THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.9
  September 2000

Vol.2 Home Page | Index Page

Home Restoration.
The Body Shell.

The Mini body shell is one of the most simple still in production - the entire front of car is built from only five panels. It is a semi-monocoque steel shell with subframes bolted in the front and rear that support the running gear. Most of the body seams are external, giving the Mini a distinctive style, not to mention greatly reducing the cost and difficulty of manufacturing. All panels are spot-welded together; panels may be replaced by parting the spot welds at the seams and spot welding or plug welding in new panels.

Many changes have been made to the body shell, particularly in the early years of production. However, the overall form and dimensions of the car remain unchanged to this day.

Buying Replacement Body Panels:
There are two types of panel - genuine and pattern. There is a huge market in the reproduction of panels ("pattern panels") and there are many low quality manufacturers. Sadly, if they took more care in making their dies, their panels would fit perfectly and provide an excellent source of otherwise unobtainable panels. Usually, they are made of thin steel and require considerable reshaping to fit, and locating holes are drilled in the wrong places.

Where possible, use Rover body panels, available from Rover dealers worldwide at fair prices. Beware that stocks of panels for old models are steadily drying up. New-old stock is often available to those prepared to do a lot of intensive searching among the old BMC dealers in various parts of the world, and these are worth their weight in gold. Often, it is possible to modify panels that have been altered over the years, to suit an older car, usually by welding up or drilling any holes British Leyland saw fit to add or remove. Many panels currently available from Rover will suit models dating from 1959. However, as BMC/BL/Rover has worked through several sets of body panel dies over the decades, minor shape variations in contour and shape exist. The fit of the panels is still excellent though.

British Motor Heritage is the second-best source of panels. Many of their panels are made from the original dies and the quality is assured. These panels are available from selected dealers here in Australia.

If the brand name is not specified, beware. Only buy pattern panels from a reputable shop with experience fitting them, so they know they can be made to fit with a minimum of hassle. If you have far more time than money, it is possible to hand-fabricate large patch areas for rust holes and butt-weld them in. This is a rare skill, and considering that Mini panels are amazingly cheap, hardly worthwhile except for the experience. Beware of "cover sills". These sills extend to the level of the floorpan and are designed to cover over the rusty sill underneath. They are worse than useless and a car featuring these is worth less.

Principles of Mini Welding.
There are several simple but important principles to adhere to when replacing large sections or panels on a Mini:

 Always check new panels for fit. If you replace a wing, clamp the new wing in place and check that the bonnet still shuts properly, before welding. If you replace all the front-end panels, clamp them all together before welding, and check the bonnet and doors for fit. Adjust until the bonnet fits, and if the doors no longer fit your A-panels are probably not quite lined up. More than one restorer has rebuilt the front end only to find that the bonnet falls in through it.

 Leave the subframes in. It is vital to leave the subframes in during all body surgery. Especially with front end rebuilds, if the front subframe is not present it is guaranteed not to fit into the new mounts that have very little chance of automatically being in the right position. If you are doing major surgery, it helps to take the engine out. Removing 150kg from the front of a 650kg car reduces shell distortion.

 Leave the doors in. This is vital for work on the A-panels, door steps or floor. If the doors are left in, they can be used to check that panels are lined up. They will not shut properly with an even gap if your panels are not lined up, and if the doors are not on the shell you will not know about this until you have made your repairs permanent. If your shell is in such a bad state that the doors are not secure, measure the diagonals and outside dimensions of the door frames and ideally cross brace the door frames to prevent distortion.

 Don't remove too much of the floor at once. In general, you must jig the car if you intend to remove the entire inner and outer sill on one side, both outer sills, or more than half of the floor pan at once. If you are removing half a floor pan, jigging can be as simple as supporting the other half on a non-flexible, level beam. If you are removing more than that, you will need to weld in cross braces or use a jig to prevent distortion. I will expand on this topic when I get to this point in my restoration.

 Put the car on axle stands. Jack the car up off the ground, preferably under the four suspension points, and make sure the car is level. If the car is on its old suspension and old tyres, it may be very prone to twist if areas of metal are cut out of it.

 If the roof is rusty chop it off. There is no point in trying to repair rust in the upper door pillars, roof gutter or roof seams. It is far more practical to chop a roof off a scrap Mini through the door and window pillars, then weld it on to your car.