Modified 1983 Mini Van

Modified 1983 Mini Van

Many clever, subtle mods for this cool Van.Mark Deakin has spent decades honing his impressive Mini-modifying skills. His Van is a stunning showcase for his experience, vision and attention to detail. Words: Karen Drury. Photos: Jim Jupp.

1983 Mini Van Craft y custom tweaks and invisible wiring plus tuned 998cc twin-carb motor.


“I don’t like the modifications to shout at you. Less is more.”

Mark Deakin was only 14 when he bought his first Mini. “It was a genuine Mk1 Mini Cooper. I bought it as a restoration project. I’m the youngest, with five brothers who are all into cars and motorbikes, so my passion came from them. One brother had a Mk1 Mini and it was a car I always liked. During school I wanted to do a bit of a project. A Mini came up in the local paper, a genuine Mini Cooper Mk1 in Island Blue with a Snowberry White roof.” Sadly, once Mark started to work on it, it became apparent that it was too much for a novice to take on. “It was rotten.

Modified 1983 Mini Van

I ended up buying another bodyshell and basically spent the next few years building my Mini into it. I passed my driving test and that was my first car.” A friend of one of Mark’s brothers was into Minis and rebuilt a Mk1 Cooper S which inspired him further. “It was beautiful and I loved it. I used to see it when I came home from school and I’d think: ‘I need to do one of those one day’. That was where my passion for Minis truly started.”

To date Mark has owned over 20 Minis and rebuilt six, a lot of Mk1s and Mk2s and a Clubman as well. “I’ve built other cars but particularly enjoy building Minis. Up to now I’ve never had a Van before. It was never on the radar to do a Van. It just happened.” His working life has revolved around cars. “I’ve been involved in restoring cars and worked for classic car companies and now work with modern cars. I’ve done pretty much everything to do with building cars: bodywork, engine, suspension, paint.” He prefers building modified Minis rather than restoration projects. “I don’t like the modifications to shout at you. Less is more.”

For him, part of the enjoyment derived from a Mini project is the chance to make unique components. “You can fit a bracket to a Mini that you can buy any day of the week but I tend to think that I can make that bracket or make it look a bit better or make it out of stainless steel. You can also take something from a modern car and hide it on a classic car.”

In February 2017 he became the owner of this 1983 Mini Van although he hadn’t gone looking for one and came across it via a friend. “There was no front on it and there were holes in the floor. The load bed was original and you could see that it had not had a hard life. It had a lot of original panels still but showed signs of old age. The guy who owned it had started to restore it and lost interest.” Mark became the 11th owner of the Van, which had been off the road for nine years.

“When I first got the Van the 998 A+ engine was in it and it actually ran. It had an uprated cam, a ported head and twin carbs. It had coil spring suspension. The interior was completely original, with the original seats. It had the original carpets that were beyond repair and the dash clocks had been taken out. It had disc brakes and 12” Minilite wheels.”

A friend offered Mark use of his garage. “He was building an old Chevy truck and suggested I took my Van to his garage so we could help each other out and build them side by side, which we did.” Mark stripped the Van to a bare shell and salvaged what he could. “The rear subframe was scrap and both front floors were paperthin.

It also needed a new front, new inner and outer wings, inner and outer A-panels, new scuttle panel, mid-floors front to rear, rear subframe mounts, the usual stuff. I also had to rebuild the doors as the frames were rotten.”

He started to buy replacement panels. “Some of the panels I got from M-Machine. I bought a fair few British Motor Heritage panels and I also bought some Magnum panels. It was a bit of a mix and match and I made the best of what I could get. I wanted it to be nice but it turned out a lot better than I hoped. The bodywork took me about eight months of fabricating and welding to get the body back to a complete bodyshell.”

