for Saloons (and Estates). If you’ve been told the Mini is a Mk II and it does have the square tail lights and correct grill, but the car (English built) has roll up windows, it is most likely a Mk III or later. Although not impossible, it is a very difficult job to put English roll up window doors on a sliding window car.
Although Minis don’t have the official build date coded on them anyplace, there are a number of parts that are dated and these dates are usually within a few weeks of the build date – close enough to help with identification.
Windscreen wiper motor. On the flat side of the wiper motor on the removable plate that covers the big gear you’ll find a date. This is almost always in the form of MM YY indicating the month and year; e.g., 12 68 would be December 1968. Motors on the left side of the engine bay (right side as you are looking into it) are the easiest to read. Clean off the grime and the date should be there. Ones mounted on the other side of the engine bay have the numbered side down. You’ll have to do a little work to get at them. Of course, wiper motors wear out and are replaced, and the plate with the numbers is easily changed by itself, but this date is a clue to consider.
Boot latch. One of the most reliable places to look is on the boot latch – the portion on the boot lid itself. On one of the two exposed faces of the latch you should find a date usually in the format WW YY indicating the week and year; e.g., 48 68 would be the 48th week of 1968. Boot latches don’t usually wear out and get changed. If replaced at all, it is most likely because the car has been in a rear end accident and an entire boot lid and latch assembly have been swapped from another car. Occasionally the date is missing or one of the numbers didn’t get punched well, but this date is still the best one to look for. If the date looks like it has been deliberately removed (scratched out), be suspicious.
Other electrical parts. Also look for dates on generators, alternators, and distributors. Sometimes they are there. Sometimes they are not, and all of these parts are normal wear items that may have been replaced.
Sliding versus roll up windows. For UK built cars, review the discussion of Marks in “Identifying Minis by Mark.”The short version is, for the main stream Saloon, cars with roll up windows are Mk III and later. Round nose Estates had only sliders. Clubman estates had only roll ups. Pick ups and Vans stayed with sliders so no help with identification.
Front subframe mounting. If the front subframe is rubber mounted, or was rubber mounted, the Mini is a Mk IV or later. Look for one very big bolt head above each subframe tower towards the back corners of the engine bay. If you find two bolts each side (or two stud heads with nuts) then the subframe mounting method is for a Mk III or earlier.
It’s not unusual to change the rubber mounts in the later subframes for poly or metal, but the mounting method is seldom changed. Look for the big, single bolt head on each side.
Bonnet. The Mk I and II bonnets had the hinges set in from the outer edges of the bonnet by about six inches. The Mk III and later bonnets had both the mounting points on the firewall and the ones on the bonnet moved to line up with the outer edge of the bonnet. Some aftermarket bonnets had both types of hinge brackets, but you can still look for the mounting points on the firewall.
The Mk II and later bonnets for Saloons and round nose Estates had a lip on the leading edge of the bonnet to which the upper grille surround piece was fitted. This isn’t true for the Van and Pick up. They didn’t have the lip and stayed with a non-removable grille for the entire production run.
Bridging arrangements can be made to fit Mk I and II bonnets to later cars, and visa versa. This isn’t done often. Also, the front lip on Mk IIs and later cars can be added to earlier cars or removed from later cars. This is done more often.
Tail Lights. The Mk I Saloon had the smaller, oval tail lights – just over 6” high by a little over 2 ¼” wide. The Mk II and III had bigger, rectangular tail lights – a little over an inch taller and wider. From Mk IV the rectangular tail lights were still used, but they incorporated a back up light.
Fashion dictates changes with the tail lights. After the Mk IIs were introduced, one could buy a replacement panel to convert the Mk I to Mk II lights. With some people now into the retro look, a plate is available to convert the later square lights to the earlier oval ones! The conversion does take some cutting, welding, and painting, so it is not just a bolt on operation.
Swapping Mk II/III lights for later ones with reversing lights (or visa versa) is also done, and easier than the small and big light swap.
Steering column stalks. The Mk I had one stalk that operated the turn signal only. On the end of the stalk was the turn signal indicator light. The Mk II, III made the one stalk multifunctional (turn signal, horn, high beams and head light flasher). The turn signal indicator light moved to the speedometer. From then on, there were two stalks with the wiper/washer functions on the second one.
Like other parts on Minis, the stalks can be changed around from one car to another, but there is more work than a simple swap, so this conversion seems to be one of the items that is done less frequently.
Fuel injection. The Cooper Minis went to fuel injection in October 1991. The rest of the Minis followed in August 1994.
Converting to fuel injection is not impossible, but is quite involved. You will not see it done as often as converting the other way – back to carb – and even that is rare.
Radiator location. The radiator location is a quick way to differentiate between SPi and MPi fuel injected Minis. All the Minis had the radiator in front of the fan; except for the Mk VII, MPi fuel injected Minis. The radiator was behind the grille for that model; except, Japanese specification MPis retained the older radiator location.
Distributor, or not. This is another quick check of SPi versus MPi Minis. The MPi Minis went to a crank fired system and the distributor was no longer used. In fact, the block was changed so there wasn’t even provision for a distributor.
Oil filter type/location. During the Mk III run, the oil filter was changed to a spin on type instead of the canister. This isn’t too much help, however, because it is common for Mini owners to convert to the spin on version for ease of changing. But if someone is touting a Mini as an “all original” Mk I or II and it has a spin on oil filter, it’s either not all original or not a Mk I or II!
The oil filter location will help identify one type of Mini. The MPi moved the oil filter from the low mount location behind the grille to up higher near the clutch end of the block and the filter screwed into the block at a downward angle. This method was also used on the later South African cars, if you should happen to run into one!
7”, 7.5” and 8.4” front disc brakes. Measure the front brake rotor diameter.
Seven inch front discs started in 1961 with the introduction of the Mini Cooper. All the 60s Coopers used that size rotor. The 7.5” brakes made their appearance with the Cooper S in March 1963 and were used on all the original Cooper S models. The 7.5” rotors were also used on the early 1275GT. These brakes will fit under 10” diameter wheels; except, some factory 3.5” drum brake wheels.
The change to 8.4” front brakes took place for all Minis in October 1984. The Mini 25 already had them in June of that year and the 1275GT was using them as early as mid-1974. These brakes will not fit under factory 10” wheels and only one or two after market ones with huge offsets. They require 12” wheels. If your measurement comes up 7.9” then you have the original 8.4” rotors turned down to fit smaller diameter wheels by using special calipers.
Exercise caution with identifying Minis by brakes, though. It is not uncommon to upgrade Mini brakes; especially, drum brakes to either of the 7.5” or 8.4” disc brake set ups.