Apr 22, 2014
From Farm to Freeway.
Every MINI with a mile or two on it comes with a story, but rare is the ride who’s history is as unusual as Simon Ayton’s 1968 classic MINI Van. This is the hands-on MINIac and professional musician from Sydney, Australia who knows every owner of his beautifully restored 1968 MINI Van ‘Malmo’, as well as the car’s truly unorthodox past.
Dug up from a farmer’s shed and gloriously transformed, Simon’s classic MINI Van is a ride of uncommonly storied roots.
Malmo had just 78,000 miles on the clock when Simon first got behind the wheel in 1995. Despite its relatively low mileage, this ‘Malmo’ green 1968 classic MINI Van has seen a lot in its lifetime.
The story begins in 1969. A farmer, who was also a friend of Simon’s grandmother, bought Malmo and enjoyed using the roomy MINI Van for 20 years as a commercial vehicle. Then, in 1989, he parked Malmo in a shed and – if you can believe it – turned it into a mushroom and potato farm. For five years this classic MINI Van was filled with soil and used to grow vegetables, and to this day the price of mushrooms per kilo can be seen written on Malmo’s original fuel tank as a reminder of its time as a makeshift greenhouse.
In 1994, Simon’s uncle happened upon Malmo. Seeing the iconic grille of the classic MINI Van peeking out from a shed, he immediately offered an actual greenhouse in exchange for what he knew to be a genuine diamond in the rough. The farmer happily agreed and Simon’s uncle began shovelling out the soil and starting up the engine. Miraculously the motor roared alive, but after carrying a payload of potatoes and dirt for five years, Malmo’s tired suspension gave out just a few metres down the lane. The road to recovery would be long, but well worth the effort, as Simon would eventually prove.
One year after Malmo was quite dug out literally from its deep sleep, Simon bought it from his uncle to carry his drum kit to practices and concerts across Australia. At this point Malmo was still worse for wear, so Simon took it upon himself to see Malmo through a complete restoration.
“My better half sighs and bids me farewell when I mention going down to the garage,” Simon confesses, showing how well his wife knows his healthy obsession. It’s all too clear that working on Malmo is hugely rewarding, and he takes great pleasure in documenting the progress.
All told, Simon has rebuilt the engine, the gearbox, suspension and steering, refitted the seats, installed new brakes, reconstructed the temperature and pressure gauges, beaten dents out of the siding by hand and completely resprayed it in original Malmo green.
Malmo often proved a challenge when it came to sourcing original parts, but Simon nevertheless used as many NOS (‘New Old Stock’) parts as he could to stay faithful to the original classic MINI Van design. “The aim was to use as many NOS [parts] where possible to keep the character of the car, but hopefully improve the reliability and driveability by switching to electronic ignition and an alternator which doesn’t change the look but seriously helps keep the car working.”
The MINI community has been an integral part of Malmo’s restoration, Simon shared: “MINI meets are good to find owners of similar cars and we keep in contact via email. I’ve also asked questions like, ‘Where’d you get those wheels?’” While the community is a hive of knowledge, a little book learning was also necessary. “My girlfriend has bought me a few books including MINI The Definitive History which I used as a guide to make sure parts I get are from the same period.
Above all, Simon wants to keep Malmo on the road for years to come, but a few upgrades along the way speak purely to his hobbies, underscoring the unique joys of a restoration project. “I’ve also fitted a hidden 500W multi-speaker sound system with the amp and sub under the rear floor, the speakers under seats and tiny high frequency drivers up in the corners of the windscreen,” Simon told MINI Space. “You can’t see the sound system unless [it is] pointed out and it just has a simple hidden jack for connection to any player.”
Since a labour of love on this scale is never truly complete, Simon still has ideas for a few more adjustments. Though he’s happy the heavy lifting is behind him, he’s sure that Malmo will continue to improve indefinitely. Next on the list is a new fuse box and some new exhaust mounts. But for now, this beautifully restored classic MINI can be seen happily cruising the streets of Sydney with Simon behind the wheel and a van’s worth of music gear in tow.
To keep up with Simon and Malmo and see more shots from the restoration, follow Simon on Instagram.