Pretty Minis all in a row. Left to right: Schwartz/Lehrman, Brownell, Barker, Darisse.
Photo by Betty Lehrman
by Betty Lehrman
NATICK, Mass., Oct. 11 — The sky was a robin’s egg blue, the wind gentle and cool as we drove up to the Cole Recreation Center in Natick on Sunday morning. The parking lot was full. At first it was hard to tell which cars were there for the soccer practice and which for the drive, but as we looked closer we counted at least 40 classic cars and trucks of all vintages.
And of course, Minis. There were four classics and two modern MINIs in attendance, all owned by NEMO members. (Thanks to Paul Salnier for putting out the word on the Google group.)
We pulled our ’68 Mini Traveller in across from Bob Brownell’s green ’63 Austin Mini. Iain and Nuala Barker drove their green ’67 Mini Cooper S. Joe and Brenda Darrise brought a sweet red ’77 Mini 1000 with a British flag roof.
Wendy Birchmere drove her latest toy, a converted 2008 Red Bull MINI with built-in cooler compartments (the better to take your lunch leftovers in). Red Bull had converted 500 MINIs into rolling ads, removing the back seat, rear roof and trunk, and adding a giant can of Red Bull Energy Drink. Wendy’s car no longer has the giant can and looks a bit like a stubby pickup truck.
Completing the picture was Susan Read, who drove a Tardis blue MINI decorated with Doctor Who decals and little plastic ducks.
The drive was organized by a loose collection of folks in the suburbs west of Boston, and publicized through e-mails and website postings. Clearly, folks wanted to get out and drive on this beautiful fall day.
We especially admired the creamy white ’63 Studebaker Hawk, a red ’53 Ford F-100 pickup truck, and a souped-up red VW Karmann Ghia complete with red door handles and a red steering wheel. There were several hot rods and classic American cars from the ’30s through the ’60s, as well as muscle cars and pickup trucks.
Wendy Birchmere’s latest acquisition, a mildly customized, ex-Red Bull MINI promo vehicle (no giant can in the back).
Photo by David Schwartz
After the requisite drivers’ meeting led by Marlene Custodio, we drove east to Natick Center and then north on Rt. 27 through Natick, Wayland and Sudbury. From there we turned west onto Rt. 117, passing farms, fields, and quaint little town centers, trying not to disturb the apples at Bolton Orchard. (Their sign says, “Shh, the apples are sleeping.”) We rode into Lancaster, turned right onto Rt. 70, and headed for Kimball Farm.
Our Mini Traveller navigated the twists and turns well, and only smelled of burning oil on the uphills. As usual, we enjoyed the smiles and waves of pedestrians, bicyclists and shoppers as we drove past. It’s always fun to see young children do a double take as they spy a classic Mini — a car that seems to be made just for them.
There was plenty of parking at Kimball’s and lots of appreciative looks for all of the cars as we parked in the lot. The grill did a brisk seafood business with car owners, as did the ice cream windows. The many outdoor tables made it easy for everyone to stay comfortably apart while enjoying the scene. It was nice to support a local, seasonal business.
On the way home we stopped at Derby Ridge Farm in Stow to pick raspberries and buy local produce. Parked next to an SUV, our Mini looked impossibly small.
Then we drove to the Sudbury Valley Trustees Memorial Forest in Sudbury. We took a long walk through the woods, crossing streams and enjoying the red and gold leaves. As we emerged from the trees, a young girl and her father were on the path in front of us. The girl caught sight of our little car and was delighted.
All in all, it was a lovely day, despite the smell of burning oil!
Otto takes it easy on the Framingham Common.
Photo by David Schwartz
Auto (Otto) Parts Scarecrow
by Ken Lemoine
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — In conjunction with the Framingham Cultural District, there is an exhibition of scarecrows on the Framingham Common through November 1st. I was asked to create one for the Framingham History Center.
