Bloody Mari: The Mini Cooper from bloody hell!

Author: mirai  //  Category: Cars and Racing, Life in general

A few weeks ago, my cousin and I took another trip to Kyoto to take a look at a 1992 Rover Mini Cooper (not the wannabe BMW MINI – but the real deal) that we found on sale on the internet.  The car looked absolutely  beautiful and was already raced prepped by the owner.  It included (among several other modifications)  S rated race tires, a stiff race suspension that allows you adjust the ride height, a centrally positioned sports exhaust, a padded roll cage, weber carb, and the interior had been completed gutted to save weight.  It couldn’t be any closer to what we were looking for, and the price was only slightly more than our original budget.  The only thing that it didn’t have that we were looking for was 10″ wheels.  It had 12″ wheels instead.  But after careful thought, although 10″ wheels looked cool on the Mini, having 12″ers may be more practical for racing purposes.  Bigger wheels means we can use bigger brake disks for better stopping power.

After 2 and half hours on the Shinkansen, we arrived at Kyoto station, where we were picked up by the owner in a car that didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before.  The owner said that it was a Subaru Impreza, but the body had been highly modified to make it look like something else (don’t know what though).  I was impressed by the body work but I can’t say that I liked the new look.  For each is own, I suppose.

The owner drove us to his garage where our soon to be Mini was beautifully perched in front of a large glass display with its hood open.  It was so immaculate that it looked like a show car.  Mini’s are nortorious for rust, especially in the trunk area.  The one we saw previously was so badly rusted that we passed on it.  Weaknesses in the body could ultimately lead to handling problems on the track.  My cousin has a good eye for spotting flaws and he couldn’t find any significant rust on the car. 

Rustless trunk of the Cooper.

The owner started the car for us, and it started on the first try.  For a 1275cc engine, the car was LOUD.  It’s much louder than my Integra, and the revs sounded really mean. 

We all took the classic Mini out for a test drive.  I went first, and I must say driving that Mini for the first time was an experience like no other.  I thought that the Integra was unrefined, but compared to the Mini, the Integra was like a limousine ride.  Even the slightest bumps and inperfections in the road felt like we were driving over boulders.  The steering wheel position was very odd in that it was a lot more higher than other cars.  It felt as I were driving a bus.  The gear shift position was even more odd in that it’s only a few inches away from the steering wheel, like somewhat that of a rally car.  Of course, the Mini does not come like this from the Rover factory; it was all modified like that for one purpose only: racing!

The unrefined bumpy ride, the vibration of the 1275cc A-Series engine, the odd positioning of the steering wheel and gear shifter, the obnoxiously loud engine exhaust, the smell of gasoline fumes filling up the cockpit, and the go-kart like seat position all took a grand total of 10 seconds to get use to, because once the Mini got going, it was sheer FUN!

After my test drive was over, it was my cousins turn to test it.  Being a relatively new driver, having only had his drivers license for a little over a year, he was a little reluctant at first.  But like me, once he got the hang of it, he agreed that we had to have this car in our fleet.

So after plopping down a combined total of 353,000 yen (about $3500USD), we became the new proud owners of a shiney red, but not so new, Mini Cooper. 

For some reason, my cousin was still somewhat reluctanct to drive the Mini, so I drove the first leg of the would be 4 and half hour trip home.  The Mini was a trooper.  Despite having only 1275cc’s, the lighten chassis accelerated quite quickly.  But we both soon learned that taking the Mini anything past 100km/h meant unbearibly loud cabin noise.  It was so loud that everything else took a back seat to it.  So for most of the trip, we kept the car at a modest 90km/h which produced only a loud roar.

About 40 minutes into the trip, we encounter our first problem.  The rubber seal on the front windshield started failing which caused a leak on the passenger side.  Since it was raining quite heavily that day, water was seeping in at a fairly good rate.

At first, I though it was pretty minor so I told my cousin to just grin and bear it, until we get to Nagoya (our scheduled first stop).  But about 10 minutes later, it became apparent that an unscheduled pit stop is inevitable.  So we pulled into a service area so we could assess how bad the problem really was.

I was able to get a better look at the situation after we were parked, and I must say that I was pretty surprised.  Rivers of rain water was streaming down to the floor, creating a quite an impressive sized flood on the floor.  Since the car was gutted and had no dashboard, some of the electrical wiring and the fuse box was exposed.  I was quite concerned that the water would short out the electrical systems, so we started bailing out the water as if we were on a sinking row boat taking on water.

