Jeeps are slow and bad on fuel. I know, I know, you didn’t expect this story to start with a paragraph about Jeeps but here we are. We were a 3 vehicle family. Two fun sedans and a Jeep that we used but didn’t really enjoy and certainly didn’t use to its fullest capacity. Since we didn’t need one, we decided to swap it for something more enjoyable and that’s where our search and this story begins.
Lesson 1: Be Flexible
A Mini wasn’t the first choice actually. We wanted an updated version of our Subaru. Something a little less stripped out. Something with a radio and AC. Also something that could carry pups around when that was needed and still be fun to drive. The trouble with any newer Subaru that might fit the bill is that costs are exceedingly high in comparison with what we intended on spending and we’re a cash only kind of family. If we can’t buy it outright then we don’t buy it.
So we started looking at smaller cars with lower costs. The Fiat 500 Abarth was at the high end of our budget but after watching Doug Demuro go on and on about how fun they are we had to test drive one. Sadly I’m 6’6 and while this wouldn’t be my primary mode of conveyance I simply couldn’t see us owning something I had to crouch in to drive. It did sound magical but it would’ve been highly impractical.
Next we drove a couple Mini Coopers in the Area. First an early example from 2003 and then another from 2008. Ultimately they were both excellent to drive but each had their own issues. The 03 made some odd noises that were clearly undisclosed issues. Both were well within the budget. You can easily get either for less than $5000 these days. The earlier cars from 2003 - 2006 were supercharged so they have immediate response and sound excellent due to that beautiful supercharger whine. The next batch of cars starting in 2007 had considerably nicer interiors but the motor is known to have significant reliability issues.
Lesson 2: Be Stringent
We continued our search and finally found a 2006 with only 84,000 miles for $3700. It had excellent service records at the local dealer. I cannot stress this enough. Good service records are imperative in finding a Mini worth buying. Almost every version has one or two issues that are consistent. For instance the R53 model we bought is known to have clutch issues (A very big and expensive job) and coolant overflow tank fractures.
Ours had a 15% pulley reduction which boosted power and an aftermarket air filter to help it breathe a bit better. We started looking into making our Mini ours. Shocks, lighting, newer seats, exhaust and wheels were all on the list. Luckily this is where flipping Minis became a bit of a habit. While searching craigslist for parts I found another R53 from 2003 that ran but had a bad clutch. It had all those toys we wanted. Blacked out wheels, an aftermarket exhaust, leather seats, LED aftermarket lights and upgraded Koni shocks.
Lesson 3: You’ve got to spend money to make money
After just a few phone calls we pulled the trigger and bought our second Mini Cooper S for $1300. This one had a black top and a solid skeleton. The bad news was that the body was pock marked with hail damage and indeed the clutch did absolutely nothing to help the car move. Good news for us was that the motor ran well and had an upgraded set of ignition coils. In addition all the parts we mentioned above bolted right into the original white top Mini cooper aside from the seats (wiring was different) and LED headlights. The loom on those was far too complicated and rigged together that we left them in the blacktop.
The Exhaust once installed.
So now we have two Minis. One blacktop that didn’t drive but ran well and now had a bunch of parts from a 2006 model with less than 100,000 miles on them and another with all the parts we wanted on it. So now we set off to sell the blacktop.
Lesson 4: Be patient
I had the blacktop for sale for around 2 months. I had nibbles all over the place even at what I think was a high price to pay $3200. I asked what I did because I knew that it looked great despite the minor hail damage and had the benefit of all those newer parts. The motor helped too as it ran very well. I turned down a few in person offers of $1000 or $1300. Ultimately a guy met me one evening seemingly with his heart set on the car. He listened to it. Sat in it and checked it over. It was a bit late but he came back the next morning to see it in the daylight and took it home for $2900.
So I improved our little white top in a number of ways and then flipped the car we took the parts from for more than twice what we paid for it. Patience was the key there after making sure I got a good deal on the front end. The flipping wasn’t finished though.
We ultimately came to the decision that we really are committed to having another Subaru in our lives. With that in mind we put our original white top mini up for sale and had it sold in less than 3 weeks. After buying it for $3700 we sold it for $4700. This time we focused on how it had a bunch of performance parts and low mileage with great service records. Again, being patient helped as we had a few low ball offers that I know some folks would have jumped on just to be done with it. Patience pays off flipping cars though.