Home » Last-Minute Entries: 2005 Mini Cooper S vs 1997 Land Rover Discovery

Last-Minute Entries: 2005 Mini Cooper S vs 1997 Land Rover Discovery

Sbsd 9 7 2023
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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! Today is the third and final installment of my countdown to the Portland All-British Field Meet. We’ve got a couple of more modern British rides to look at today, but first, let’s see how yesterday’s voting turned out:

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Lots of strong opinions on both sides of this one, but in the end, the Heartbeat of America in a Savile Row suit takes the win. Honestly, I could go either way on this one. They would both rile up the old guard at the show on Saturday, that’s for sure.

Speaking of which: Going to a car show is a good time, but you know what’s even better? Entering a car show. Walking the field and checking out the cars is so much more fulfilling when you can look over and see other people appreciating your ride at the same time. You’re part of the event, not just an attendee. Otherwise you’re like those people who go to the Renaissance Faire in normal street clothes when everyone else is in costume. Sure, it’s still fun, but you’re missing out on half of the experience.

To hopefully help save someone from feeling left out, I have found two British cars for sale right here in Portland that will get you through the gates at Portland International Raceway and into the rarefied company of British motorcar ownership. Both of them run and drive just fine. You could fly into town, buy one of these today, spend tomorrow detailing it and fixing a few things, and show up for day-of registration on Saturday morning. (If anyone is actually crazy enough to do this, please come find me at the show. I want to hear – and tell – your story.) Let’s see what we’re dealing with.

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2005 Mini Cooper S – $3,990

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Engine/drivetrain: Supercharged 1.6 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, six-speed manual, FWD

Location: Clackamas, OR

Odometer reading: 161,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

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I’ve waited patiently for twenty years now for the new Mini to depreciate into my price range, and now that it has, I don’t need a car. And I know too much about them. Originally I thought, “Oh, it’s a BMW design; it will be nice and reliable compared to the old ones.” I have since had a 2000s BMW in my household, and I know better.

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But the draw is still there. This is my kind of car: small, nimble, quick, and efficient. And from all reports, this is the model to get: the R53-chassis Cooper S, with a supercharged engine and six forward gears to play with. It’s still not Toyota-reliable, but its foibles are well-documented at this point, and not that hard to deal with. And I have to say, I love the color combination of this one.

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This Mini has had a ton of work done recently, and the seller says it runs great. It also just passed its smog test, and has new registration, so no worries there. It does, however, have a rebuilt title for an undisclosed reason. That’s not an uncommon thing here in Oregon; insurance companies will total a car at the drop of a hat, and it’s not hard to get a salvage title once you repair the car. Take it to a different state, and you might have a little trouble, but that’s your own concern.

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This car also has a serious aftermarket stereo, but unfortunately it eats up some of the meager cargo space. Me, I’d rather have the space; after all, carrying tools isn’t a terrible idea, and I’m not much of a subwoofer guy anyway. The stereo is only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.

1997 Land Rover Discovery – $3,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.0 liter overhead valve V8, four-speed automatic, full-time 4WD

Location: Portland, OR

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Odometer reading: 177,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does!

Want something a little more off-roady? I’ve got you covered. Here we have a Series I Land Rover Discovery, baby brother to the Range Rover SUV, based on the same chassis but less fancy. It has the same full-time 4WD system and the same Buick-derived Rover V8, but without some of the fancy toys. It’s still better-appointed than the brutally utilitarian Defender, but not a Footballers’ Wives luxury ride that never leaves the pavement like the Range Rover.

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This Discovery is part of what sounds like a large collection (or hoard, depending on your viewpoint) owned by an enthusiast who liked to convert US-spec Land Rovers to British turbodiesels and re-sell them at a profit. It’s a weird hobby, and an even weirder business model, but apparently it worked for a while until he woke up one morning and just got sick of the whole thing. Read the lengthy sales listing for the whole story. The short version is that this car still has its V8, it still runs just fine, and has no warning lights on the dash, which is saying something. Usually the dash on these things is lit up like the Vegas strip.

