Restoration Story 3

Gill & Alastair Herriott

1969 Austin Countryman refurbishment
Gill and Alastair didn't feel able to restore this car themselves, so they entrusted their pride and joy to a classic car garage to carry out what was supposed to be a refurbishment to get it looking nice and back on the road.  Here is their story:

We owned several Minis in our youth during late 60s & early 70s before we were married. A 1962 Mini van, an 848cc Mini Saloon, then an early Mini Cooper S, de-seamed with a powerful & much modified engine. After we married in 1973, a white 998cc Mk 2 saloon and a 1969 sandy beige Countryman. So we have ‘Mini-DNA’ in our motoring blood so-to-speak, rather than Duckhams!

Gill bought the Countryman in April 1986 for £475 with 40K miles on the clock and was the third owner. In 1981 it had a new clutch and recon gearbox for £296. In 1987, to get it through the MOT, a new rear sub frame was fitted for about £105 and in 1989 it had 2 new front wings fitted for £260. In 1992, with 65K miles on the clock the Countryman, with it’s woody sides and rear in good repair, and really was too good to sell on, so we decided to store it till I retired and had time to refurbish it.

After nearly 20 years in storage (first in a factory and then in a hay barn) the problems that needed sorting were a new o/s front wing, rust on the n/s wing and sills, a leaking radiator and petrol tank, clutch & petrol pump seized up, restart engine after 5 years and get an MOT.

Gill got a verbal quote Feb 2010 (not a written estimate unfortunately) from a Classic Car workshop of £3K and £4K max and was told the work would take about 3 months. The manager said the car was in relatively good condition, and parts were easy to obtain. Also the cylinder head would be modified so that unleaded petrol could be used. When the Countryman was moved from the barn to the refurbishment workshops near Bagshot in March 2010, Gill paid 50% up-front of £2,000 for parts & labour.

At first progress was good.  The engine was removed and new wings were fitted.  Little progress was made May to June as the workshops had much ‘other’ work and not much labour, but the ash frame wood had been removed and was at a joiners shop nearby where it was to be rubbed down, a small section of wood rot removed and treated with a breathable wood coating.  There was a spurt of effort September to October and another £1K paid, but the Countryman seemed to become a ‘hospital job’ and no progress was made in November /December. We made monthly site visits and were disappointed.

Apart from extra rust round the battery box area to be sorted out and the brakes to be completely overhauled, no extra work was asked for or pointed out to us.  What we did ask for was details of what had been done and spent. This was not forthcoming. We were told that we couldn’t see what payments had been made to suppliers. We thought about the bodyshell being re-sprayed Old English White, but Gill decided to leave it Sandy Beige colour, as the costs may rise. (More about that later).

The new petrol tank was made in Canada and cost £110. When being installed it was found that the filler tube did not align with the rear wing petrol cap hole, so the tube had to be re-soldered.

In January work again commenced and the body shell sprayed in the matching sandy beige paint. We thought they would complete it March 2011, but then the big shock mid February - the bill would be £11K!!!  Up till then we were expecting £4 to 5K, and unable to resolve the difference with the workshop Manager, we asked advice of Trading Standards Office at Winchester. No point in describing the next six months of hell we suffered, but the disagreements went on from March to August and £2K was spent in legal costs. We were lucky to get free legal advice from a Barrister who helped to resolve the dispute & negotiated settlement.

The Countryman was then moved to another workshop at Bordon near Liphook where our local Mechanic Dennis completed the work in a month and an MOT was obtained. Work included a new windscreen, battery, exhaust, tyres, number plates, carpets, and loads of bits and pieces. This finishing off work & MOT cost £2,920+.

So, back on road after 19 years, the refurbished Countryman looks great, but took some getting used to when we drove it late autumn. At 45mph the engine noise was great and we wanted to change up a gear, but no fifth gear on Mk II Countryman. Also the drum brakes  seemed ‘weak’ (with no servo or disc brakes). So apart from the problematic restoration, extra costs, litigation and months of delays, we love to drive the Countryman along North Hampshire lanes and it really does remind us of our early motoring in 60’s and 70’s 

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Well, you got there in the end, and we hope you will enjoy driving your Countryman for many years to come.