Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mini Estate History - Inception and Launch

BMC had long wheel base Mini variants in the pipeline even before the Mini sedans were released in 1959. The van, estates and pickup underwent development together. According to the Pressnell bible “The design was put together during 1959 in Dick Gallimore’s Longbridge body experimental shop, Doug Adams doing the essential of the work, to the directions of Issigonis, before passing the projects to John Sheppard to be drawn up.” Where the Mini sedan was to be a car for the district nurse, early Traveller advertisements show it as a car for the family man or even businessman. Estates were only to be available in one trim level, to match the more upmarket De-Luxe sedan of the time.

Presnell suggests that this may have been the first and only prototype, it is badged as an Austin which was common for most of the Mini prototypes developed at Longbridge. XOJ registration numbers were used in Birmingham between November 1958 and May 1959. At this stage the design is fairly complete. If you ignore the tacky aftermarket hubcaps the main differences are that it has squared off corners to the rear windows and one piece side windows. Photographs of it from the rear show that the doors are solidly framed all around - possibly made of sheet aluminium with a structural timber frame, like the Morris Minor Traveller.

BMC were of course a mongrel crossbreed of former competitors - primarily Austin and The Nuffield Group (Morris). At that time there was a large number of dealers who held either Morris or Austin concessions and the buying public still held faithfully to the model of car they'd always bought. As a result most BMC cars came in more than one flavour (six in the case of the 1100). The Mini estates escaped the worst of this badge engineering, being marketed as either a Morris Mini Traveller, or an Austin Se7en Countryman (later Austin Mini Countryman). Both names were drawn from previous estates in the Mini's ancestry, most obviously the Morris Minor Traveller and the Austin A30 Countryman.

1955 Austin A30 Countryman
1955 Morris Minor Traveller

For several years, Morris and Austin Mini sedans were built in separate plants, Cowley turned out Morrises while Longbridge turned out Austins. However most of the variant Mini models, including the coopers, pickups, vans and estates were assembled at Longbridge, regardless of marque. The bodies were built, painted and trimmed by Fisher and Ludlow at their factory in Castle Bromwich,  then transported to Longbridge by rail to have the mechanicals installed. In other words my Morris was built by Austin.

Theo Page's wonderful cut-away drawing
illustrated the Motorsport road test.
The Countryman and Traveller were both launched on the 16th of September 1960, but had been in production since March that year. They were generally well received by the press. John Bolster in Motorsport, 9 December 1960 liked the de luxe interior trim level of the Traveller and praised the smoother gear change and less choppy ride afforded by the longer wheel base, in comparison to his own Mini sedan. The Autocar, 23 September 1960 wrote "Already holding a reputation of being a great little car, this latest version will certainly enhance this assessment. For town use it remains easy to park, and is fast through traffic because of its compact dimensions. On the open road its performance is adequate to transport four people and luggage with considerable economy and ease.".  Bolster concluded his road test report with " This new small station wagon is an extremely attractive addition to the B.M.C. range. It is not spectacularly fast, but it keeps up a remarkable average speed over difficult roads. Many families will buy it as a second car, but it will turn out to be the sort of second car that soon takes first place in everybody's affections. At £623 it is more costly than the saloon but represents remarkable value.". I find it interesting that even in 1960 both reviewers tactfully described performance as "adequate" or "not spectacular". Its very common to hear that an 850cc Mini is underpowered for modern traffic conditions, but it looks as though that was the case even 50 years ago. Scanned copies of both road test articles are available from the downloadable documents section, to the left.

Traveller at Earls Court 1960 - Image courtesy
Following the press launch, the next big public display of both the Traveller and Countryman was at the London Motor Show at Earls Court in October 1960. The Traveller was on the Morris stand, mounted at a dramatic angle on a floodlit circular dais. Interestingly, the show car wears white-wall tyres with the paint scheme of white with a contrasting black roof. A two-tone colour scheme was never available from the factory, and anticipated the colour scheme of the Mini Supers and Coopers by almost a year.

Countryman sans "Miss Austin"

The Countryman was displayed less dramatically, but perhaps equally eye catchingly, draped in a young model "Miss Austin", AKA Mandy Rice-Davies who went on to become a showgirl and friend of Christine Keeler of Profumo Affair infamy. Sadly the only picture I can find appears to have been taken after Miss Austin had finished for the day, however I did find a quote in  "An Affair of State":

 "The Mini was the most photographed car that year and many of the photographs show a cheeky, open-faced young girl with bobbed hair, thick black eyebrows, a turned-up nose and an appealing smile. Mandy was also photographed at receptions, cocktail parties, dinners, and on the way to lunch with the Mini's brilliant designer, Alex Issigonis."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Restoration has Officially Started

The BEFORE photo of the Master Cylinders
My original plan with the Traveller was to spend some time collecting up the missing parts, then embark on a commplete nut and bolt restoration, all done to the highest standards. However there has been a change of plan. I always planned to do as much as possible myself so this was never going to be a checque book restoration - however the realitys of life mean that its going to be more like a shoestring restoration now. I am not prepared to compromise the quality, so things are going to happen more slowly and I will need to make do with what I have for the time being. The plan now is for a rolling restoration. Get the Traveller back on the road and make small changes as time and money become available. Luckily the body is in excellent shape, and the mechanicals are adequate for the time being. The intention now is to address the most pressing issues that will prevent it from being registered, then get it back on the road. The brakes are the biggest problem at the moment. As I mentioned in a previous posting the pedal goes straight to the floor and the master cylinder were pretty crusty - showing signs of leaking and looking a bit tired.

