Modified 1995 Rover Mini Cooper
Sam Elliott ’s Mini was bought for him by his parents as a project to gain experience in classic car restoration and to learn to drive in. Six years later, the glamour of the show scene is this Mini’s destiny. Words and Photos: Jim Jupp.
Sam Elliott’s entry into Mini ownership started two years before he could legally drive on UK roads. The 1995 SPi Rover Mini Cooper was a present from his parents, Katrina and Andrew. “It was a surprise present for my 15th birthday but was meant to be for my 16th. Dad got a bit excited about the idea and got it a year earlier,” explains Sam, who is now 21. Luckily, neighbour and friend Aaron Chalk is a big Mini fan so parking the new acquisition on Aaron’s drive wouldn’t have raised any alarm bells until the big reveal to Sam.
He may not have been able to drive the Rover Mini Cooper initially but the family still enjoyed using it, although they were aware that it would need attention fairly soon. “We drove it for a while but it was quite rotten so we had the bodywork restored, which took about 10 months. We wanted to keep it semi-original. We talked about the project and said there is a fine line between being really good and over the top,” explains Andrew. Body repairs were carried out at Sam's grandad's business, Sholing Service Station, with Sam did some of the work himself. Among other panels the outer wings, scuttle and the driver’s door were replaced. Old Bones Fabrications, of Andover, were brought onboard to do the paint.
The original base colour of Diamond White has been retained but, instead of the original black roof paint, Sam has added his own take with a carbon fibre panel bonded over the top of the steel. The roof panel and carbon fibre arches were sourced from The Arc Angels. Other carbon details now include the rear-view mirror housing and headlamp surrounds, sourced from Carbon Weezel.
He was keen to keep some of the original Rover characteristics so the ubiquitous bonnet stripes have been changed from black vinyl to a carbon-effect vinyl, sourced from Monster Wraps of Hampshire. The 1275cc engine remained untouched by Sam until early 2019, when it was decided a refresh was in order. This presented a chance to deal with a few issues such as the engine bay paintwork which needed freshening up. “We did toy with converting the SPi to carburettors but we were chatting to a chap at one of the shows about it and he asked if it started OK every morning, which it does, to which he commented: ‘leave it injected’,” laughs Andrew. Not that SPis are always niggle-free.
The original 12A SPi block was retained but has now been overbored by +0.040” by Wood Mill Engineering who also skimmed the block and head, as well as porting the standard SPi 12G940 head. Interestingly, according to the documentation that came with the Mini, it had a Downton Stage 2 conversion by the 1990s incarnation of Downton, but this seems to have been changed back to standard when it was bought as a present.
Sam’s other modifications include a wedged crank, double valve springs and 1.5:1 roller rockers, all supplied by Mini Sport. The air filter is now a K&N 57i re-usable filter, which sits above the OE throttle body. Exhaust gases are dealt with by an injection-model Maniflow LCB. The original camshaft remains standard, as do the SPi’s MEMS ECU and distributor. When it came to re-assembling, neighbour Aaron helped, teaching Sam some important skills. There has also been time to adorn the engine with some stainless bling too, including Smiffy’s Bits stainless steel embellishments such as a brake master reservoir cover, breather canister and relay covers. They are hard to resist.
Following a recent trip to Regal Autosport’s rolling road, Sam is happy with how the engine is doing. “It was 63bhp, but now it’s up to 75bhp on the rollers, which is a 20% increase from the factory.” It is only a few ponies short of the Si model from the same year, which had 80bhp.
The four-synchro, rod-change gearbox was refreshed whilst the engine was being rebuilt, in part as the previous owner had fitted a lower final drive. “It would run out of revs at about 60mph. It’s back to a 3.2:1 now,” comments Sam. Protecting the gearbox is a rather serious rally sump guard. “It’s a Scottish sump guard and came with the car. Where we’ve lowered it a bit, the guard has become quite handy,” explains Sam, as he does have the occasion issue with speed bumps.
