Think mainstream affordable classics and you’ll probably think Ford or BMC. However, there’s a less obvious alternative that’s well worth a look if you’re on a budget and you want something different – something from the Rootes Group, and specifically the early editions of the Minx, built between 1948 and 1957.
These Minxes are some of the most affordable classics out there, thanks to low values and simple mechanicals that are easy to maintain as well as miniscule insurance and running costs. While the saloons aren’t as stylish as some rivals, the drophead coupés and Californian fixed-head coupés offer all the style you could ever want – if not all the performance. You’ll have to look hard to find one though, as their age means most of these quirky classics have long since bitten the dust.
Which one to buy?
Pre-1954 cars featured side-valve power; the best engine of all is the 1390cc overhead-valve unit from October 1954, as it’s smoother, quieter and more powerful than earlier previous units.
It’s the usual story where budget classics are concerned; if you can find a really good Minx and look after it, you’ll have an unusual vehicle that will be easy to own. However, it’s that sourcing of a good example which is the key hurdle because major money is rarely spent on these cars to keep them in top-notch condition. The key is to join the Hillman Owners’ Club and scan its magazine; if you want a good example, this is where you’re going to find one.
Performance and specs
Hillman Minx MkVIII/VIIIa
Engine 1390cc, four-cylinder
Power 43bhp @ 4400rpm
Torque 66lb ft @ 2200rpm
Top speed 73mph
Fuel consumption 35mpg
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Most Minxes have at least some corrosion in their structure and outer panels, but everything is visible as there aren’t any box sections. Decent body panels are scarce – even used spares. At least the metal is thick though, making repairs easier and reducing corrosion levels.
• The areas most likely to have corroded include the door bottoms, trailing edge of the front wings and sills along with the rear quarter panels and headlight surrounds. None of these areas is structural though; there’s no separate chassis but there are two heavy-duty rails which run the length of the car, which give the Minx its strength. These rust where they run over the rear axle.
• Minx engines are tough; with both the block and head made of cast-iron, they’re pretty much indestructible. However, the side-valve units tend to run hot, so the cooling system must be kept in tip-top condition. There are no particular weak spots, but all these engines have to work hard so after 50,000 miles they’re usually ready for a rebuild. There’s no oil filter fitted to the side-valve powerplants, so unless the lubricant is renewed every couple of thousand miles or annually, engine wear will be accelerated. DIY rebuilds are easy enough but decent used engines are scarce.
• All Minxes got a four-speed manual column-change gearbox, with synchromesh on all ratios except first. Dubbed the Synchromatic transmission, the most likely problem is play in the linkages or wear in the various bushes. Unfortunately, you either have to learn to live with the wear or engineer some sort of solution yourself, as there are no fresh parts available. The gearbox needs to be filled with engine oil, preferably SAE30, for the greatest durability. EP90 is too thin and will just leak out.
• There are no overdrives or automatics, with the rest of the transmission conventional and straightforward. The rear axle is long-lived, but check for oil leaks; EP140 should be used, but some owners mistakenly use EP90 instead.
• The steering box can wear or it may have been overtightened, so check for stiff spots. Also look for leaks from worn seals; EP140 should be used but thinner oils are sometimes put in by mistake. The steering system incorporates four joints which need greasing every 1,000 miles, which doesn’t always happen.
• There are another eight greasing points on each side of the Minx’s suspension, and they all need attention every 1,000 miles. It may be worth putting the car through an MoT and letting the tester find any wear, because many of these weak spots can lead to a failed MoT.
• One of the main failure points is tired kingpins, which suffer from worn bushes. It’s a cheap and easy fix though.
• Brake hoses can perish out of sight, while the brake fluid level in the master cylinder can drop. Because this cylinder is situated under the driver’s seat, in its own little well, it’s sometimes forgotten about, so check that the fluid level isn’t too low.
• The interior trim and dashboard is generally tough; the MkIII and MkIV featured leather upholstery, while later cars got vinyl. Retrimming the seats is easy enough, but some of it was heat moulded which complicates things.
• Much of the brightwork was poorly made and replacement bits dried up long ago. Because the components are poor, rechroming isn’t usually possible, so pay particularly close attention to items such as the mazak boot hinges and door handles, along with the radiator surround of the MkVI-MkVIII cars.
1939: Minx Phase I is launched, with 1185cc side-valve power.
1947: Minx Phase II arrives; the main change is a move to headlamps integrated into the front wings.
1948: The first true post-war Minx debuts, the MkIII. This has an all-new bodyshell with full-width styling, but most of the mechanicals are carried over, although there’s now independent front suspension.
1949: The MkIV appears, with larger (1265cc) engine and more substantial bumpers.
1951: The MkV brings minor brightwork changes but nothing else.
1953: The MkVI has a restyled front end, revised facia and exterior brightwork, while the California makes its debut.
1953: A larger boot, fresh (rectangular) rear lights, a push button for the starter, chrome trim for the windscreen surround and a larger rear window for the saloon are highlights of the MkVII.
1954: The MkVIII has an overhead-valve engine at last, but it’s fitted only to the drophead coupé, Californian and De Luxe saloon; the estate and Special saloon retain the sidevalve unit.
1955: The Gay Look arrives, but it’s nothing more than two-tone paintwork and brightwork that’s been revised yet again.
1956: Saloon, convertible and Californian editions of the Minx are killed off.
1957: The Minx estate dies.
Key clubs and websites
• www.hillmanownersclub.co.uk - Owners club and forum for Hillman enthusiasts
Summary and prices
The Hillman Minx is a simple, cheap and well-built classic car, making one a relatively trouble-free proposition. If you’re determined to find one in top condition, then you might have to wait a while, but they do show up from time to time. Even one of the best examples of a saloon will set you back around £5000, although the more desirable Californian models could be priced closer to £7000-£8000.
If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, then there you are more likely to find something in need of a little fettling for £2500-£3000. Projects also turn up regularly, and although these very rarely make financial sense in the long run, £500 should be enough to find something worth of restoration.
Words: Richard Dredge