“Otto” has MG intake eyes, trim mustache, U-bolt legs and bumper over-rider knees, Fiamm horn ears, Autolite spark plug earrings, Model T horn mouth, brake hardware necklace, and power antenna arms.
A Virtual Holiday Get-together!
by David Schwartz
NEMO traditionally holds a holiday party the first weekend in December. Obviously, we won’t be able to have an in-person party this year — and we are long overdue for another on-line gathering, so I will e-mail a Zoom invitation for Sunday, December 6th, at 7:30 p.m.
If you have any ideas for on-line “party” activities, please send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Ideas we have received so far are for a Festive Outfit Contest, Weird Auto Parts Scavenger Hunt, Virtual Yankee Swap, and a Trivia Quiz (with NEMO and Mini questions).
The eldest Geoff takes a turn on the go-kart.
Photos by Liz Neiley & Geoff Neiley III
The Neiley Family Go-kart
by Barbara Neiley & Geoff Neilly III
Go, Grammy and Grampy!
Geoff (a/k/a Grampy) and I bought a go-kart back in the early 1960s before our children were born. Together with a friend from Winchester, Mass., who raced cars with SCCA for many years, we raced go-karts with a club that met at Hanscom Field in Bedford. The club laid out a temporary course on Sundays with cone markers on the pavement in front of an airplane hangar. The kart had a McCulloch MC20 engine and was capable of going 60mph. (Quite a thrill while traveling only 3” above the ground!)
Geoff raced in the “larger adult men’s” class (Geoff calls it the fat man’s class). However, the organizers took pity on me and allowed me to race with the “juniors.” Their karts were less powerful than ours so I had an advantage on the straight sides of the oval course. The ends of the oval had S-turns that required me to slow down in order to avoid spinning out. It worked as quite an equalizer!
The kart had no clutch and no starter, so starting the engine required lifting the rear wheels and running forward to drop the wheels while the kart was moving forward — not an easy task.
In the mid-1960s, our interests turned to our antique house, gardening, horseback riding, and eventually, children. The go-kart was stored away in the garage and didn’t see the light of day for at least 50 years. Finally, this summer, our son Geoff took it home for restoration. The “engineer in charge” writes about the restoration below.
The kart used to be quite a thrill to race. With our son’s modifications it will only go 25-30mph as all four of his children (ages 6, 9, 11 and 14) are allowed to drive it — even 6-year-old Brielle, who is very cautious and drives at approximately “idling” speed.
The MC20 engine has been replaced with a snowblower engine (with muffler) to make it suitable for the kids (and grandparents) to drive in a neighborhood. It doesn’t go 60mph anymore, but it’s still exciting going 30 mph only 3” above the ground.
Our son Geoff lives in Dunstable, Mass. (just south of Nashua, N.H.). He planned and supervised the restoration, and his two older kids, Geoffrey (age 11) and Allison (age 14), did a great deal of the work. Fortunately, he lives on a quiet dead-end street with very patient and sympathetic neighbors who do not object to the kart on the few occasions when it is driven. Our daughter, Liz, lives in Chelmsford and is an enthusiastic “Auntie Liz”!
Now Grammy Barbara is ready for a go!
The new yellow-and-black paint job just happens to match the 2002 MINI Cooper S that Grampy Geoff now drives, and the 1967 Mini Cooper S, for which Dave Black rebuilt the engine and completed the restoration work (left unfinished by a local body shop).
We joked last weekend about having a big MINI (2002), a little Mini (1967), and a Mini-mini (kart, early 1960s)! —BN
When my sister Liz and I were kids, we enjoyed trips to the family friend’s house where Dad had a couple cars stored — and the go-kart. It was fun climbing in the old cars, but the highlight was always sitting in the go-kart.
For some reason, this one was the closest to being something we could actually use. Cries of, “Can we take the go-kart home, please?” were always met with, “No, it goes too fast... it needs work... it is not a toy.” Truth was, we had so many other hobbies and activities, there just wasn’t room for one more.
