Many of us are still driving and enjoying our Mini Cooper every day and seldom really appreciate what we experience. How many of us can remember exactly when our daily driver started being referred to as a “classic”? How many of us would be proud to drive around in a 20+ year old American car? Do you ever stop to think that our MK1 Mini & Mini Coopers are 40+ years old and that even our MK3 Mini & Mini Coopers are 30+ years old! We all think that all “Classic” Minis are about the same but did you know that while the Mini was in continuous production for 40+ years, it was actually built by six different companies:
1959 BMC introduces the Mini range
1966 BMC merge with Jaguar to form British Motor Holdings
1968 Leyland merge with British Motor Holdings to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC)
1972 BLMC take control of Innocenti
1975 British Leyland effectively nationalized due to financial difficulties, company changes its name to BL Ltd.
1982 British Leyland renamed Austin Rover Group
1994 Rover Group sold to BMW
The tremendous turmoil that is evident in the Mini manufacturing world did very little to provide for stability of support for older vehicles or those built by now defunct companies. The parts supply chain within the UK that was built on the back of the cottage industry was hard pressed to know if they had a future with a company that might not exist very long. And with the final closing of all ‘factory’ production Minis almost all of the parts supply has been left to the aftermarket. There are two remaining companies that can still be considered a remaining arm of the factory; “Rover” and “British Motor Heritage”. The parts available from Rover are primarily for MK4 Mini & Mini Coopers and later models, while BMH is primarily a manufacturer of sheet metal parts. BMH is really the only major supplier that has been willing to invest in the tooling needed to manufacture parts for the Classic Mini. When the factory was finally closed in 2000, most any of actual tooling still left at the factory was sold as scrap.
While it is a well known fact that the numbers of Minis here in the USA has probably doubled in the last 5 years, it is also a sure fact that the number of cars on the road world wide has been decreasing steadily. This rate of decline will become worse in the coming years, because the Mini is no longer in production and parts are becoming increasingly expensive – if they can be found at all. It must be noted that for most of the world, the Mini is not a ‘classic’, just an old car to be used up as long as it is economical! This is critical to our ongoing supply of parts at any cost. If you consider the population of cars here in the States and try to justify production of parts at only this quantity, you quickly realize that it will never be practical. If we had to ‘tool-up’ to build a say a tail light or perhaps a camshaft, we would have to charge such an outrageous amount that the car would be scrapped before you would pay that amount!
So what is the trend? The most obvious answer is to simply say costs are going up and supply is drying up. But the actual trend is more telling. What we see is that first a product such as we saw last month, the LHD steering racks, all of a sudden dry up and become ‘not available’ anyplace in the UK. A month or so later, just as quickly we find we can again buy them – but guess what – the price is now higher by 20%! The month before last, we could not find slot drive oil pumps anyplace in the world then, you guessed, they are now available again at a higher price. We find that as more and more of the products are being made by single suppliers, they will only build them when they have enough back-orders and then will charge whatever they want, always higher than the last time. As more and more of the smaller independent manufacturers are consolidated in larger multi-national corporations, the accounts rationalize that they will no longer build small quantity with poor margins.
Remember it was only a couple months ago that AP Lockheed were forced in insolvency.
And On October 08, 2005, the largest auto component manufacturer in the US, Delphi Corporation (Delphi), and its subsidiaries in the US filed for Chapter 11 protection in bankruptcy court in New York and this same multi-national corporation also owns and operates a number of the UK based companies that manufacture some of the Mini spares we need weekly.
In summary; should we despair and sell out little joy before we can no longer get the critical part? No, but your blood pressure will surely be better if you realize that we indeed have a classic and it will often take time and money to keep and enjoy it the way we want it! More and more products are being sourced from the low cost manufactures off-shore (China, Taiwan, Turkey, etc.) in an attempt to balance quality with cost. We all know that goods things are never cheap and Mini parts are fast becoming a prime example!