Iconic old Mini being rebuilt in Huthwaite to raffle off for charity
Every weekend, weather and social distancing permitting, car enthusiasts have been gathering at the home of Chris Miller
And they have been studiously rebuilding and piecing together a Mini R53 Cooper S, dating back about 20 years.
When it is completed, they plan to sell raffle tickets in a draw to buy the car, and all proceeds, hopefully up to £10,000, will go to the East Midlands Air Ambulance.
It is a project that has captured the imagination of Mini fans across the region, and should be ready to roll this summer.
"It has been quite tough, especially because it is a car that isn’t complete and we’re only working on it one day a week,” said Chris, 52, who is a senior retail sales adviser.
"We’re having to identify the parts that we need and then get hold of them. But I have been delighted with the response.
"Normally, it would cost thousands of pounds to strip the car down and rebuild it, but loads of auto companies have got involved, donating parts.
"More than £3,000 worth of parts have been donated so far, while specialist garages have also given their help.
"One firm, Milltech, has donated more than £1,000 towards a new exhaust system.”
Other spares and parts range from a floor and custom cargo net to brake fluid, discs and pads, silicone hoses and sill covers.
The idea for the charity car-build arose from the first Covid-19 lockdown last year, as Chris explained:
"I have always been into cars, modifying them etc. And halfway through the pandemic, I bought a little Mini Cooper as a weekend car and one to blast round the tracks, such as Donington Park, on the special track days that they stage.
"A friend of mine, Ryan Hayton, from Leicester, then decided to create a Facebook group, called East Mids Minis, for Mini enthusiasts in the East Midlands.
"I got involved in it, helping to promote it, and we now have more than 600 members.
"The group was mainly created to buy, sell and trade products, parts and cars. But through the group, we often did giveaways and competitions, and from there came the plan for the car-build.
"We asked the members which charity they would like to benefit, and they came back with the air ambulance.
"We thought it was a really good cause because it receives no official funding. It relies on donations from the public.”
Originally, a garage in Birmingham promised to oversee the project, even supplying the car, but they had to pull out at the last minute because they were too busy.
"They said they had too much on, and that really stumped us,” admitted Chris. “But fortunately, another friend of mine, Andy Bushell, who runs an engineering company in Boston, said he had this old Mini R53 Cooper S.
"It had loads of bits missing, but he said he could let us have it for free.
"He even got a company in Boston, Bomber County International Transport, to deliver it for us, free of charge.
"It was very fitting because Andy lost a friend in a car crash, and the East Midlands Air Ambulance was involved in the rescue operation, so the project has become dear to his heart.
"As soon as he heard about it, he said he wanted to get behind it.”
Chris duly set up an offshoot Facebook page, East Mids Minis Charity Build, which has 400 members, and a JustGiving page to sell the raffle tickets and gather donations or sponsorship.
And with half a dozen members of East Mids Minis meeting each weekend at his home to work on the Mini, he hopes the new-look car can be completed by the end of June.
"It will be completely roadworthy, taxed and with MOT,” said Chris. “Whoever wins it will have a car worth £6,000 to £8,000.
"We also plan to take it to car shows across the country during the summer to sell more tickets. There is one at Blackpool on July and one at Brands Hatch in August.”
By the end of the summer, Chris and pals will be in a position to hold the draw for the raffle, which will be done via a live stream on Facebook.
The whole process is also being tracked by ‘Performance Mini’ magazine, which is running regular updates and plans a full feature and photo-shoot at the end, complete with the handover of the car and an outsized cheque presentation to the charity in front of an air ambulance helicopter.
"Initially, we were hoping to raise about £3,000, but one of my colleagues suggested we should aim for £10,000,” said Chris.
"We want to raise as much as we can, and get as many people behind it as possible.
"The charity is loving it. The people there are over the moon and as excited as anything.
"They say they have never had a fundraising effort as amazing as this where something is actually being built for them.
"We are looking for more people and companies that would like to help and get involved.
"Any parts that can be donated would be welcomed, and anyone who has any ideas is invited to get in touch.
"We appreciate all the help we have received so far, and we can’t wait for the car to start taking shape.
"We hope you like what we create.”