Exterior modifications include replacement chrome door mirrors and door handle escutcheons as well as an LED headlamp conversion. The modern electronics don’t stop there, as he explains: “I wanted the clear rear lenses, to make them more modern. When we converted them to LED lights we also removed the rear valance-mounted fog lamp. Now one of the reversing lights is the fog, which clears it up under the bumper,” he says. Trevor at Minis-r-Us, who has supplied a lot of parts for the build, supplied the clear lamps and LEDs. Braking has seen some upgrades too, with Mini Sport’s four-pot billet calipers up front, clamping 8.4” vented, grooved discs, whilst the rears are Mini Sport’s Superfin drums. The Rover directacting brake servo has been retained.
He spotted the chunky 7x13” JBW Superlight alloy wheels at a show. “We knew we’d need bigger arches for the Mini but when I saw these I fell in love with them straight away,” laughs Sam who admits that going large does have its drawbacks. “The steering is quite tough now, when you are going slow, but they do look cool. And it doesn’t have power steering,” comments Sam. “And they don’t do the wheel bearings any good,” laughs Andrew. Another ‘statement’ modification is the Fletcher DTM centre-exit exhaust. You can hear its deep rumble from quite a distance. “It’s a straight-through stainless steel exhaust which Minis-r-Us supplied.”
The original subframes have been retained, which Sam cleaned and repainted. Gaz lowered dampers, adjustable trumpets and negative camber brackets have allowed him to set the Mini to his preferred stance with low-profile tyres on 13s. The Mini's increased unsprung weight is a sacrifice made in favour of the aesthetics. “It may as well have no suspension at all; it’s quite harsh,” comments Andrew.
The interior is equally impressive and, with both Sam and Andrew being professional carpenters by trade, it’s not surprising to hear that Sam made the gear stick console himself. The original magnolia three-clock Rover Mini binnacle has been retained but three additional Smiths gauges are mounted over the stereo head unit, important information is now relayed via the oil pressure, volts gauge and clock.
The interior has been completely replaced during the six-year project, from the headlining to the carpet but with some additional details, as Sam explains: “We had the top and bottom dash rail re-covered in leather, by Mini Trimmings, which also has red stitching.”
They supplied the black carpet and bespoke door cards which also have red stitching to tie in with the dash rail detail. During the Mini Cooper Register’s National Mini Show one year another keynote purchase was made: the Paddy Hopkirk Moto-Lita dished steering wheel, supplied by Mini Sport. Also leather-trimmed, with red stitching, it ties in nicely with the dash rails and door cards.
It was a purchase Sam made with money from his 18th birthday and he got to meet the legend himself. “I’ve seen Paddy on a few documentaries and we got him to sign a poster when we saw him at a show, which is when I bought the steering wheel.” On the Mini legend theme, a John Cooper-engraved gear knob was also sourced from Mini Sport. Sam chose Cobra Monaco Pro bucket front seats, with the rear seat trimmed to match by Sam and his dad, not that the rear seat is easily viewed through the tinted rear glass, but they remain accessible due to tilting subframes for the Cobra bucket seats. “We did re-cover the original front seats too but we’ve changed these to the bucket seats now.”
Clever details continue into the boot. “It’s got a Union Flag on the back panel and a carbon sheet inlay across the spare wheel.” The Mini Trimmings kit neatly covers the large 7.5-gallon injection fuel tank and offside wiring and washer bottle. To date, it’s only been the immersed SPi fuel pump inside the tank that has caused Sam and Andrew any issues. This is Sam’s first car project yet he wasn’t worried about tackling the complex jobs that many long-term Mini rebuilders shy away from, such as fitting a new headlining. “That wasn’t easy and took me quite a while,” he recalls. As it is his first car, although not an everyday car, we wondered how Sam finds the Mini driving experience. “It feels quite quick and nippy,” says Sam. “You feel like you are going much faster than you really are,” adds his dad.
