We uncovered one of the largest Mini collections in South Africa. Petrolhead Leon Daniels shares why these compact classics make him tick...
There might be a 1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT parked in the garage but the rest are predominantly Minis.
This first garage holds most of Leon Daniels’ restored Minis as well as one which needs only the rubbers to be fitted. Highlights include Coopers and a friend’s racecar (Stuart Greig’s from Miniformance). It is Stuart who assists Leon with maintenance and restorations, a job that keeps him on his toes.
I walk through the second building and, apart from Leon’s obsession with collecting wheels, there is a plethora of engines and even two tractors, the latter originally fitted with Mini engines. It's a shed full of projects that will probably take a lifetime to restore but that doesn’t matter. It's an ongoing hobby which he thoroughly enjoys and one he can share with fellow enthusiasts. However, there are plans to exhibit some of the best cars in a showroom. It is a clear case of “watch this space”.
“My love of Minis started during my first year in university in 1985. We bought a 1973 Mini GTS; an important model because that is the only year these cars were made with 10-inch wheels.”
Throughout university, Leon and his wife (then girlfriend) bought another Mini or two. It was during his tenure in banking that he was in the position to buy more.
“Before we left to work in Paris in 1999, I managed to purchase two Cooper Ss. On our return a few years later, I started buying more. Each time I saw a Cooper S advertised, I’d buy it, at least one a year.
“Cooper Ss were my main interest but then I bought a Moke, which was a prototype. Another rare Mini which crossed my path was an Ant. Around 30 were manufactured; BMC sent only two to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The second is with a dentist in Pretoria and mine has been restored. It has a Mini engine with four-wheel drive and low-range. After all the Cooper S purchases and the first Moke, I concentrated on the latter models.
“I kept reading and learning about Minis, and realised models from 1959 and ’60 garnered interest among enthusiasts, so I kept an eye out for these models as well. I’ve managed to buy these cars at the right time but I try not to think about it that way. I want to enjoy and use my cars. We are about to drive from Gauteng to Sabi and then Barberton, a trip of more than 1 000 km with other enthusiasts.”
Leon also had a new Mini Sprint built for him by Gerrie Evert, based on hand-drawn plans from the builder who made them in the UK in the 1960s. These cars featured difficult modifications that included a roof lowered by around 40 mm. The trickiest part is cutting the same amount off the top and bottom of the doors, fenders, bonnet and firewall. Every single panel is cut. “I’ve been fortunate to find specialists who can work on these cars, have experience and, importantly, share the passion. That makes a huge difference.”
The shed is where he stores the interesting cars. Here are numerous projects, including a rare 1968 Mini Ant. “My love for Minis began with me being inquisitive and buying them. This interest has now changed to restoration.”
Thankfully, the next generation is ready to follow Leon’s example. His son’s first car was a Mini and he has subsequently also fallen for these little classics. A recent highlight included a visit to one of the best private Mini collections in Japan. “The owner spent several hours with us, taking us through his entire range, which includes cars that John Cooper owned and raced. I could have spent days there. You should’ve seen the rest of his collection. The Minis are just a small part of his large line-up of cars,” Leon enthuses.
Leon Daniels (54) studied chemical engineering and his wife industrial psychology at the same time at the University of Cape Town. For the past three decades, they’ve travelled the world extensively for work.