1970 Innocenti Mini Cooper Mk3
When Chris Hand spotted a 1970 Innocenti Mini Cooper Mk3 for sale in Italy, for €7,500, he decided to take a trailer to Tuscany, buy it and bring it home to restore.
Words and photos: Rob Hawkins.
ITALIAN STYLE RARE INNOCENTI Mk3 COOPER RESTORED
1970 INNOCENTI MINI COOPER Bought from Tuscany and restored in Grimsby.
Minis are increasingly hard to find, especially the ones that are original or standard specification, so looking further a field can help to open up the market. Things can become complicated, thanks to Mini overseas production that saw countries such as Spain and Italy preferring to source or manufacture parts locally to reduce the impact of import tax.
When Chris Hand spotted a 1970 Innocenti Mini Cooper Mk3 for sale online through Car and Classic, for a mere €7,500 back in 2016, it was attempting prospect and a cheaper route to obtaining a collectible Mini that’s on apar with the likes of a British Cooper. Despite the Innocenti being in the Tuscany region of Italy, and Chris being in the English north-east t own of Grimsby, the 1,300-mile distance between the two didn’t deter him and his son Tom, who volunteered to navigate. “This was the first time I had travelled to Italy to buy a car,” he tells us. Before dragging a trailer all that way, Chris did want to make sure he was buying a real Innocenti Cooper so he contacted Foster Charlton who is the Innocenti Registrar of the Mini Cooper Register (www.minicooper.org). “He told me it was a very early production Innocenti Mk3 Cooper,” says Chris. “He knew this because of the windscreen s cuttle having four holes instead of two and the quarterlights not being fitted to the doors. Foster also told me that he had read in an article that some of the new body panels came from England to do this and that the Cooper is very rare, with only a very short production run of around 4,700 cars before the Innocenti factory was fully e quipped to produce the internal-door-hinge model. After that they fitted a two-hole scuttle and the quarterlights into the doors on the Mk3.”
This particular Mini had only one previous owner and it had first been registered in Rome, as a second car for the owner’s wife. When they retired they moved to Tuscany where Chris and his son bought it. The previous owner had s tripped and rebuilt the 998cc A-series engine, boring it out by + 0.040” to displace 1030cc but, otherwise, the rest of the Mini appeared to be standard. Satisfied that €7,500 (then a round £5,850) would be money well spent, Chris paid a deposit for the Innocenti. At the s tart of October 2016, they headed to Tuscany via the Hull to Rotterdam ferry on an overnight crossing, pulling a trailer with Chris' BMW 330D Touring. The whole journey took five days to complete with three hotel stops a long the way.
“This particular Mini had only one previous owner and it had first been registered in Rome...”
With the Mini back at his home in Grimsby, Chris realised that he would have to s trip and rebuild it but didn’t plan to make a s tart straight away because he was rebuilding a Mini 30 at the time. It was another 14 months before he began the restoration, starting in December 2017. Quite soon, in March 2018, all of the refurbishment work was complete and everything was ready for reassembly, which was finally completed in 2019. He could only allocate occasional spare evenings and weekends for the part-time project whilst holding down a full-time job so, in reality, he completed it in a very short space of time. He also adopted a methodical approach to the project, starting with complete dismantling, after which the bodyshell had been sent to Enviro-Strip for a dip, strip and an application of primer.
It was clear all along that some repair and replacement panels would be needed and, with the bodyshell returned and clean, the list of new metalwork needed was found to include the floors, sills, front panel, door skins, one doorstep and the boot floor. “The wings and A-panels seem to be original,” says Chris. “The car has rotted from the inside out.”
“...a cheaper route to obtaining a collectible Mini that’s on a par with the likes of a British Cooper.”
The bodywork repairs were completed by Colin Davis Minis, who have repaired Minis for Chris before. The shell was sent over to their workshops in January 2018, for bodywork and painting, enabling Chris to concentrate on all the remaining parts.
The Hydrolastic subframes, manufactured by Firsat in Italy, were cleaned and powder-coated by CJ Powder Coatings in Grimsby. Chris was keen to keep as many of the Innocenti Mini’s components as possible, refurbishing them to retain originality. In some cases, this wasn’t worthwhile, such as the Bonaldi single-circuit brake servo. He could have bought a repair kit for it for £160 but an exchange unit from specialist Classic Alfa in the UK was £150. As for the Hydrolastic suspension components, Chris replaced the pipework and asked Ian Kennedy, at Hydragas and Hydrolastic Service Ltd., to refurbish the hoses on the Hydrolastic units.
Other parts were easier to source new, such as the 7.5" Cooper S solid front discs and OE brake pads, which were fitted as standard to the Mk3. When it came to the A-series engine and its gearbox, he started with a compression test and was satisfied all four cylinders were providing adequate compression. However, he decided to remove the cylinder head because a friend of his, Ted Greaves, had volunteered to do some machining to improve airflow and also to fit larger valves (33/29mm inlet/exhaust). Another friend of Chris, Dan Johnson, volunteered to strip, inspect and rebuild the gearbox.
Crafted Classics Tuning, of Suffolk, refurbished the twin SU HS2 carburettors, then the A-series engine and its gearbox were reassembled with a new oil pump, Duplex timing assembly, seals and gaskets. A new clutch was fitted. Chris was keen to retain original exterior components on his Mini, especially those that had been manufactured in Italy, such as the Fergat 10” steel wheels, which were cleaned and powder-coated to preserve them. He managed to source new-old-stock (NOS) Carello headlights (with Carello deep rims) and rear lights and refitted the stainless-steel bumpers.
