A wolf in sheep's clothing and a giant-killer on the track, the Cooper's most famous racing victory came in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rallye

The story of the original BMC Mini is long and complicated, and there were countless versions produced during the car's 40-year run. But Sir Alec Issigonis' innovative design, which combined a transverse-mounted engine with front wheel drive and wheels pushed out to the extreme corners of the car, revolutionized thinking about vehicle design and space utilization.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to the fundamental soundness of the layout of the car is BMW's new Mini, which is a faithful, if enlarged, replication of the original concept. And while the new Mini has been a clear success and the car of choice for those looking for something both affordable and fun, for a collector, the best thing the new Mini has done is call attention to the original.
Though the original Mini was a sales disaster in a 1960s U.S. market that was in love with big-block V8s, thousands of the cars have been imported in the past few years. In fact, there has never been a better time to go Mini shopping in America.
The most desirable Minis are the Cooper models. In 1961, Formula One wizard John Cooper saw the innovative little car as an ideal racing and rally platform. Its short, 80-inch wheelbase and the wheels' positioning at the extreme corners of the chassis gave the Mini excellent handling characteristics. Cooper added disc brakes, wider wheels, a better gear-change and a hotter motor, and the Mini Cooper was born. Add a larger engine and some other modifications and you have the ultimate Mini, the Cooper S. A wolf in sheep's clothing and a giant-killer on the track, the Cooper's most famous racing victory came, with Paddy Hopkirk at the wheel, in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rallye.
The Cooper and Cooper S are indeed two of the most fun-to-drive cars of the 1960s, yet they're usually overlooked by enthusiasts. True, MGBs and Jaguar XKEs are sexier, but the Mini Cooper offers great bang for the buck and can be terrific fun in the winter as you toss them around in the snow, something rarely said about other cars from that period.
The mechanicals of the Mini are based on other A series-powered cars like the Spridget or Morris Minor, so they're nearly indestructible. The Mini was offered with many different engine sizes, but Coopers were sold with either 997-cc motors or, later, 998-cc units. Cooper S models started life in 1963 with a 1071-cc motor and were later offered with both a 970-cc and 1275-cc engine. Both of these later engines share the same bore, differing only in stroke; the 1275-cc version is the most sought after.
Though prices were higher on this side of the pond for many years, the increased interest brought on by the current Mini craze has created more competition and some surprising deals. (Just look on eBay Motors under Mini and you'll be surprised at how many cars pop up.)
On the other hand, there are now more uninformed buyers shopping for old Minis as if they're a pair of shoes. There are also plenty of unscrupulous sellers, often hawking merchandise from overseas, who are more than willing to take advantage of newbie innocence.
Minis were produced in the U.K. until 2000, so many late-model cars have been imported by switching VIN numbers and titles with junkyard cars. Know that fuel-injected Coopers did not exist in the 1960s, and you may have a liability on your hands if your DMV finds you in possession of one. Just having a title saying that your car was built in 1967 may not be enough to satisfy your local clerk, if your car is actually a '90s model.
Mini bodies melt when they come into contact with moisture. They rust with a vengeance and are notorious for having leaky floor pans. Since most cars you'll be looking at were imported after a hard life in the U.K., don't buy anything without checking over the entire body with a magnet. The good news is nearly every part is available from a multitude of suppliers, so anything is fixable. Even complete new body shells can be had.
There are many good books available on the Cooper and Cooper S, so do your homework. Coopers are easy to fake, and there is a significant value difference between real and converted cars. Normal cars with larger 1275-cc engine transplants can be found for as little as $5,000; while these offer cheap Mini thrills, they're not the real deal and you don't want to pay S money for a fake. Good, authentic, Coopers sell in the $9,000-$15,000 range with Cooper S models commanding up to $24,000.
While Coopers will never be top-flight collectibles, they're a perfect introduction to the world of car collecting, a fun-to-drive vintage machine that usually draws a crowd. And if anyone makes fun of your diminutive new toy, just remind them that even Enzo Ferrari once owned one.

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