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A step by step guide to Mini identification.

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Getting Started

So you are thinking of buying a Mini. You've just started your research and you are suddenly faced with a bewildering variety of Mini body styles, engine sizes, and Mk names ("What's an 'Em Kay'?"). After all, Minis were built for 42 years. There's bound to be a few choices!

Another scenario. You're thinking of buying a Mini, and you've done your research. Lots of reading. Books. Internet. Talked with many people. You've pretty much narrowed down the choices from the confusing hundreds you started with to half a dozen or so. You are getting serious and are beginning to contact people for photographs of cars, or you are getting set to look at some cars in person.

And another scenario. Somehow you have acquired a Mini. Great Uncle Chester left you one in his will, or you always wanted one and a friend of a friend knew someone who had a friend that had one in a barn and you couldn't pass it up. Or you just got a wild hair, thought they were cute and bought the first one you saw. Or maybe you're in Utah (or California, or…) and you just bought a Mini through eBay and it is in "Little Piddleabout, North Yorkshire, England"… and you have suddenly learned that U.S. Customs will have a say about whether you can import the car… and then you have to get it by the Utah authorities.

One last scenario. Simply put, you have a Mini and need to buy parts or want to "accessorize" a bit.

In all cases, a little help with identification should be useful. The rest of this article will help with that identification process. Use it as one source, but find and use many others. Seek out and talk with long time Mini owners. (A good place to start is to join a Mini club.) Also, search the Internet. There is a wealth of information (and misinformation!) on line. Find and read some of the many books on Minis that have been printed over the years.

It's still not going to be easy. Identification is complicated enough for a car that was built for so many years, in so many countries, and in so many factory variations. But once they were sold who knows what modifications have been made.

All during this research keep in mind two things: (1) be just a little bit skeptical about any Mini fact that includes the words "never" or "always," something in the form of, "The factory NEVER made the car with…." (You'll find some examples in this article, I'm sure!) and (2) always keep in mind the Mini's "Mr. Potato Head" factor!

"Mr. Potato Head" of the Automotive World

The Mini has often been likened to the toy manufactured for kids called, "Mr. Potato Head." First patented in the U.S. in 1952, it was based on using a Styrofoam head to which could be attached varieties of plastic facial parts: eyes, noses, ears, etc. The earlier toy (called something like, Make a Face) used a potato instead of Styrofoam and "Mr. Potato Head" had instructions for using potatoes and other fruits and vegetables. By mixing and matching different facial parts, many different "Mr. Potato Heads" could be made from one potato, but there was still a potato underneath.

And this applies to Minis how? For its entire production run (1959-2000), the Classic Mini has been a car that lent itself to having different parts added, removed, or swapped from one car to another. Everyone seems to want to make their own version or personalize the car in some way, and the commonality of parts over the years aided those changes. And still does.

The downside to the "Mr. Potato Head" interchangeability of parts is that Minis can change beyond just a different color or different wheels. They can morph into a different make, or mark, or be made to look like one built in a different year – unintentionally, or intentionally.

So, this identification process becomes a bit more complicated than grabbing a couple of books and looking at photos.

Deliberate Changes

As mentioned when discussing our vegetable game-like car, Classic Minis can be changed to resemble an entirely different year or model. This may be done intentionally to suit an owner's taste. One form this can take is changing a Mini for the "Retro" look.

Maybe an owner likes his late model Mini but also likes some of the features of the early cars. Swap in a Mk1 grille. "Retrograde" to Mk1 tail lights. Maybe even have the car painted in classic Mk1 colors. Good enough. The owner made the changes he wanted and he's happy with his car. If the car is sold, as long as it is sold as what it really is, no problem.

The trouble starts when a Mini is changed and is sold as something it isn't. There are a couple of good examples of this.

A car of lesser value is turned into a more valuable car. Say an unloved, Mk3 automatic 1000 is remade into the much more valuable Mk3 Cooper S. As long as the seller discloses the changes, again, no problem. At least initially. Somewhere down the line, the car may loose its original identity and "become" that Mk3 Cooper S.

Unfortunately, it also happens that a person making "upgrades" sells the car and fails (is that polite enough?) to disclose the car's true origins. A buyer well-educated in Minis can spot most of these upgraded cars; although, the "Mr. Potato Head" quality does mean one has to keep a sharp eye out. Someone determined to make a fake and with enough skill can fool almost anyone.

Another, more common change in the past few years, is to take one late car that does not meet U.S. laws and attach to it a Chassis Number/VIN from an earlier car that is exempt from such laws. In almost all cases, these are easy to spot, even from across a parking lot! Unfortunately, there are those that are new enough to Minis that they didn't realize when they bought it that their 1963 Mini ("with modern upgrades") is nothing more than a very late model car that has been "re-vinned"with a 1963 number. The only thing 1963 about the car is the number on the VIN plate!