We went into the service area gift shop in search of some towels, or at least something to plug up the leak, but all that they had were gift towels which we thought was a bit wasteful.  So we wound up steeling rolls of toilet paper from the restrooms to tie us over until our next scheduled stop.


The Mini parked at the first rest stop

After drying off the interior and plugging up the leaky front windshield with some toilet paper, we were on our way again.  We drove though tough weather which caused the windshield to fog up quite furiously, almost to the point of zero visibility at times.  The car did have a defogger/defroster, but since the dashboard was removed with the ventilation system along with it, it was absolutely useless.  The only way around it was to keep the windows open, which is not ideal when its raining outside.

So after fighting with a foggy windshield, and rain and wind splashing in my face while driving, we finally made it to Nagoya about an hour and half later.  It was just in time too, because my cousin had went through two large rolls of toilet paper and the car was starting to flood up again.

We disposed of the huge wads of wet toilet paper that my cousin had been throwing in the back seat and grabbed some food to eat at the service area restaurant.  The restaurant was completely self service, so we had to wipe the tables ourselves with these little towels that the restauranted provided.  I grabbed tree of these towels so that we didn’t have to waste toilet paper.  It would be good enough for the rest of the trip.

After hanging out for about 30 minutes or so, it was time to go.  We got back to our Mini.  This time it was my cousin’s turn to drive, and my turn to handle the leaks.  But we soon found that we had another problem on our hands.

When my cousin went to start the 1275cc A-series engine, it was a no go.  The care just didn’t want to continue.  Since this was my cousin’s first time driving a car with a carburated engine, I figured that he may have flooded the engine by giving it too much fuel.  i popped the hood and opened the cap on the Weber carb to let some air into it, in the hopes of evaporating some of the excess fuel out.  From my experience with driving a Toyota with a carb engine back when I was in college, I knew that pumping the gas too much could cause the car to not want to start unless the fuel/air ratio is back to normal.  Nowadays, almost all cars are fuel injected, and regulated by onboard ECU’s, so this rarely happens on modern cars.

After about 20 minutes of waiting, we gave it another go, and presto! the mini came back to life.  And once again were on our way.

The rain leak being plugged up by a stolen table rag. 

 We drove for another few hours and decided to get off at another service area at parts-unknown for a break.  We figured we were somewhere in Shizuoka, but not sure exactly where.  We didn’t plan to stay too long; just long enough to dry off a bit, defog the windshield, and change drivers.  I left the engine running, and in the hopes of drying off the interior a bit more quicker, turned on the heater full blast.  About 3 seconds after I turned on the heater, a huge plume of white smoke poored out from where it seemed like to be from under the hood, but the smoke also filled up the cabin.  A half a second later, the car engine stalled.  My cousin and I had the exact same thought, this is NOT good.

I immediately tried to restart the car, but after several failed attempts, it became apparent that this car wasn’t going anywhere soon.  We both went into the service area restaurant to discuss what to do over a light snack.  We were still a quite a distance away from home, so towing would be VERY expensive. 

After talking it over we decided that although neither of us knew anything about the mechanics of this car, that we’d pop the hood and see if we could spot the problem.

We got back to the Mini and popped the hood. I opened up the carb again to let some air into the intake tract.  My cousin wipe down the interior to make absolutely sure that water wasn’t shorting any on the electical conponents.  I don’t know which did the trick but the Mini started right back up as if nothing had happened.

The 1275cc A series engine

I drove the last leg of the trip which was a good 150km.  Thoroughly exhausted and cold, we were both anxious to get home, so I decided to bare the blaring exhaust noise, and crank up the speed a bit.  By this point, we were so exhausted that then noise no longer bothered us.  As a matter of fact, I saw as a means of keeping me awake.

After nearly 6 hours of driving, we finally entered Kanagawa prefecture,  and were in the home stretch.   Another 30km, and we will be home.  The temperamental Mini was humming along at a good pace.  We decided that before we go home, we’d stop one last time to clean and dry off the interior a bit, so we pulled into a service area in Ebina.

