….Back in Melbourne, the reconstruction began. A replacement body shell was sourced from BMC and the still serviceable components transferred over. The engine/transmission unit, wheels and the interior trim were all carried over to the new car, as was the English bootlid, which remarkably was undamaged from the crash.
The Mini was finished toward the end of the year, and Manton took it to Perth where he won the Bosch Trophy for the Western Australian Touring Car Championship for the Under 1500 class.
The Mini continued to perform well at most circuits, but always looking for an edge, Manton decided to try something different, which became an urban legend with the car. About half of Australian circuits ran in a clockwise direction, but he figured that left-hand drive cars had an advantage on those that ran anti-clockwise.
Although a skilled mechanic himself, much of Peter’s special engineering work was done by his long-time friend Neville Watts. Watts took two steering racks and made one with two pinions, so the car could be quickly and easily converted for either left- or right-hand-drive.
“That’s true”, Neville recalled a few years ago when I interviewed him for our major feature on Manton, back in Issue 7 of The Mini Experience. “There were plenty of left-hand-drive parts at BMC in Sydney, so I cut up a left-hand-drive rack and a right-hand-drive rack and joined them together.”
“Psychologically it was a blow to (Brian) Foley, because Peter was on the correct side of the car for places like Sandown and Catalina Park, but (for racing) it was a disaster. He couldn’t change gears properly and he only ever used it about twice.”
Other modifications done by Watts included a simple lock-out mechanism to prevent accidentally selecting reverse gear and an alloy water pump, at a time when only cast iron units were available. Manton was obsessed with saving weight and would shave a few ounces (or grams) off wherever he could.
He also had a tendency to replace his Minis every couple of years, and sell the old ones interstate, so there would be less chance of him having to compete against them in the future.
Nearing the end of 1966, he took the reshelled Cooper S to Perth and again won the Bosch Trophy for under-1500cc in the WATCC. Although still painted in the Neptune blue and white, the team cars were entered as the Tridents Racing Team, as Shell, who owned Neptune, was in the process of phasing out the Neptune brand.
The Mini was sold at that meeting to West Australian racer Jeff Dunkerton, who was driving for the Terry Le May Racing Team.
Dunkerton recently confirmed the Mini was blue when he bought it, but he changed it to the Le May colours of red with white stripes after only one or two races. He then raced it very successfully for about three years, before selling it to Paul Wilkins in February 1970.
Wilkins painted the Mini white and ran it in Group C, before selling it in February 1974 to Al Munday. Al painted it green, but only raced it for a year, as he recalled a few years ago. “The car last raced in 1975 and was later broken up, as Minis became less competitive. By the ’90s, as the whereabouts of these cars became important, I traced the body shell to a farm at Margaret River (300km south of Perth), and retrieved the rusted mess. I had to drag it out of this long Kykura grass. You should have seen the look on the farmer’s face, wondering why I would bother with such a mess.”
“You could see the paint layers that told the story of the car like tree rings. The Neptune blue, then the pillarbox red (Dunkerton), then white (Wilkins), then grass green (me).”
“The body still contained some original Manton parts, most of which were able to be re-used. Most notably, the bulkhead was intact showing there was no body number.” This coincided with Manton having got the body shell direct from BMC, through his special connections, rather than going through the normal route of a body from Parts & Accessories. Interestingly, the car has the full-width front apron, indicating it was an early 850 or Cooper body shell, not a De Luxe bodyshell as previously reported. Photos from the days clearly show this is correct on this car.….
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