Greg Coates brings new life to famous ex-racing MINIs

NEW LIFE: Greg Coates spends his time restoring old racing MINIs.
NEW LIFE: Greg Coates spends his time restoring old racing MINIs.

SHELDON resident and car restorer Greg Coates has gained a following in the automotive world for his work restoring old racing MINIs.

Mr Coates— who began restoring cars in high school with his father, Richard— tracks down ex-racing vehicles and restores them to their original state before returning them to their former owners.

“When I was in high school I was a bit of a naughty kid, and my dad suggested we restore an old car to keep me out of trouble,” Mr Coates said.

Mr Coates said the first car he worked on won the award for 1994 RACQ Restored Car of the Year.

Since then, he and his father have restored ex-Bathurst 1000 racing MINIs that were driven by famous drivers including Peter Manton, Caroline O’Shanesy and Brian Foley.

“Part of the thrill is I track down these old owners and give them the cars back to drive,” Mr Coates said.

“It’s almost like a treasure hunt to find these cars. 

“(My father and I) searched for (a MINI raced by driver Peter Manton) for nine years before we found it, looking through paperwork, old newspaper clippings and magazines.

“For most of these people, they are pretty elderly now, it’s a pretty emotional thing. They all cry, every one of them (when they see their restored vehicles).”

RACE CAR: Mr Coates also restored this old MINI.

RACE CAR: Mr Coates also restored this old MINI.

Mr Coates said that his most valuable car was not the rarest or the oldest, but a car he had worked on while undergoing treatment for a brain tumour in the 1990s.

“I used to distract myself by restoring (a mustard-yellow ex-Bathurst car),” he said.

“That’s the car that probably means the most to me because it was the one I was doing when I was sick.”

RESTORED: Mr Coates restored this ex-Bathurst car during his treatment for a brain tumour.

RESTORED: Mr Coates restored this ex-Bathurst car during his treatment for a brain tumour.

Mr Coates said he sought to reveal the unrealised history of these once-famous cars.

“Nobody wanted to buy an ex-race car, so (owners) used to hide their history,” he said.

“People used to respray them and throw away their logbooks because a race car wasn’t worth any money.

“These cars have history, people at some stage have had these cars mean so much to them, and that’s probably why I get approached so often, because I try and do right by (the owners). 

At the end of the day, I only sort of hold custody over them, they’re a part of history.

“Unfortunately, people buy (old cars) as investments and they get treated like art, stuck in a museum, stuck in someone’s garage. 

“I drive the wheels off them.”

RESTORED: Brian Foley drives a MINI he drove at Bathurst in 1967 with Mr Coates in the passenger seat.

RESTORED: Brian Foley drives a MINI he drove at Bathurst in 1967 with Mr Coates in the passenger seat.

Mr Coates said his next project would be a 1967 MINI Cooper nicknamed Wendy, which he was restoring for his 11-year-old daughter.

“I think (MINIs) transcend generations,” he said. 

“Everyone has a mini story. It’s a car that nobody ever says they don’t like.”