by Paul Mitchell
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I acquired my Jem in 1975, unregistered, un-roadworthy and extremely unloved, having rescued her from the weeds of an Adelaide backyard.
Her previous owner had used her for circuit racing, but when I found her she was a kid's cubby house.
Back in my garage I found she had a perspex windscreen, a weary 1100 motor, no brakes to speak of, questionable wiring, damaged front wings and paint that had been thrown on with a bucket!
The initial rebuild was with a view to getting her registered for roadwork, but after several frustrating trips to the Motor Transport Department I decided it was all too hard, and satisfied myself with circuit racing and the occasional club permit run. I installed a Mk2 Cooper S motor and mechanicals, a roll cage, wider front wheel arch flares and lots of go-fast stuff to make race day a little more interesting!
In 1992 the idea of driving her half-way across the country to the Minifest 30 in Sydney and Bathurst started another rebuild with full road registration in mind, incorporating civilized things like a laminated glass windscreen, a heater and internal linings. The wiring was completely renewed and the mechanicals brought to as-new condition.
Now as much as I admire the workmanship and dedication that goes into the restoration and reconstruction of historic vehicles to concourse original condition, I have always had a desire to individualise my own car, after all that was why I had acquired a kit-car in the first place. So I set to work designing and building an opening rear hatch and cabin divider which made access to the luggage much easier and a lot safer.
After several more visits to the Motor Registry Department I finally convinced them that the Jem was roadworthy and was issued with full type registration and headed off on the 2500klm round trip to the Minifest in Sydney. I could be wrong, but I believe mine is the only Australian Jem that has been registered as such. All the rest were registered before the need to identify the body shell and were registered simply as a Mini.
That initial trip showed me what was needed to make the car useable as an everyday means of transport. The first thing was fresh air vents ducted from beside the radiator to the dash, the next was a better muffler system.
I had built the motor-home with the capacity to carry a small car in the back. We started off with our old faithful Leyland Minivan, but after it virtually dissolved from rust in tropical Queensland, I flew down to Adelaide, drove the Jem back up to Mackay and used her for the rest of the trip. You can't beat fiberglass cars for standing up to extreme weather conditions! That 4500klm trip took 5 days (5days x 8hrs x 110klm/hr) and the Jem never missed a beat.
Our working holiday took us right around the coastline of Australia staying a about year in each place. We parked the motor-home in the sea-front caravan parks, and whenever I backed the Jem out, a crowd would gather. I was usually asked to do it all again for the video cameras.
At the end of each stay I'd pack her away again and off we'd go to the next place - more cameras!
When we were in Broome (top end of Western Australia) I had to put her away in the motor-home in a real hurry - a cyclone was bearing down and all hell was about to brake loose. Luckily the center of the cyclone missed the town but we still copped 160kph winds for several hours.
Next day the place was mess but luckily the motor-home and Jem was safe and there was no damage.
The Jem and I went to some places that were about as remote as you can get - and still be on a bitumen surface!
During the last year of the trip around Oz I decided to undertake some restyling of my Jem, making cosmetic changes to the body-shell to bring her looks more up-to-date, whilst still retaining the car's original form. For instance I've always thought that the hump over the rear wheel was a bit of an affectation and served no real purpose. The line of the window sill sloped backwards and gave her a drooped rear-end look. The windscreen surround rubber was bulky and not very aerodynamic. The tiny engine access bonnet was next to useless and the source of much aggravation!!!. The front radiator opening was barely large enough for the fresh-air ducts, oil cooler and radiator. On hot days the sliding windows were a waste of time and my doors were badly warped anyway - and talking of doors, I was keen to get rid of the external door hinges and handles. Don't get me wrong, the things I'm talking about are what make the Jem so typical of the mid 60's British sports car designs which I'm very fond of.
However there's a place for speculation as to "what if" the design had gone on developing, instead of ceasing production in the mid 70's.
The restyling was to incorporate the following:
The work was to be cosmetic only, with no structural alterations to the shell - I can always return it to original.
These changes were done after a lot of careful planning and mocking-up, aiming to make the finished style changes as subtle as possible - what I think the Jem could have become had it stayed in production with continual styling development over the years.
I didn't want it to have that "bolted on" look, or the alterations looking too obvious or outrageous.
My approach was one of respect for the original design.
I aimed to achieve unity of form with linking items blending the new and existing elements together. By keeping the lines clean and well defined the overall character became clearer and still suited to the small size of the vehicle.
By raising the sill line at the rear, a better balance of the side mass was obtained. The elimination of the door hinges and the flushing of the windscreen take 20 years off the apparent age, while the removal of the door handles and windows harks back to the sports cars of the 50's.
I widened the radiator opening by about 25mm each side, retaining one of the cars' most recognisable features.
I thought long and hard about undertaking these changes before I began, but I can only say that the response of the general public has been very positive.
I am often stopped in the street and asked about her. These days most people have never seen or heard of a Jem, and are none the wiser as to the changes that I have made.
Those "older folk" who do remember the Jems instantly recognize it ....take a slow walk around her.....but can't quite put their finger on what's different. It's only when you see her next to an original that the changes become obvious.
I take this as confirmation of success.
© 2004 Paul Mitchell, Adelaide, South Australia
Last updated 8th March, 2013