‘66 Downton Austin Cooper 998: Cottage industry tuning
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An Austin Cooper is attracting a lot of attention before it’s due to go under the hammer at Classic Car Auctions June Sale on June 10.
The car in question is an exceedingly rare 1966 Austin Cooper 998, but it’s not exactly what you’d call a stock-standard original, and that’s where a lot of the interest stems from.
After being purchased new, this 998 was sent to legendary British tuner Daniel Richmond and the Downton Engineering workshop in the UK.
Richmond and Downton Engineering became famous for tinkering with all sorts of road and track cars in the late 1950’s, an era when aftermarket tuning was very much a cottage industry.
Their reputation was bolstered in 1961 when Autocar UK published a rave review of a Downton converted Mini Cooper.
The writer commented that the tuned version could do a ‘genuine 100mph’ (160km/h), was easier to drive, quitter, and more frugal on fuel than the standard production model.
The tuning capabilities of Richmond and the Downton workshop made them a go-to for the rich and famous looking to extract more performance out of their cars, especially Mini Coopers.
Names like Enzo Ferrari and Bruce McLaren all purchased Downton converted Minis. Of course Bruce - being the speed demon he was - opted for the higher capacity 1275cc model, a car that's still in possession of the McLaren family.
Downton would also go on to developed the ‘S’ version of the classic Mini Cooper engine.
To this 1966 Austin Cooper 998, Richmond fitted the Downtown ‘Touring’ conversion – for the time, this conversion provided a substantial increase in performance.
This model features twin SU carburetors (a big setup for a low capacity engine), a Downton modified cylinder head, a polished and matched inlet manifold, and a specially designed three-branch exhaust manifold and exhaust system.
Afterward the car was shipped to Australia for a few years, before ending up right here in New Zealand, a place it would call home right up until earlier this year when it was sent home to the UK.
In its current form, this Mini is near-perfect, achieving an impressive 120/130 condition score by the seller – something that can be partly attributed to a full body restoration undertaken during its time in New Zealand back in 1997.
For the last 12 years this Mini has also lived in a climate controlled environment, something that can’t be said for all classics cars.
More recently the engine and drivetrain has been subject to a full refurbishment. Everything between the rocker cover and the oil pan is either brand new, or fully rebuilt. Even a model correct close-ratio gearbox was sourced from Italy.
The car has only completed 70 miles (112km) since the works completion so, effectively, it hasn’t even been run-in yet.
The new buyer will receive all the original Downton invoices and records, accompanied by its original UK licence, service records, buff logbook, letters from the original and subsequent owners, and a range of magazine articles featuring the car.
Minis were once an affordable liberator of the masses, but in modern times a classic car with attributes like rarity, history, and a few famous names thrown into its story, its anyone’s guess as to what the market value of these British gems are worth now.
Classic Car Auctions estimate it will sell somewhere in the region of NZ $65,000 – $74,000. However, don’t be surprised to see those figures exceeded for classic Mini Coopers in the near future as pristine examples become harder to find.