Once repaired the whole Van was stripped of all old paint. “The guy I bought it off was a body repairer and painter so I gave it back to him, in September 2018, to prep and paint it. With Vans being quite rare now, if you don’t do them right it’s a shame. I could have painted it myself. It’s just the time as well.” While the Van was away being painted in two-pack and the underside and inner floor coated in tinted Raptor, he concentrated on building up the engine, suspension and running gear, with many parts being powder-coated. Mark wanted the Van’s styling to have a 1960s racer vibe. “I wanted to try to keep it a typical BMC colour but I wanted to go away from the typical Van colours.

I chose BMC Chelsea Grey. The paint code is GR15. I bought a sample can and sprayed it on the side before it was stripped down and that’s what I went for.” He wanted the roof to be painted in a contrasting colour. “I found this Morello Pearl and thought it was beautiful and would work with the grey. In certain lights it looks black but, in the sun, it looks like a plum or purple colour. I’ve had so many people comment on the paint colours.”

The finishing touch was to personalise the Van as if it had a traditional-style livery. “I was toying with the idea of traditional sign-writing and then I found a guy who is a traditional signwriter who was able to do a design in vinyl. I came up with an idea and he recreated it.” After a frustrating year of waiting, the Van was back from the painter. Mark spent every evening and weekend building up his Mini with new fixings.

“They are mostly stainless or unusual wherever possible and careful attention has been given to all routing of wires and pipework to maintain a neat appearance.”

There are plenty of subtle mods on the Van’s exterior including a distinctive custom grille. “Mini Vans are notorious for being awkward to work on when they’ve got the pressed-steel grille. I do like them but I fancied doing something different. I got hold of a grille from a DB4 GT that was damaged so I cut it to size for the aperture and made a finisher edge for it from stainless steel round bar. I made a little jig and made the typical Mini grille shape around the Aston Martin centre.”

The indicator lamps with the flat, clear glass lenses are from an Austin Healey. “I’ve always liked the flat lenses. I’ve always liked louvres on classic car bonnets too so, while I was repairing the rust on the bonnet, I had to take the cross-member out so I had some louvres pressed in. I made the outer bezel for the bonnet badge from stainless steel.”

The Van has Lucas P700 headlamps with stone guards and custom fixings. “I made some clips that wrap around the stone guard and attach to the headlamp bezel so, when you take the bezel off, the stone guards come off too.”

At the rear you can see a custom number plate mount. “I don’t particularly like the original lamps as they are big and clunky and I wanted to make it more streamlined. I made a custom stainless-steel plinth for the number plate and the number plate lights are domed bolt lights like they use on motorbikes. The wires run inside the plinth so you can’t see them. The door handle is off an old Triumph car. I also fitted a peep mirror like those used on hot rods with a custom mount that bolts through the window. All these little mods you could quite easily return to standard if you wanted to.”

Mark spent some time refurbishing the 4.75x10 replica Rose Petal alloys. “They were purchased in a sorry state. I stripped and painted them and hand-polished the rims. I made the centres, which make them look more like original ones.” The Van sits on Yokohama A032R 165/70x10 tyres. Under the front wheels there are 7.5” disc brakes without a servo. He has used braided hoses and Kunifer pipes. At the rear he fitted uprated cylinders, Ferodo shoes, Minifins and restored the backplates. He uses Automec silicone brake fluid.

Mark kept the 998 engine with which the Van came to him. “I cleaned the pistons, removed and cleaned all the valves. The head had already been nicely ported and it had an uprated camshaft and twin SU HS2 1¼” carbs.” Mark rebuilt the HS2s, replaced the linkages and made stainless trumpets and a heat shield.

“I replaced the high-flow water pump and renewed its gaskets. I removed the flywheel and lightened and balanced it with the new clutch.” The A+ rod-change gearbox is operated via a KAD Quickshift.

The engine is topped off with an alloy rocker cover machined with the Austin logo script. “I think it is a one-off. I wanted something unusual, like one from a period racer, and it came up on eBay. I painted the highlights in BMC green to match the paint I used on the engine.” He made an engine steady and many brackets used in the engine bay for the ancillaries including a stainless cover for the pre-engaged starter motor. You may not recognise the neat-looking alternator. “It’s from a John Deere tractor. It was a straightforward fit with the casting modified to fit a Mini.”