We took a restroom break, threw out the trash and wiped up the excess water from the widshield.  And just when it was time to go home, it happened….AGAIN!  A huge plume of smoke out of the engine bay.  This time we thought we knew what the fix was.  Dry off, opened the carb and wait a few minutes.  But this time it didn’t work.

We waited in the restaurant for an hour and tried again.  No luck.  Same deal as before.  We waited another hour and tried again…same deal.  My cousin and I feared the worst, and though that the Mini has had it.  Nothing we did helped, and unlike before, the car showed no signs of wanting to start.

It was already 10pm.  And although the service are was open 24 hours, the trains weren’t.  We had to make the decision of whether to keep trying in the hopes that she’d come back to life, or to count our losses and call it a night.  We eventually decided to abandon the Mini and take the train home.

The Next Morning, 8AM (more rain)

My cousin had to work the next moring, so I decided to head out to the service area where we ditched our crippled Mini the night before.  And like the night before, the Mini showed no signs of wanting to start.  I fiddled with everything that I could see, but to no avail.

After about an hour or so, I figured it was time to excersize the emergency plan. I emailed my cousin and explained to him that the situation hadn’t changed and that we should consider having the car towed.  From work, my cousin called around to find the least expensive towing company who could come out on a Sunday afternoon.   Unfortunately most of them were either unavailable or charged upwards of 35,000 or about $350USD.  There were a couple of places that rented out flatbeds, neither my cousin nor I had experience operating the towing mechanism on a flat bed.  One wrong move could cause serious damage to the car, the truck, or someone else’s car should the car slide off on the expressway.

We ultimately decided to go out to the service area once again, this time armed with some tools and a can of WD40, to try starting the car once again.  And if all else fails, we’d call an emergency towing service the next day.

I met my cousin at the train station after he finished work, and drove out to the service area in my Forester.  The Mini was still in the same spot as we left it the night before.  I figured that before we shell out 35,000 yen for a towing company, I want to exhaust all possibilites of getting this car moving again.  An luckly for us, my tenaciousness paid off.

The rain had stopped, and the conditions were quite dry.  We popped the hood, and there were droplets of water everywhere from the many times we opened and closed the hood in efforts to revive the dead Mini.  Our first task was to COMPLETELY dry out the car.  My cousin did the interior, I did the engine. 

After several minutes of wiping and drying, next was to dry out the carburater of excess fuel.  WD40 is excellent for this.  I sprayed a bit all over the opening of he carb, and waited a few minutes.  After we were satisfied that the engine was free of excess fuel and water, we gave it another turn of the key.  This time the engine rumbled as if it wanted to start.  We tried several more times and with each try the engine was getting closer to starting until it finally turned over.  YES!  It wasn’t dead afterall.

But, we celebrated a bit to early because it stalled it again. But unlike before, it would start up again right away, but then stall again.

I checked under the hood again to see if there were anymore droplets that may be hindering the electrical signal from the distributor to the engine.  I unplugged each spark plug cable and cleaned them throroughly and even cleand the connections on the ignition coil.  We gave it another start, and it started up right away and kept it idle.  But about 30 seconds later, it stalled again.  Things were getting better but we weren’t quick there yet.

My cousin grabbed one of the stolen table rags and a screwdriver, and practically polished the connections on the ignition coil, freeing it from any sign of water, grease, and dirt.

After about 5 minutes of practically overhauling the engine, we gave it a final go.  It fired up right away, and we let it idle for a good 15 minutes.  Looks like we got it this time!

After 2 days, we finally got the Mini home.  It was hell! Or as the British would say, Bloody hell! So I decieded to call our Mini, Bloody Mari. Mari being a Japanese Girl’s name. 

Suffisive to say, our girl doesn’t like water which is kind of odd coming from a country where they get a lot of rainfall.  At any rate, Bloody Mari is here, and she’ll be ready for the course soon.

Tomorrow is Mini Day!

Author: mirai  //  Category: Cars and Racing, Life in general

Tomorrow, my cousin and I will be heading to Kyoto to pick up out shiny red Mini Cooper.  I just hope it looks as beautiful as it does in the pictures.  The trip to Kyoto will be via Shinkansen, but we will be driving back.  The last time we were there, it took us 4 hours one way in my Forester, and admittedly, I was making pretty good pace.  The Mini, being far less refined and confortable will be a rough trip back, but I will have all day Sunday to recover….hopefully.