The years went by and the kart moved to a new barn that our parents built after Liz and I moved away. More time flowed through the hourglass. Visits to Grammy’s house with my kids emulated our childhood visits, climbing in the old cars and ogling the go-kart. When they were old enough to realize they might be able drive such a toy, their cries rekindled our own. “Please, Dad, can we take the go-kart home and fix it up? Pleeeease?”
How could I deny my kids the same dreams of the go-kart as I’d had? And as a side benefit... I’d finally get to drive it!
So, during one visit to Grammy’s house, when my patient wife, Jen, was not present, we put the go-kart in the back of the minivan and the adventure began.
The first challenge was the engine. I knew the two-cycle MC20 was a beast, and it needed a jump start. I didn’t want the kart bombing down the road at 60mph in the neighborhood, and I was surely not push-starting it for everyone, especially with no one big enough to push start it for me!
So I started looking for a more reasonable engine. A few searches on Facebook Marketplace and I found an old 8hp Tecumseh M80 four-cycle snowblower engine for sale for $25. It was only 20 minutes away. What a cheap adventure this would be!
The clean-up and disassembly began right away. Allison (14) and Geoffrey IV (11) were ready for the challenge. With wrenches in hand, we removed the MC20, the fuel tank, chain and sprocket. Everything was going according to plan.
We needed a clutch and a carburetor for the snowblower engine. The exhaust was junk, too, and I thought it would be cool to replace it with a pipe-style muffler. The M80 has a large shaft, so the clutch required a larger chain and larger sprocket. After some research and handy on-line calculators, I determined the drive sprocket size so we would not exceed 22mph. Perfect.
A go-kart all the kids (regardless of age) can enjoy!
Soon, though, Murphy’s Law caught up with us. The M80 is quite a bit larger than the MC20 and we would need a new motor mount. To replace the motor mount, we needed to remove the rear axle. All the bearings and collets were seized on the aluminum shaft. Back on-line to get a new shaft and bearings.
With the old shaft Sawzalled out, we were free to restore the frame. The kids had narrowed the colors down to black-and-green or black-and-yellow. The deciding factor was that yellow would be a tribute to Grampy’s Minis. Allison and Geoffrey went into the restoration with abandon — steel wool, sandpaper, painter’s tape, dropcloths and spray paint. Once the motor cowlings were removed and wheels disassembled, painting and polishing took center stage.
Delivery trucks cycled through the driveway. The parts continued to arrive and the project marched on (and the budget continued to melt down).
One factor continually amazed me throughout the restoration. Most of the old parts and features had not changed in 60 years! The same three-point bearing housings still fit the frame the sprocket hole pattern matched the old sprocket mount the shaft location on the motor mount lined up with the frame dimensions the shaft ends fit the wheels. It was a testament to the efficient design established two or three generations earlier.
The biggest challenge we had was the throttle cable. The new motor’s carburetor was in a different location than on the MC20, so we went to work with a replacement lawn mower throttle cable from Home Depot, my new angle-grinder, some steel bar and a 3D printer! (For the record, we already had the 3D printer. I did not buy it for this project.)
Finally, as we were installing the chain, the kart up on saw horses, my intermittently-observant son said, “It looks like the chain is going to hit the ground.”
Ugh. He was right. My calculations neglected to compare the drive sprocket radius with the wheel radius. Placing the almost complete kart on the ground for the first time, we had a fulcrum teetering on the sprocket. Back to the Internet, then a wait for the delivery truck. Much to my chagrin, the new sprocket gave a new top speed of 32mph.
We were ready for the moment of truth: Would the engine start? Full choke, one pump, two on the primer bulb. A hearty pull of the pull-start and... she turned over. It looked promising. A couple more pulls and she roared to life, flames escaping from the new exhaust. Brilliant! We were ecstatic!