He wanted the engine bay to showcase his skills so he hid the loom as much as he could. “I spent a lot of time making under the bonnet neat. It has the original wiring harness that’s been cleaned and re-taped with braided tape. It’s always nice to hide anything like that out of the way.” The Maniflow mildsteel inlet manifold has been painted with stove paint and is mated to a Maniflow single-box side-exit exhaust. “Once I got it running it ran really beautifully. It’s quite lumpy low down, because of the Kent 276 cam but, once you start moving along, it’s really crisp. It’s surprising how punchy it is really. I was expecting it to be a bit gutless but, with the mods done to it, it goes really well and stops well.”

Mark used the front subframe that the Van came with, bought a new rear subframe and had them both powdercoated. He fitted Gaz dampers, Hi-Los with custom stainless link rods, rebuilt the top arms, made tie bars and fitted adjustable bottom arms. The Van came with blue coil springs, rather than rubber cones. “I thought I’d try it so I painted them graphite grey. It does ride nice but it’s a bit bouncy, as a Van is quite light, so I may change them to doughnuts.”

He has also fitted adjustable camber brackets and polyurethane bushes. “I wanted the interior to be as basic as possible,” explains Mark who, of course, still added plenty of neat tweaks. “I painted the steering column Tweed Grey instead of the usual black and it’s got a custom stainless-steel drop bracket. The pedal box has been refurbished, the same with the heater. It’s fully sound-deadened. The carpet and load bay cover is from Newton Commercial. I fitted a small motorsport battery behind the driver’s seat.”

“I’ve always liked old split-screen classic vehicles and E-types and cars like that have a centrally-mounted mirror on a bar so I made one up. I wanted an oldschool flat steering wheel. I found the NOS seatbelts from a Jag in my brother’s garage. I have recessed the switch panel behind the dash rail with stainless custom fixings. There are no door cards and it has short, chrome inner door lock releases.”

The Bad Boy Classics bucket seats came from his friend who owned a Cortina. “He felt they looked a bit lost in the Cortina so I bought them. I offered them up and thought they were perfect so I made up seat runners with custom stainless steel trim.”

His Van was back on the road in August 2020. Since then he’s enjoyed taking it to a few local shows and is looking forward to driving it to the Mini show at Stanford Hall on 19 September.

Mark Deakin would like to thank: “My friend Steve Napier, a master machinist who carried out much of the custom machining. He has won many hot rod awards and his experience, enthusiasm, ideas, like-minded attention to detail and ability to make stuff helped me a lot with the project; my wife Emma for letting me out every night; Tony Gibbons; Garry Deakin; special thanks to my recently passed brother Nigel Deakin.”

The Van came with this 998 which has a ported head and performance cam. Mark refurbished the SU HS2 carbs. Switch panel is mounted behind the lower dash rail with custom fixings. Mark restored the Mountney steering wheel by polishing the spokes and staining the outer rim black. He shortened the boss and fitted the badge to a custom centre.


Your occupation: Prototype vehicle technician

What appeals to you about the Mini?

I’ve always loved the shape and the unique early features. I love that it’s small but has a vast interior and they are unique to drive, especially when modified. They also have great street-cred!

Favourite Mini suppliers: Mini Spares, Mini Sport and Bull-Motif Car club membership: Coventry Custom Car Club

“...I wanted to go away from the typical Van colours. I chose BMC Chelsea Grey.”

“I don’t like the modifications to shout at you. Less is more.”

The build When Mark bought the Van in 2017 it was white and the front panels had already been removed. A motorsport battery has been neatly mounted behind the driver's seat under the Van's load bay.

He had to remove so much rusty metal that he had to brace the bodywork during the repairs. At the front Mark fitted these Cooper S calipers with 7.5" discs to accommodate 10" Rose Petals.

After months of welding the Van was ready to be painted in Chelsea Grey with Morello Pearl roof. Uprated brake cylinders and Super Minifins were fitted at the rear. Note coil-spring suspension.

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