The Mini is now occupying 40 or so square feet of my driveway, which is to say the trip to Seattle to retrieve it went well, and the car got me home. On first in-person inspection, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the car showed; usually photos hide blemishes but in this case there just weren’t that many to hide. The guy the seller had hired to restore the car was there to walk me through it and take it on a test drive, and I got my first taste of what a hopped up 1275 motor can do when it’s pushing less than 1300 lbs of car. The cliches all hold true: it handled as if it were on rails, and the front wheel drive is a very different animal from the Alfa experience I’m used to.
There was some drama when we realized the VIN plate had gone missing during the car’s restoration, and there was no other visible indication on the car of an original VIN. This meant I’d have no chance in California of registering the car. Luckily, the seller located the VIN plate in a random box at his parents’ house and my concerns were partially assuaged. California is pretty strict about registering out of state cars and would require a VIN in at least two locations. As much as I liked the car, I decided to risk it and drive it home and let fate decide the rest. More on this later…
Bringing the car to Group 2 in Seattle confirmed the suspicion that there were some suspension problems up front. On this front engine, front wheel drive car, the front ball joints take a beating and are notorious for requiring some regular maintenance and replacement. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to do the repairs in Seattle, so I had to drive home with a lot more prudence than I would have preferred — this was probably for the best.
Appropriately enough, my route home was S-shaped. I wanted to avoid I-5 as much as possible, so I visited some family near Tacoma, then headed south and over the top of Oregon before descending down to Bend, Oregon for the first night. From Bend, I drove southwest to Medford and Grants Pass, then over the Redwood Highway to Eureka, California for the second night, and had a leisurely drive home the next day via Mendocino and Highway 128 through Anderson Valley.
Needless to say, it was a very scenic trip in a very photogenic little car. See the slide show below for a lot more photos.
The VIN saga has a happy ending. Various posts on the MiniMania.com forum mentioned that the VIN was sometimes stamped along the top of a triangular support piece in the engine compartment. Given that my car had received a very good repaint a few years ago, it was impossible to tell if this stamp existed or not. There were some slight irregularities in the paint in this location, which my hopeful mind filled in as ‘MA’, i.e. the first two letters of the VIN which is MA2S4L12334. I bit the bullet and sanded a section of the paint down to metal. What I found was not MA…. but just the VIN numbers themselves: 12334. In Mini-parlance, everything up to the L is just a series of descriptors (M = Morris, A = the A type motor, 2S = 2 door Sedan, 4 = Morris Mk1, L = Left-hand drive). In any case, it was a relief to have anything at all on the body of the car that matched the title and VIN plate, and the guy at DMV barely blinked when I showed it to him.
The car now sits in the driveway because the front right wheel bearings are shot. Rotating the wheel produces a sound like stirring a bucket of gravel and mice. As soon as I get the needed tools (big sockets in weird sizes), I’ll take it all apart and install some new heavy duty bearings and repair the ball joints while I’m at it.