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It wouldn’t be a British car without a few issues, though, of course. The radio is dead, and one window is off-track. But on a complicated beast like this, if that’s really all it needs, that’s not bad at all. Cosmetically it still looks good, both inside and out, and the green/tan combination is a classic. It is missing the front bumper, but the seller says he has it “somewhere.”

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This is perfect for this year’s ABFM, too – the featured marque is Land Rover. They always have a good turnout anyway, but this year is sure to be big for the off-road crowd. You could even make up a story about how it lost the bumper. They’d love it.

It seems funny to consider eighteen and twenty-six year old vehicles as “modern,” but when they’re sharing show grounds with 100 year old cars, “modern” becomes relative. But they’re still part of the heritage, even though Mini is now German and Land Rover is Indian. They still belong. Either one is a valid ticket to the show. Which one are you taking?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Matt Hoyer
Matt Hoyer
22 days ago

Taking the Landy more because of the aftermarket stereo in the Mini than anything. Installations of those things are basically a dice roll as they age – they either turn out just fine, or they give you endless electrical issues.

Mike F.
Mike F.
24 days ago

The Land Rover would be a better complement to my current cars, but I gotta go with that Mini – it just looks too good for the price. Also probably not a fair thing, but I have this vision of driving the Discovery home and watching those warning lights come on, one by one, as I did so.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
24 days ago

An old girlfriend had an ’05 Mini and that car was a blast to drive. I’ve always wanted one, quality issues be damned. I just think they look so cool, and you would be surprised how much stuff you can fit in it with the back seats down. So of course I voted Mini.

R53 Lifer
R53 Lifer
24 days ago

Driven an R53 for half my life. Just rolled over 200k on the original clutch & supercharger. Lots of full-throttle smiles & squealed tires and yet I’ve never been stranded. Life’s too short to not have fun.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
24 days ago

The only car that wouldn’t beat a land rover in these context is another land rover.

Richard Arnott
Richard Arnott
24 days ago

They are both money pits…but the Mini would reward you for money thrown at it where the Land Rover would just demand more money.

Unclesam
Unclesam
24 days ago

Both good choices. I’d probably rather have the mini if it was real money but I’ve always *loved* a green disco.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
24 days ago

The youngster in me says Mini, however my child birthing hips say Land Rover. I think either one you can’t lose.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
24 days ago

I loled

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
24 days ago
Reply to  Harvey Park

Glad you enjoyed it.

Myk El
Myk El
25 days ago

I had an ’03 Cooper S, so same generation. 13 years as my DD. But I sold it cheap because I knew it needed a lot of work I lacked the time, tools and interest in doing. Anyway, I’m still voting for it under “the devil you know” because you know both are going to be problematic, at least with the Mini I would know how to fix some.

(For the sake of the exercise, I’m using someone else’s money on this purchase because no way in hell my own money is going toward the purchase of either)

RC
RC
25 days ago

Ah, the old joke: “If you want to go into the jungle, take a Land Rover. If you’d like to come back, take a Land Cruiser.”

I’d take the Rover here, even though its GM-supplied, British-“improved” powerplant is <checks notes> roughly as powerful and approximately half as reliable as a Toyota 4Runner’s 5VZFE of the same era. When something breaks, you want the car that is most comfortable to lie down in while you invariably wait for your buddy with the metric Allen and Torx set and/or tow strap, and the Rover wins that quite handily.

Holly Birge
Holly Birge
25 days ago

Echoing your comment about it being more fun to be entered at a car show than just a spectator — agree 100%. I took my Toyota to RADwood PNW last month and just had the most amazing time.

R53forfun
R53forfun
25 days ago

Obvs the Mini …

R53 Lifer
R53 Lifer
24 days ago
Reply to  R53forfun

Yuppers

SlowCarFast
SlowCarFast
25 days ago

WAIT! The new Mini is 18 years old??? (Checks notes) The new mini is 22 years old???!!!! Damn time does fly!

Obnoxious 986 Peasant
Obnoxious 986 Peasant
25 days ago

There’s no such thing as a $4000 mini. There’s a $4000 down payment on the upcoming $35,000 in repairs.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
24 days ago

I think that axiom is also true of Land Rover

Ricki
Ricki
25 days ago

The Mini is probably the “show” car (if we’re playing by the premise here), but the Land Rover would be a lot more fun, I think.

