Car enthusiast's vintage Mini set to star on TV - with electric power

Simon Benton delivering the car to Richard Morgan at Electric Classic Cars in September 2020 for her Tesla conversion

Simon Benton delivering the car to Richard Morgan at Electric Classic Cars in September 2020 for her Tesla conversion - Credit: Ted Sparrow

A Felixstowe car enthusiast has restored the Mini he learned to drive in back in the 1970s - and now the little car is due to star on TV.

What's more, the classic car is getting a taste of 21st-century technology, by undergoing a Tesla electric vehicle conversion in Wales for the series Vintage Voltage, to be shown on the station Quest TV later this year. 

Owner Simon Benton described the car as "part of the family," and added: "I had always told my parents I would restore her."

The Mini before its restoration

The Mini before its restoration - Credit: Simon Benton

He said: "The car was built in 1967 and given to my mum by my dad for Christmas in 1977 and has stayed in our family and in Felixstowe all its life, except for the last six months, when it's been in Wales.

"My sister, Julietta Howard, and I both learned to drive in her and she was recently restored by local Suffolk businesses before going to Wales."

His late mum, Mary, used the car daily to get to the nursery at Fairfield Infants School, where she was a teacher.

Simon Benton under the Mini at Team C Racing near Ipswich, with Ted Sparrow on the stepladder

Simon Benton under OBie as she is built up at Team C Racing near Ipswich, with Ted Sparrow on the stepladder - Credit: Jade Benton

The car soon received the nickname "OBie", after the first two letters of the number plate. "Star Wars had just come out that summer," Simon recalled.

After learning to drive, Simon became interested in restoring cars, including Mini GTs and Clubmans, and said he has been tinkering with them for decades.

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His late dad, Eric, kept OBie on the road, exchanging some parts as needed, and the car continued in daily use until it failed its MOT in the early 1990s.

As Simon's life became increasingly busy, the car sat at the back of the family garage, hidden under boxes and sheets of wood.

Then, in 2018 Simon decided it was time to restore OBie, with help from local experts.

Simon Benton of Felixstowe, who decided to restore the Mini he learned to drive in

Simon Benton of Felixstowe, who decided to restore the Mini he learned to drive in - Credit: Simon Benton

Ted Sparrow of Team C Racing, based near Ipswich, worked on the restoration, and Bridge Classics of Pettistree carried out bodywork repairs and painting. 

It has been a real labour of love restoring and repairing as many of the original parts as possible.

As he thought about putting a new engine in the car, Simon started to wonder about an electric vehicle conversion.

He met the team from Electric Classic Cars at a specialist event, and that led to them deciding to carry out an EV conversion of the Mini for the series Vintage Voltage, presented by Richard “Moggy” Morgan and his team of electric car experts

The details of the episode are being kept under wraps until nearer the time, but Electric Classic Cars have posted on social media about the project.

In one Instagram post, they wrote: "It's time to bolt in our first electric Mini kit for the last time. Tesla power with a 33kWh battery pack and still retains standard seating and a boot."

The Benton family's Mini OBie at Silverstone in 1989 for the Mini's 30th anniversary celebrations

The Benton family's Mini OBie at Silverstone in 1989 for the Mini's 30th anniversary celebrations, with Simon Benton, left, and brother-in-law David Howard - Credit: Julietta Howard