It would seem that Aaron from next door has been quite an influence. “He always had Minis and I liked them,” comments Sam. Though Andrew has had no history with Minis, he is a fan. “I had never had one myself but always thought that they were cool little cars and it has been really great fun working on it with Sam.” The Mini has drawn Sam into the squeaky-clean world of Mini buffing. “If there is a speck of dirt on it, Sam will be polishing it,” comments Sam’s mum, Katrina. He doesn’t deny it and is a big fan of Auto Finesse products to keep his White Diamond paint and carbon gleaming. “I use their wax and triple polish. I machine polish the roof and hand polish and wax the rest.”
The project had a few hold-ups. “Some suppliers would say it would take eight to 10 weeks to get parts to me when it actually took four months. We were in no rush. I think, if we did it again, we’ll order everything before we take it off the road,” comments Andrew. So what’s next for this Mini? “That’s it now. There is nothing else to do,” says Sam. His plans are just to enjoy his Mini and take it to the occasional show, such as the Players Show, at Goodwood, which is a mixed-marque event.
Sam’s grandfather, Terry, who helped with the build, is a mechanic by trade and restoration work is an area Sam may look at as a sideline. “I’ve leant quite a lot about the Mini down my grandad’s garage, including how to weld. It’s been very handy. If it breaks down, I might be able to sort it out myself.” Sam’s girlfriend, Leah, is also a fan of the Mini but admits: “I’ve never really been a car person but I think the Mini is great. Especially over the last year, it’s been a great way to explore different places and get out of the house. During the pandemic, the Mini has given Sam something to focus on. I think he should get the Mini painted pink or yellow but he stands firmly against that.”
It’s great to see the family involvement in the build but we wondered what’s next. “Sam would like to restore an Escort Mexico or a Mustang. I think he’ll need to move out first,” laughs Andrew.
Sam Elliottt would like to thank: “Mum and dad, Katrina and Andrew, for getting me into Minis; my grandad Terry and his staff for helping me restore it; my neighbour Aaron Chalk who helped a lot; Old Bones Fabrications (www.oldbonesfabrications.co.uk)."
- Owner: Sam Elliott
- Occupation: Carpentry Apprentice
- Fave Food: Chocolate
- Dream car: Black Ford RS500
- Dream Job: Classic Car Restorer
- Hobbies: Football
- Fave Mini parts supplier: Trevor from Minis-r-Us of Twyford (+44 (0) 1962 712667 has been really helpful with supplying parts for the build
“You feel like you are going much faster than you really are...”
Overbored to 1310cc, the Rover Cooper retains its original 12A block. Cooling is now handled by a twocore alloy radiator from Mini Sport. Fletcher DTM gives a distinctive, loud rumble. Neat and patriotic lining kit finishes the boot nicely.
“This is Sam's first car project yet he was not worried about tackling the complex jobs...”
Paddy Hopkirk Moto-Lita steering wheel ties in nicely with the other interior details. John Cooper gearknob above custom centre console, which is trimmed in leather, and more red stitching, with a carbon insert and leather gaiter. Mini Trimmings supplied the carpet set, along with the door cards and rear seat covers. The seats were bought from Cobra.
“...there is a fine line between being really good and over the top.”
The SPi Rover Mini Cooper was bought as a gift for Sam in 2015. It was driven for a while but lots of replacement panels were needed. Sam refurbished the subframes, which were in good condition.
Interior fit out: Many parts were bought using Sam's birthday money. Bodywork repairs were carried out by Sholing Service Station and Sam. A new front was required before Old Bones Fabrications painted the Mini.
Beefed up Mini Sport 4-pot billet calipers were fitted with 8.4" discs. Rear drums were replaced with Superfins. Gaz dampers are fitted. Rebuilt gearbox and tuned engine which now displaces 1310cc.
Repainted front end and engine bay makes the Mini look great all round. In the first phase of the Mini project the engine bay was not painted. The Mini achieved 75bhp at the crank on Regal Autosport's dyno.