Chris admits that finding NOS components was a bit of a challenge but several people helped, including Inno experts like Foster Charlton, Chas and Tim Whight and Vincenzo Erminia. The front grille needed an overhaul. “...a cheaper route to obtaining a collectible Mini that’s on a par with the likes of a British Cooper.”
“I refurbished the front grille from two other grilles, which are stainless-steel, removing all the individual parts,” he explains. “Then I polished the individual components and reriveted them back into place.”
The interior was a bit more of a challenge. “All of the interior had to be replaced due to its poor condition so I had a trip to Newton Commercial who supplied and fitted a new set of seat covers, in black vinyl, along with matching door cards and a grey carpet set to match the original.”
Fortunately, the Veglia instruments fitted to the Innocenti Minis were still present, in good working order and just needed cleaning. “I carefully removed the glass and cleaned them,” he explains. “The standard Hellebore three-spoke steering wheel was replaced with a new, refurbished one. It also came equipped with a period aftermarket steering lock, which you just turn the key on and the fork locks the lower spoke into place — simple but effective.”
He began the reassembly of his Innocenti in March 2018, taking the rest of the year and into 2019 to carefully complete the work himself in his spare time. He recalls that one of the toughest jobs was fitting the headlining: “Which needs a lot of time gluing and ungluing to get it just right.” Having now finished the Mini, he’s delighted with the results, explaining: “The engine is very smooth and responsive, with good acceleration and excellent brakes. The Hydrolastic suspension gives a very smooth ride, even on our British roads.”
He may have had to travel to Italy for this Innocenti but he is now making the most of this rare car closer to home. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile to get something special.
Chris Hand would like to thank: “My wife, Judith. for all her patience; Ted, Colin and Dan for help; Foster Charlton and Vincenzo Erminia for advice and parts; Chas and Tim Whight, without their help I would not have been able to finish the Mini to such a good standard with parts that are not easy to come by.”
Chris had several parts stickers reproduced so that they could be fitted to original components such as this air filter housing. 998cc A-series had been bored by +0.040” to displace 1030cc. Bonaldi brake servo was replaced with an exchange unit from Classic Alfa in the UK.
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION 1970 Innocenti Mini Cooper Mk3
- Engine: 998cc A-series bored +0.040” to displace 1030cc. OE crankshaft. 12G295 cylinder head, double-valve springs, ported, polished. alloy inlet manifold. twin 1.” SU HS2 carburettors. OE tin air filter housing. K&N air filter elements. SU electric fuel pump. in-line fuel filter. negative earth electrics. refurbished Lucas dynamo. OE ignition coil. Champion HT leads. Lucas 45D distributor, points, condenser. Champion spark plugs. NOS cast iron water pump. OE two-core radiator. 11-blade plastic mechanical cooling fan. three-in-toone cast iron exhaust manifold. Innocenti twin-silencer mild-steel system, single rear-exit tailpipe.
- Gearbox: Mini four-speed, four-synchro manual, remote-shift. diaphragm clutch, cast iron flywheel. 3.1:1 final drive ratio.
- Suspension: Hydrolastic. refurbished Firsat subframes. Front: OE upper, lower arms, tie-rods. Rear: OE radius arms.
- Brakes: Single-circuit, Bonaldi servo-assisted. steel pipes, Kunifer pipes. rubber flexi-hoses. DOT 4 brake fluid. Front: Cooper S 7.5” solid discs, OE pads. Rear: OE drums.
- Wheels/Tyres: 4.5x10" Fergat steel wheels. Dunlop SP Sport 165/70R10 radial tyres.
- Interior: OE front/rear seats, retrimmed, Newton Commercial black vinyl covers, matching door cards. Newton Commercial grey carpets. OE Veglia instruments: 180kmh speedo, 7,000rpm tacho, oil pressure, fuel level, coolant temperature. Hellebore three-spoke steering wheel. single-speed fresh air heater. Newton Commercial replacement grey headlining.
- Exterior: Innocenti Mini Mk3 bodyshell painted Grey (IN-707). NOS Carello headlights, halogen bulbs. NOS Carello rear lights, number plate light. Tex door mirrors. stainless-steel bumpers. OE refurbished front grille.
Fergat 4.5x10” steel wheels were cleaned and powder-coated. Innocenti sourced instruments from Veglia. Even the fresh air heater is Italian, with its Letraset-style labelling. Interior uses replacement carpets and trim from Newton Commercial
- The collection of the Mini from Italy, and back to Chris' house in Grimsby, involved a trailer, the family BMW and a 2,600 mile round trip.
- The initial condition didn’t look too bad. The bodyshell was sent away to Enviro-Strip.
- Repair panels welded in place. Primer had been applied by Enviro-Strip to help preserve the metalwork that could be saved.
- Floors, boot floor and front panel were some areas of the bodywork that were cut out and replaced.
- Colin Davis Minis completed the bodywork repairs and the respray in Grey (IN-707) before Chris began the reassembly in his home garage.
- Age: 60
- Occupation: Director of a kitchen and bedroom company which I run with my wife Judith and son Tom
- First car: Mk1 Ford Escort. It was a complete rot-box
- Current classic cars: This Mini, an Innocenti Mini-Minor Mk3 and an Innocenti 950 Spider
- Dream car: BMW Z8
- Hobbies: Car shows and gardening Favourite
- Mini supplier: Mini Spares Club membership: Mini Cooper Register, British Mini Club and East Yorkshire Thoroughbred Car Club