Brake and Clutch Master Cylinders out and cleaned up a bit
 So a few nights ago  pulled out the brake master cylinder and stripped it for inspection. It looks pretty good for something that has held brake fluid for 50 yeras and I would probably would have got away with just a hone and a new set of seals, but with the philosophy of not compromising quality I decided that it really should be re-sleeved. Having decided to do the brake m/c, I figured I should do the clutch one as well, so last night I did the old under-dash limbo and pulled it out too. I found that the piston had seized in the bore so it does need doing too. I have found a local brake specialist, named Leon, who will re-sleeve them in stainless steel for a reasonable price, but there is a snag. After the sleeve is inserted the ports from the reservoir need to be drilled through it, but the tin reservoirs cover the ports. The reservoirs can either be sweated off (unsoldered) then replaced afterwards or he can drill through the side of the reservoir then insert a rivet and solder over it afterwards. The problem is that the cost of unsoldering and resoldering more than doubles the overall cost of the work, which is not cheap anyway. These master cylinders are a special feature on the early Minis (see below) so I don't want visible bumps of solder on the side. I have arranged with Leon, that I will remove the reservoirs before sending them to him, then replace them afterwards. I am slightly worried about this, but hey, whats the worst that could happen? Once the cylinders are sleeved and the reservoirs replaced they will need to be replated try to achieve an appearance similar to original.

Tapered top and hexagon top master cylinders.
So why don't I just use the reproduction lockheed master cylinders that are available? Well the reason is that these master cylinders are different from the much more common later ones. The 1959ers had a master cylinder with a large threaded sleeve on the very top of the cylinder and a metal cap on the reservoir, these are often called nut top master cylinders. Some time around 1960 - 61, but apparently only for a short period, they changed to this style which has a hexagonal shape which echos the nut, but is just part of the body of the cylinder. These also have the metal cap. After that the style changed again (perhaps when the bore of the cylinders was reduced in size). The top of the cylinder is now tapered and the cap is plastic. The photo on the left shows the cylinder off the Traveller beside a later Mini one. You can easily see the difference.

Both the clutch and brake cylinders have a bore of 0.75". Later cars had all sorts of variations and swapped bore sizes back and forwards. The same outwards appearance could range from 0.75" through 0.70" to 0.625". There are also two variations in the main seal style. These early ones use a ring seal and a cup seal, but later they converted to two ring seals. Luckily seal kits are still readily available, although the brake one is harder to find in 0.75" than the clutch. I got mine from Somerford Spares in the the UK.

Unfortunately the metal cap for the brake cylinder is badly corroded and falling apart. These are virtually impossible to find replacements for, but are essential because they are a unique feature of the older Minis. There have been a few sold on ebay in recent times for insane prices, but luckily I managed to 'win' a single one a few years ago, that is in pretty good shape and although it was expensive was way under what some are selling for. The clutch one is a bit corroded but I think it will be servicable.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Documents Uploaded

I've uploaded some scanned copies of documents that I've collected over the years. The documents are  hosted on the Google docs site, clicking the links in the box on the left hand side of the page will take you to the individual document. The documents can be browsed on line, downloaded or printed. Some of them are quite big files so might take a while to download.

So far I've uploaded two documents:
AKD1431 The Morris Mini - Traveller Service Parts List, January 1961 . This is a really useful document as its a full parts list for early Travellers. If you have a copy of the BMIHT CD of PDF files for the Mk1 Mini that you can still open, you will find that the parts manuals in it are for the van and pickup as well as the Traveller/Countryman and that there are separate books for mechanical parts and body parts. My scan is of a single book just for Travellers which includes mechanical and body parts. It also includes AKD3004 The Morris All-Steel Mini - Traveller Supplement, June 1961. I bought it a few years ago on ebay. It came in its original binder, which is unusual in being a long thin 'landscape' profile rather than the usual 'portrait' shape.

Parts lists are great for seeing how things go together because they have a lot of exploded diagrams, they also list the correct parts numbers, which can help you locate spare parts.

Reference M.7/1 Morris Mini Traveller Finishes and Upholsteries, April 1960. This is the colour cards and swatches mentioned in the previous blog post.

I will soon be uploading a sales brochure (its huge I have to scan it in pieces and splice it back together) and some original road tests and reports dating from when the Traveller was released.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Colour Finishes and Upholstery

Morris Mini Traveller Colour Finishes and Upholsteries, April 1960
To my way of thinking the Traveller has three main components that need to be in top order for this to be a first class restoration. The bodywork and paint, the timber and the interior trim. So I was very pleased to pick up a set of cards showing the colour finishes and upholsteries that were available in 1960 when the Traveller was released. These are fabulous, there are three cards (the first one is double sided) the second and third card have nice big swatches of paint and pieces of upholstery vinyl stuck to them. The cards show the three paint colours available at the time of release, curiously they are just labelled white, red and blue, whereas the colours were official known as 'Old English White', 'Cherry Red' and 'Clipper Blue'. Likewise the interior trim is either labelled red or blue, but were called 'Spanish Red' and 'Spanish Blue' elsewhere. My car is old English white (OEW), with grey fleck and Spanish red trim. The cards are dated April 1960, which was well before the September 1960 release, but after production had started.

The best thing about the cards is that they have been stored in the dark all this time so shouldn't have faded or discoloured. This will be a great help when it comes to matching the original colour, there were at least three variants of OEW used by BMC in the sixties. Likewise I will be able to compare the original vinyl swatches to  the reproduction trim available today.

Once I have worked out how to store the files online, I'll post up a link so that anyone who wants a copy can download them, although the colour reproduction is not terribly good so they may not be much help. I have some parts manuals I'll try to scan and make available too.