On the Road: Classic Mini a major time capsule

On the Road: Classic Mini a major time capsule
Willi Raunest of Calgary bought this 1969 Austin Mini Mark II Cooper S brand new. He drove it until 1973, and then parked it. Fred Phillips recently bought the Cooper S, and detailed the car to preserve its originality.Fred Phillips

Parked since 1973, this rare Austin Mini Mark II Cooper S might be one of the most original examples in existence.

Willi Raunest purchased the Mini new in 1969. The Calgarian stopped driving the car because he could no longer fill the tank with high-octane leaded fuel. Without it, the high-performance 1,275cc four-cylinder engine with an 11:1 compression ratio would ping under acceleration or load – a condition that will ultimately prove detrimental.

“You couldn’t buy 98 octane gasoline beginning in 1972,” Raunest recalls. “By 1973, I was going to the airport to buy aviation fuel to mix with what I could get at the pump, but they soon stopped selling it to me and I had to park the Mini. I didn’t want to ruin the engine,”

You probably had no idea most of these odd classic trucks even existed

In 1961, Raunest left his home in Germany to come to Canada. He was enrolled in school, taking engineering, and planned on being here six months while learning to speak English. Raunest fully intended to go back home and finish his program – but he never did.

“I already had a trade, I was a machinist,” Raunest explains. “In Germany, they start you off young. I was 14 when I began training as a machinist.”

Arriving in Montreal in April of 1961, Raunest traveled west to Regina. There, he not only found a job in an automotive machine shop, where he learned how to grind crankshafts and camshafts, bore engine blocks and fit pistons; he also met Susan, his future wife

“I picked up English very quickly, and six months went by really fast,” he says. “I stayed and I stayed, and never went back to finish my engineering.”

The Raunests moved to Calgary in 1966, where Willi took a job at Prudential Steel’s pipe plant and soon became the maintenance manager. Meanwhile, the family hauler was a two-door Dodge Coronet 440, and Raunest needed a car to commute to work. That’s when he visited Cooke Motors in Calgary.

“I knew a few guys with Minis, and was aware they were fun to drive,” Raunest says. “And, I wanted the Cooper S because of the power to weight ratio.”

The Cooper S engine was tuned to deliver 76 horsepower and 80 lbs.-ft of torque to propel a car that weighed just 698 kilograms (1,539 pounds). Originally introduced in 1959 by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), the Mini was the brainchild of Alec Issigonis. It wasn’t the first small car to market, but thanks to its clever design with transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine powering the front wheels and its compact body shell, the Mini went on to become a popular seller. To provide room for four adults, Issigonis placed the wheels as close as possible to each corner of the car. This greatly increased stability, making the Mini an agile performer when driven at speed. Enter racer John Cooper, who took the Mini and modified it with a larger 997cc engine. The Mini Cooper was born. Racing against much larger and more powerful vehicles, these Cooper-modified Minis won the Monte Carlo rally three times between 1964 and 1967. Cooper S models were more powerful again and were equipped with three different engine sizes. By 1966, only the 1,275cc engine was available in the Cooper S.

“When I got to Cooke Motors, they had two Cooper S models on the lot, a silver one and this green one with the white roof,” Willi recalls. “The silver one was spoken for, and I didn’t fight much over getting the green and white one.”

Raunest used the Cooper S to commute, and the family of four used it to travel as far as Victoria, B.C. It also made more than a couple of trips back to Regina.

“With that small little trunk, we had to be well organized, and we couldn’t stop to pick up any hitchhikers,” Raunest laughs.

By 1973, when Raunest parked the Mini with just over 37,000 miles on the odometer in his double car garage, the family was driving a Volvo 145 wagon and Susan drove Willi to work on a daily basis. And so the Mini sat. Raunest thought one of their three children might want it, but none of them were interested. He says a few years ago a well-known collector from the U.S. learned about the Mini and sent a representative to view the Cooper S. Although Raunest never had anything apart, the rep was sceptical when he saw an extra hose clamp on a short bypass hose between the cylinder head and engine block – he took this as a sign the head had been removed.

I’m glad to see it live on with its original paint and not get restored.

Earlier this year, Calgary collector and conservator Fred Phillips heard about the Cooper S and a deal was struck. Although not running when he bought it, Phillips says they went through the car from top to bottom and replaced only the valves and guides. It was taken apart for an overall detailing, but nothing was restored – simply cleaned and preserved.

“Under the interior carpets, in the wheelhouses, there was no corrosion,” Phillips says. “It’s a time capsule, and it’s an exceptional find, because these cars were either modified beyond recognition, driven so hard they got rolled up into a ball, or rotted into the ground. It’s amazing, and for me, it will always be Willi’s car.”

As for Raunest, he’s just happy the car found a good home.

“I’m glad to see it live on with its original paint and not get restored,” Raunest says, and adds, “I’ve been to see Fred’s cars (once COVID-19 is behind us, Phillips says tours of his extensive collection in support of the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre will resume), and knowing the car is there gives me great comfort.”
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