The pride and joy shining from my kids’ faces as they took their first turns in the go-kart were memories to last us all a lifetime. A project, an adventure, the work, the waiting — the cost! — all resulted in this achievement. Not only did they have a go-kart, but they truly felt pride in restoring a relic that once carried Grammy and Grampy, one that Dad and Auntie Liz had only dreamed about. They made it real for all three generations.
The expression on their faces was priceless as Grampy and then Grammy were gingerly lowered into the driver’s seat by their adult children. The wind and the joy in their grandparents’ faces as they sped past the family down Swallow Lane was magical.
What a joy. What an adventure. What an experience. What a life. —GN
Did Danica Patrick start out like this? (Granddaughter Brielle.)
by David Schwartz
I was inspired to run this article after watching driving videos posted on Barbara Neiley’s Facebook page. Daughter Liz shot the video and commented, “My brother Geoff fixed up the old racing go-kart that Grammy Barbara used to race before we were born. So, what’s the best thing about it? Watching Grammy race it up and down the street 50 years later. Being 83 doesn’t stop her!
“Not to be outdone by Grammy, here comes Grampy! Being 85 doesn’t stop him, either. He has the smile of a little kid!”
Watching the videos put a huge smile on my face as well. Four generations of Neiley men are named Geoffrey, with NEMO’s Geoff (Grampy) being “Junior.” Grammy and Grampy are long-time NEMO members.
Nuala Barker helps dad Iain put everything together.
Photos by Iain Barker
Social Distancing, Workshop Style, Continues
by Iain Barker
Part 5 — Clutch and flywheel
Well, we’re still under the COVID lockdown, but at least it means I have enough spare time to finish up this project.
The last major pieces required to complete the Cooper S engine build were a flywheel and clutch assembly. The gearbox casing I bought nearly two years ago came as a bare casting, so all the mechanical clutch linkage parts were missing. Finding the correct parts and rebuilding that assembly is the topic this month. It was also a good opportunity for more hands-on home schooling for my 7-year-old daughter, Nuala.
As with the previous installments, my focus was to use genuine original 1960s parts wherever possible. That’s partly because I want the finished engine to be as authentic as possible, but also because modern reproduction parts vary wildly in quality whereas “New Old Stock” (NOS) parts were, by definition, made in-period to the correct specification.
A good example of this problem is the clutch release bearing. The original design for the Mini clutch uses a thrust bearing designed to take load at right angles to its rotation — i.e., it’s designed to push against the face of the clutch spring.
The modern replacement clutch release bearings are a repurposed heavy-duty version of a regular bearing, and are a common failure point on A Series engines as they are not intended to provide lateral thrust. I had exactly this failure on a Mini in the 1990s, where the center portion of the bearing separated from the outer race and pushed into the flywheel. Not wanting to repeat that debacle, (driving a car home with no clutch is not a fun experience), I preferred to use a genuine thrust bearing.
But 50-plus-year-old original BMC bearings are impossibly hard to source! However, after a month or so of trawling the web I managed to locate a 1970s British Leyland version of the bearing from the British Car Company in Houston, Tex., still complete in its original waxed sheet packaging.
I’ve also been wary of the low-quality rubber used in some modern reproduction Mini parts, such as engine mounts — either too hard, resulting in harsh vibration, or too soft, resulting in short service life. I decided to try the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) route, as unlike many of the generic parts that tend to degrade within a year or less, rubber parts from Japan have a good reputation for longevity. David Ainley at Classic Minis Japan, Tokyo, is an exporter for JDM parts and was able to provide a pair of heavy-duty engine mounts. In spite of the fact that Tokyo is half a planet away from Boston, the parts arrived within two days.
