Witney, Oxfordshire - As the classic car movement continues to accelerate, and values of iconic models such as the Ford Mustang, Jaguar E-Type and the original Mini increase exponentially, restorers run into a huge problem.
Engines can be rebuilt, and practically every electrical and suspension part for these classics is available off the shelf (at a price!) but if the sheet-metal body shell is too badly rusted, the car really isn’t worth spending money on - and the salvageable body shells have nearly all been salvaged.
Ford has recognised this and produces brand-new, original 1964½ Mustang fastback and convertible bodies, using the original tooling, as part of its Ford Restoration Parts program.
And, as far back as 1975, a group of British sports-car enthusiasts formed British Motor Heritage to make replacement body panels - and later, complete body shells - for important British models such as the MGB, Austin Healey Sprite, Triumph TR6 and, more recently, for Leyland Minis from 1976 onwards - using the original tooling whenever possible.
But the Holy Grail of Minis is, of course, the original, 850cc Mk1 of 1959/1960 - and usable body shells for those are getting very, very hard to find. Worse still, those early examples differed in several respects from the later MK1 Minis, and the anoraks will soon spot if you’ve built up an ‘early’ Mini on a later bodyshell.
So now, BMH has begun production of Mk1 Mini body shells, with the authentic smaller, sliding-window doors on external hinges, early-style rear side windows, and front and rear parcel shelves.
It plans to make 15 bodies, starting in April 2017, for delivery in May and June, at a cost of £9950 (R165 000) each - almost exactly 20 times the cost of a complete Mini at its launch in 1959 - and expects to sell most of the first batch to historic racers. That they will be allowed to use them for historic racing is a tribute to the authenticity of the BMH body shells.