One Couple’s Max Obsession with Custom Minis

Norm & Jesse Nelson

Hagerty is celebrating its first-ever HDC Days from June 21 to June 23, with great discounts from our partners, choose-your-own adventure experiences, contests, and more. We’re also celebrating all this week online with some terrific cars and trucks owned by Hagerty Drivers Club members. Like this one . . .

Norm & Jesse Nelson
Palo Cedro, California

We have developed a passion for rescuing Mini Coopers. Many of the Minis in our collection were found in barns, garages, and carports, covered in old sheets, blankets, and tarps—rusty and dusty. 

These little treasures were just waiting for the right folks to come along and adopt them. None of them suffered from abuse, but their owners, all with good intentions, either lost interest or lost the ability to restore them. Some sat for decades waiting for that day.

We’ve spent endless hours searching the globe to find the ones we can help. We found one in Scotland, another in Florida, another in Los Angeles. And each time, after finding and acquiring a Mini, we begin the process of giving it a theme, or purpose. For example, “Tiny Tows” is themed as a tow truck to honor the tow truck drivers. “Mini Fuz” is themed to honor our law enforcement. “XS Woody” is a surf wagon. “Fireball” is themed after Fireball Cinnamon Whisky and “Pynt Syz” after a Kentucky moonshine runner. And our latest, “Ghostbuster,” well . . . 

With each car, as the restoration began, we had a plan as to how each would develop, with color, accessories, interiors, and graphics all accounted for.

1973 Austin Mini saloon
Norm & Jesse Nelson

Pynt Syz was the first, based on a 1973 Austin Mini saloon that had been owned by a young, aspiring musician in Southern California. It was inoperable, and the owner was desperate, with no idea how to work on it or get it running. We found it on eBay, bid on it, and one night at three in the morning, it was ours. So off we went with truck and trailer and a cashier’s check to go get it.

We knew right away that Pynt Syz would need some tender loving care. Dented door, slipping clutch, spongy brakes, and signs of rust in all the usual places. We towed the Mini home, unloaded it, and got to work. About 15 minutes later, that little 1275cc engine was roaring. Turns out the dual SU HS2 carbs just needed some tuning. All the rest of it took longer, of course, but with time we stripped Pynt Syz down and ground out the dents and rust, fixed all the mechanical issues, added wheel flares, painted it black, and added flames and an electric windup key. It was an instant hit.

Tiny Tows is a 1962 Austin Mini pickup. For this one, we designed and built a tow bed with an aluminum frame and diamond plate cover. It’s complete with a working boom and winch, hooks and chains, a portable battery charger, fa ire extinguisher, and all the proper tow truck warning and flashing lights. Tiny Tows was on display at the American Towman Conference in Las Vegas and appeared in AJ Baime’s “My Ride” column in the Wall Street Journal in 2020. 

1961 Austin Mini Countryman front 3/4
Norm & Jesse Nelson

Our XS Woody (for “extra small”) is a rare 1961 Austin Mini Countryman woody wagon, complete with mounted surfboard and orchid flower racing stripes. This Mini appeared on stage with the Beach Boys for a live concert and they autographed the dashboard.

1964 Austin Mini saloon police car
Norm & Jesse Nelson

Mini Fuz is a 1964 Austin Mini saloon dressed up as a police car, complete with lights and siren, a talking German Shepherd, and a donut and coffee on a window tray.

1963 Austin Mini saloon
Norm & Jesse Nelson

Fireball is our 1963 Austin Mini saloon and was a former race car before its restoration. It has been lowered and widened and is powered by a balanced and blueprinted 1310-cc engine, with straight-cut racing gears. The back seat area has been filled with a powerful stereo system, and the whole thing is done in a custom flame paint job.

Our 1969 Austin Mini Countryman wagon is a Ghostbusters tribute that we built into what we call “Ecto ½.” It’s been fully restored from the ground up, with all the bells and whistles of a movie car. In August 2022, we were honored to be invited to show this car as part of a special Mini class at the Quail Motorsports Gathering. 

Our latest build is a 1966 Morris Mini panel van. This car has been acid dipped and stripped. New floorboards, side panels, roof, grille, and fenders are ready to assemble and weld. The engine and transmission are built, the sub rames are powdercoated, and all-new suspension and brake parts are ready for installation. This one will be themed as our Mini Eagle II to honor our veterans.

1965 MG Midget roadster profile
Norm & Jesse Nelson

Finally, not a Mini but hard to ignore is our 1965 MG Midget roadster. It’s restored with fresh 1098-cc engine, wire wheels, and a new interior. It’s a true joy to cruise the winding country roads in this car on a cool spring evening.


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