Waitaminute. Waitaminute. B-both? BOTH IN ONE WEIRD CONTRAPTION? BODY SWAPPED???

Give me another button, folks! I need to vote third party!

Scott
Scott
25 days ago

That Mini looks shockingly nice for $4K. On other cars, 160K miles on the odo wouldn’t give me pause (bought my ’04 Volvo with 131K on it from the original owner) but of course, I too have been reading about issues with Minis since they were rebooted by BMW. Still, that color combo is nice, the wheels aren’t off-putting and even though it’s probably a bit rattly, it’s likely still fun to drive.

I voted Mini. 🙂

Mike B
Mike B
25 days ago

Mini looks fun, but definitely the Disco. I’ve always liked them, it’s a solid axle off-roader, and this one is the right color so I can cosplay as Dennis Reynolds. This is a 5 star vehicle for a five star man.

Soso Tsundere
Soso Tsundere
25 days ago

Great, now I want another car AND a deep fried turkey leg…

121gwats
121gwats
25 days ago

100% Mini, and I too love that color combo too. You’d be surprised on how reliable this Brazilian made Chrysler engine really is. Sure, there’s plenty to go wrong with the R53, but nothing that will leave you stranded. Replace all the rubber bits, monitor any seeping gaskets, keep an eye on oil level (they burned oil when new), and these things will last 300k miles no problem. Most Minis over 150k miles have already had the major maintenance done (the clutch is like 12-14 shop hours, so make sure you find a good mechanic and get all the front end work done at once).

I’ve owned (6) R53 Cooper S over 12 year span, and the list of problems is actually pretty short, most is normal car stuff:

2-3 window actuators
1-clutch
1-crank pulley
1 set – front end bushings
1 set – ball joints
1 – low speed fan relay
1 – HK amp
1 – radiator
1 – supercharger refill
1 – crank position sensor gasket
1 – set CVs
1 – trunk release cable
8 sets of brakes? Many oil changes of course..

Last edited 25 days ago by 121gwats
Steve Lee
Steve Lee
24 days ago
Reply to  121gwats

My 06 R53 has only had a few real problems. Water got into the rear hatch handle and killed the release switch. Fixed under warranty. Other than that, I’ve had a coolant leak from both the thermostat and the waterpump and had to have the supercharger serviced after all the oil leaked out. Car has also eaten a few supercharger belts along the way. And lastly I’ve had a motor mount leak out. All in all, not too bad. Then again, I only have 89k miles on mine.

121gwats
121gwats
24 days ago
Reply to  Steve Lee

The dreaded motor mounts, I forgot to mention. The OEM fluid filled ones go bad @ 40k miles, replace with poly and you’re good for life. Lots of little things that all seem to average ~$100-150 every 6 months, but never anything catastrophic.

I haven’t owned an R53 in 3-4 years, I wish I had more room.

Grimy Ghost
Grimy Ghost
25 days ago

Gotta be the Mini. Had an ’06 that I still have fond memories of, but I also remember the dealer telling me that the power steering pump fan had crapped out. WTF – since when does a power steering pum need a FAN?

Best memory: teaching my then-fiance (now wife) to drive in a 6 speed Cooper S in Boston. She mastered every last bit of driving on that thing EXCEPT for parallel parking. Some of this was one in the parking garage at my office and she left a few very nice burnout marks while learning to start a stickshift going up hill.

For the actual test I bought her a shitbox Toyota Corolla with a lot of rust and an automatic transmission. In MA the owner of the car has to ride along during a driving test and I just about passed out when she broke the rear wheels loose (rain) on the final turn. Fortunately the guy giving a test gave just about as many fucks as one would expect from a Boston driving tester and had already signed off on her paperwork, but he did give her a super-snarky “are you SURE you have this under control?”

Our move to the PNW was a bit of a shock for her as she’d also internalized all of the best masshole driving “techniques” and then had to unlearn some of them.

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