The next major components to locate were a suitable flywheel and clutch assembly. Two clutch designs were used on Minis: “Verto” for the later A+ engines, and the retronym “pre-Verto” for the original A Series type. Both were manufactured by Automotive Products (AP) in the U.K., but the pre-Verto clutch spring diaphragms have been out of manufacture for the last few years due to AP scrapping the obsolete tooling in 2018. For a while it was impossible to get new clutch springs for older Minis. Fortunately, pattern tooling from the U.S. manufacturer Borg & Beck is now being used to supply new stock.
Clutch parts courtesy Borg & Beck.
As with many engine components, the flywheel specification used on the Cooper S is improved compared to mainstream production cars. Standard Mini engines use a one-part solid cast iron flywheel, but the Cooper uses a cast flywheel mass with a separate high-grade SG steel used for the hub. This helps avoid the problems experienced during racing and rallying whereby flywheels “weld” themselves onto the crankshaft at high rpms.
Of course, such exotica are no longer available new — there are solid billet “race-spec” flywheels available from the Mini tuning companies to address the same problem, but at several hundred dollars they are well outside my budget. Besides, I’m trying to build to the original 1960s specification.
After much searching, I found a suitable S flywheel assembly on eBay U.K., but unfortunately it was listed for in-person pickup only. Weeks passed until I managed to find another — ironically from the same vendor (Min-e-bitz U.K.) where I had purchased the crankshaft. Why didn’t I think of that in the first place? Duh!
After a week or so, the flywheel arrived and fit perfectly on the S crank tail. In fact, it could even have been taken off the same engine as the crank, given the low numbers of such engines which are parted out for spares!
The flywheel had some heavy surface corrosion and looked more like someone used it as a boat anchor. Fortunately, it was not cracked, and importantly, the clutch friction surfaces were unaffected by the rust. I cleaned off the worst of the crusty metal flakes using a wire brush and chisel, then soaked the bare metal in a solution of CLR to remove most of the remaining surface rust.
Before fitting the flywheel to the crank, a new primary oil seal must be fitted to the transfer gear housing. This is another common failure point on Mini engines. Oil leaking onto the clutch is usually caused by cuts in the seal due to the splines of the primary transfer gear over which the seal has to slide during installation. On previous engine builds I have pressed the oil seal into the housing before installing it on the engine, and then used painter’s tape to cover the splines. But there is a bespoke service tool for this job, and it has the advantage that it can insert the seal with the transfer gear housing already fitted onto the engine.
Nuala with completed clutch linkage assembly.
So, always up for something new, I decided to purchase the proper tool for this build. Happily, I can report that it makes what was previously a very tedious and nerve-wracking process into a trivial task. Just slide the thin protective metal sheath over the primary gear splines, then use the second larger-circumference part of the tool to drive the oil seal over the sheath and into the housing. Rather than having to dolly around the edge of the seal to seat it, the tool makes use of the crankshaft bolt to push the seal home, and ensures it is dead parallel to the crank. Then simply remove both parts of the tool — job done.
I wish I had bought this tool many years ago. It could have saved countless hours on the dozen or more Mini engines that I’ve rebuilt.
The clutch release arm on a Mini works at a ratio of over 5:1, so any minor wear on the linkage quickly adds up and results in a “low” clutch pedal. To avoid this, I found a good used original clutch arm on eBay U.K., plus the previously mentioned NOS release bearing. The final assembly of the linkage was to be done using all new premium parts — clutch slave cylinder push rod, EN24T hardened steel flywheel keyway and plunger, clevis pins, and throw-out adjuster double nut — all from Mini Spares U.K.
I mentioned home-schooling for Nuala. Finding new and interesting ways to keep her engaged during the school closure has been a challenge — but since these clutch parts are all shiny new and clean, what better project could there be for a bored kid to take on?
So it was that we cleared a space on the rug and I presented her with a pile of Mini Spares bags, and a printed page from the workshop manual showing the whole assembly. Good luck! Well, it turns out that she is a natural. With just a little guidance she was able to completely assemble the clutch arm and its linkage, with the only help from me being cutting and bending the split pin ends.
