1961 Austin Seven De-Luxe
Brian Birchall says that he likes all cars but Minis clearly hold a special place in his heart as he’s owned quite a few over the years. His latest Mini project is this fine, earlyMk1 but will it be the last one he restores?
Words: Karen Drury.
Photos: Jim Jupp.
Brian Birchall tells us: “I’ve owned Minis for a long time. I’ve owned and restored them all. I had a Mk2 Cooper S, a Traveller that was in MiniWorld and a Mini Pick-up, but I had never done an Austin Seven.” He had to get it out of his system and, in June 2007, found a perfect candidate: a rusty 1961 Austin Seven De-luxe which most would have walked away from. Over the next 12 years he spent around five years working on it, on and off between other car projects. “It failed an MOT and they chucked it in the woods, where I found it. It was rotten. There were a load of Series 1 Land Rovers rotting to bits as well and rusting Mk1 Midgets all lined up. The owner didn’t do anything with them. He said he wanted money for the Mini so I gave him £500 which I thought was a lot of money then. I must have been mad but the reason I bought it was for the colour, because it’s different. You don’t see many Fiesta Yellow Minis.”
Brian ordered a Heritage Certificate for the Mini which confirmed that it was originally Fiesta Yellow, an unpopular choice at the time, with grey and blue interior trim and a factory fitted heater. It had been built on 14 September 1961 and sent to dealer Anstey’s Limited of Tonbridge, Kent, on 18 September. Brian bought it from its second owner who gave him a photo of it taken before it failed the MOT and was put out to pasture.
«The reason I bought it was for the colour.… You don't see many Fiesta Yellow Minis
As he does with every car project, Brian made a jig to move the Mini around to make it easier to carry out bodywork and paint. “I do bodywork,” he explains. “I’m doing a Lancia Beta Spider at the moment.” However, he tasked his friend Frank with repairing the Mini’s bodywork. “He replaced the wings, inner wings, door skins, rear valance and floors. I think the boot was alright.
Brian Birchall would like to thank: “Frank, for doing the Mini’s bodywork
It needed a new bonnet too.” Once the repairs were made he got it ready for paint. “My friend Jason paints all my cars. I got it all the way up to primer and all he had to do was put filler primer and the paint on. He used water-based paint.”
Brian used many new replacement parts but refurbished what he could. The original 3.5x10” steel wheels were powder-coated white. “There are a few little bits that are original, like the hub caps. They are a bit dented but you cannot find the really early ones with the oblong cuts. The holes are really roughly cut and they are a bit dented but I’d rather have them than nothing at all. You can’t have it perfect all the time.” He salvaged what brightwork he could. “It all needed cleaning up and things had a bit of pitting but at the end of the day you’ve got to have something that’s old on it.”
Above: Brian sourced an 848cc Mini engine which was only a year older than his Mini's OE unit. It had only covered 37,000miles. It also came with the speedometer from the engine's original Mini.
The bumpers are new. “Some people say it should have overriders. You look at some pictures and some Austin Sevens have just a bumper without overriders on really early cars.” The photo that came with the car showed no overriders so he didn’t fit any. “I had the auxiliary lights kicking around and they are period to the time so I thought I’d stick them on. I think they look quite good. They are quite small so would have been fitted to a Mini.” The Mini would originally have had an 848cc engine but came to Brian with a 998. “So I had to hunt for an engine. I looked and then I bought two because I wasn’t happy with them because they were a bit too new. And then there was an advertisement for one for sale in Birmingham. I drove all the way there and the chap said that it was his nan’s engine as she had a 1960 Mini which rotted but he couldn’t bear to let the engine go. He just had the engine, with the gearbox, and the speedo left. It is a 1960 engine which is only a year older than the car, which is nice. I used the speedo which came with the engine, which showed 37,000miles. All I’ve done is put an unleaded head on it, changed the oil and fitted a new clutch. I started it up and it went really well; sweet as a nut.” Brian fitted a new wiring loom with a period-style cloth finish.
»It runs lovely and, even though it's only got a little engine, I'll drive it anywhere."
The rear subframe was re-used and new dampers and brake components were fitted where available. In 2010 his focus turned to the interior. “All the seats were there but they were all rotten. The new trim is from Newton Commercial. I took the seats up to them and they showed me round the factory. It was amazing to see all the people working on the sewing machines. I didn’t fancy doing the headlining myself so I took the frame up for the headlining and they trimmed that too.
Replacement interior was manufactured by Newton Commercial.
I refurbed the steering wheel. The passenger side still has its original string door pull inside but a period mod was made by a previous owner, who fitted an aluminium door release lever for the driver which I re-fitted." The Mini was back on the road in 2019 but Brian is not very likely to enter it into a concours contest. “I don’t show cars as I’m not really an anorak. You get people saying: ‘that nut’s not right’ and I’m not into that. It’s not perfect, such as on the speedo there are two silver bits that should go round it and it hasn’t got that.”
Brian is quite rightly pleased that he saved this early Mini from the ravages of nature and is, understandably, proud of how well it turned out. “I quite like the blue with the Fiesta Yellow, even though I’m not into green or yellow cars. It’s a bit funky and people love it now. It’s actually quite modern-looking for a Mini.” He enjoys driving it too. “It runs lovely and, even though it’s only got a little engine, I’ll drive it anywhere.” Brian does have a problem, though, that means he hasn’t been to any Mini events for some years. “My grandchildren like Japanese cars. ‘We don’t wanna go in that old thing,’ they say. ‘It’s too slow, we wanna take the Skyline to Brands’. At 300bhp driving it scares the life out of you but I still enjoy driving the Mini because it’s not all about speed.”
The previous owner Gave Briana photo of The Mini before it went into the woodland.
We can understand his dilemma but hopefully his grandchildren will come round eventually. “Whether or not I keep it I don’t know. I want to keep it. My daughters want me to keep it. I don’t need to sell it but I’ve got too many cars and you just cannot use them all. I like restoring them and then I get bored with them once I’ve done them. I nearly sold it at the beginning of 2022 to send it to online auction, The Market by Bonhams, but I couldn’t bear to sell it so I cancelled it all.
We hope Brian at least gets to enjoy driving this fantastic Mini for a while even if he does decide to sell it on in the future.
Viv 20 days ago #
Wow!!! This is my Mum's old car that we grew up in! I will try to find some old photos. I can remember squeezing the 3 of us kids plus 2 neighbours kids in on the school run. I think it would have been sold maybe late 70s/early 80s
Viv 19 days ago #
Here are farewell photos from May 1984! Hopefully they sent on a previous comment
Votren De Este 16 days ago #
Please upload photos of this car in comments section