Is there the obsession? The most prolific BMW Mini collectors
It’s like a waiting area for the Minis: there are three tidy rows of 20, most of them looking ready for action. And if you hadn’t taken the driveway of a private house to get there, you would have assumed they were assembled at the Mini factory in Oxford – in a dealership storage area or maybe lined up for a press launch. Except that the majority are 20 years old, that they indeed live in the premises of a house and that they all belong to one man.
Tim Williams is an avid car enthusiast and explains that when he sold his storage business a few years ago he was looking for an area in which to start the old car hobby. Then, about four years ago, he stumbled upon an embryonic enthusiasm for Y-reg Minis. Huh? The Mini Y-Register is perhaps the only car club that focuses on a British license plate character from a very specific model range.
We are talking about the very first Mini of the BMW era. By definition, these are relatively few, the club identifying them (for the reasons on which we will come to there) as the approximately 700 first carried out. For a timing quirk, these cars will have a registration number starting with the letter Y. But relatively few R50 Minis, as BMW has named them, have been registered with such a plate. So, uh, why?
Because when the new Mini went on sale on July 7, 2001, there were only 11 weeks left before the next license plate age identifier kicked in. And it wasn’t Z but 51, as the UK switched to a semi-annual identifier in an attempt to deal with the absurd number of new cars registered on August 1.
Many buyers of new Mini have thus delayed the delivery of their cars until September 1, allowing their brand new Mini to have the brightest new plate. This meant that many Mini Y-regs were registered by Mini itself, primarily as press cars, and many more were registered by the dealer network as demonstrators. Since this was the kind of car bought by individuals rather than fleets, the more enthusiastic customers could wait; companies with a new product to launch couldn’t.
If you think it’s mysterious, well, there’s more. Just as the BMC minis of the early 1959-1960 had detail features that were quickly redesigned, so did the early R50 minis. It’s a pretty nice symmetry for enthusiasts and collectors alike, although it probably wasn’t something BMW was aiming for.
Among the modifications to the BMC Mini were the addition of roof gutter drainage holes (!), Oval rather than rectangular cutouts in the wheel trims, an additional locating pin for the chrome sliding window latches, and an inversion of the how the baseboard overlapped the floor, which ultimately sealed off the initially disconcerting water leaks in the cabin. Perversely, these elements and many more add to the market value of a 1959-1960 Mini.