With the new Borg & Beck clutch plate and spring fitted to the flywheel, main flywheel bolt torqued and its lock-tab set, Nuala bolted on the clutch cover “wok” (common U.K. nickname) assembly and the new engine mounts. The rebuilt engine and gearbox are now complete, ready for installation into the car.
Classic cars take their places at Larz Anderson’s improvised drive-in.
Photo by Iain Barker
‘Wheels & Reels’ at LAAM
by Wendy Birchmire
BROOKLINE, Mass. — The Larz Anderson Auto Museum (LAAM) cancelled all lawn and Cars & Coffee events for the 2020 season, so they came up with another use for the Great Lawn. I received an e-mail that LAAM would hold a “Wheels & Reels” night on July 11th at 8:30 p.m. They were selling 50 tickets to owners of classic cars from the 1970s or older.
They asked if I would prefer to see Grease, Le Mans 1971, Fast and Furious, or The Italian Job. The obvious answer from a Mini owner was The Italian Job, with its thrilling car chase scenes. Others clearly agreed since that movie was selected.
The next e-mail asked whether I would prefer the original 1969 version or the 2003 remake, and why. The original, of course! The original received 57% of the votes and the remake 43%.
I sent in the $25 fee, which allowed me to bring up to four guests. Quite a bargain given the going rate of movies.
I arrived at the Museum and was greeted by a staff member who verified that I brought the registered car. I was shown to a parking space and told that masks had to be worn everywhere on the grounds. Classic Minis were placed in spaces close to the screen. Restrooms were open for one person or family at a time, and plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers were available. The LAAM staff got it right when they planned this event!
After parking my 1973 Union Jack Mini 1000 I looked around for familiar faces. There was Iain Barker and his daughter Nuala, along with their Mk1 Cooper S. How nice to be able to chat with them.
There were two other Minis present, a Mk3 Mini 1000 and another Mk1 Cooper S. I quickly went over to check out the other cars. Everyone milled around, admired the cars, and chatted with friends and newly-made friends for almost an hour.
I couldn’t figure out where they were going to show the movie since there was no screen. Then a generator started and inflated a 40-ft. screen. I’ve seen lawn ornaments inflated like this, but never a huge screen. Luckily, the screen was anchored to the ground because the wind was blowing. This kept the temperature in the 70s and made for a perfect night to view an outdoor movie.
Many people chose to watch from inside their cars and the people next to me even donned a blanket. I didn’t feel it was cold, so my friend and I set up lawn chairs and sat outside. Since my Mini lacks a radio, we brought a boom box to hear the movie soundtrack. Although the sky looked threatening for the entire event, no rain fell.
At the appointed hour we were told to turn our radios to 89.5 to receive audio for the movie. After announcements and a thank you to the event’s sponsors, it was on to the movie.
The Italian Job has been called “the quintessential British caper film of the 1960s, featuring Michael Caine, and an infamous chase scene.” It was quite a scene, too, with Minis jumping off ramps, driving down stairs, screeching through narrow streets, etc. I was sorry when the movie ended.
It was enjoyable to be so nicely entertained outside. I hope they hold another Wheels & Reels night.
Erikson’s Ice Cream Run
by David Schwartz
MAYNARD, Mass. — The Boston Area MG Club held a drive in late spring that started and ended at Erikson’s Ice Cream in Maynard.
Gerry Lodge led the group on a 70-minute back-roads tour through Acton, Carlisle, Concord, Sudbury and Maynard. There were at least 15 participants, including NEMO members Ken Lemoine and John Gallagher. Ken drove his Jaguar XK150 and John drove his MINI.
There was rain in the forecast, and the wipers in my Mini are sticking, so I borrowed Betty’s Miata (yes, a number of people called me out on that). People wore masks, and Erikson’s employees directed traffic in the take- out line and at the windows.
It was a fun drive, and the black raspberry ice cream was terrific.