American John Becker wanted to be a racing driver, a quest that led him to discover the Mini Cooper. It was the 1970s and racing was an expensive pursuit. To finance his dream, John opened a specialist Mini workshop and over the years became a classic Mini expert. His love for the pocket dynamo has never waned.
John Becker had just completed his studies in 1974 when he decided to finally live out his dream and enter the world of motor sport. He was captivated by car racing and simply had to get involved, despite only having a sketchy grasp of the ins and outs. While searching for the right machine, he stumbled across a Mini Cooper and snapped it up on the spur of the moment. His chosen hobby turned out to be a very expensive one, though; things were constantly breaking and spare parts soon drained his resources. But instead of just giving up as others might have, John opened his own workshop, specialising in Minis and other British marques. His racing dreams remained alive.
John became smitten with Minis and gradually acquired a deep knowledge and understanding of their engineering. He has owned countless versions and worked on many more besides. Today, he still has six to his name: a GT5 racing Mini bought in 1989, a 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S, three Minis from Canada and an extremely rare 1967 Mini Moke. His wife drives a new MINI, which she says is just as much fun as the original but with the added benefit of mod cons.
John and his wife are both crazy about cars, especially Minis. So it comes as little surprise that they met at a race track where she was also competing.
The Mini Moke was actually developed for the British military, specifically paratroopers. Although the army turned it down on account of its low ground clearance and lack of tractive power, the Moke became a big success as an off-road and recreational vehicle. Its open design made this the quintessential fine-weather machine. Consequently, the Moke was mostly sold in sun-kissed locations, with Australia and the Caribbean becoming its main markets. Most recently, it acquired cult status as a fun-filled beach hopper.
Underneath its unusual exterior, the Moke was a Mini through and through, with four cylinders and 848 cc. The chassis, gearbox and small wheels were all identical, too. It offered little in the way of luxury; features such as passenger seats, grab handles, heating, windscreen wipers and even the soft-top roof had to be bought separately as extras and installed by the owner. Australian Mokes had more powerful engines and came in a wide variety of special versions, which gave them added appeal and ensured they performed well on the export market.
John bought his Mini Moke in Southern California in 1992 and viewed this 1967 model first and foremost as the utility vehicle it was originally designed to be. That continued for a couple of years until it was time for an extensive restoration. John stripped the car back to its bare bones and replaced anything beyond repair. The idea was to keep his Moke as original as possible, the only deviation being a dark green paint job.
John has three children – two boys and a girl. Having a father who ran a workshop and headed up the Mini Owners Club of America meant the children were constantly surrounded by Minis from a young age. Now grown up, only one of the kids (one of the boys) shares his parents’ passion for the car.
However, there have been occasions when the entire family have immersed themselves in the Mini experience. In 2007, they travelled to the Mini Meet in Mt. Hood, Oregon in three Minis: John and his wife in a Cooper S, their sons and daughter in the second car and John’s brother in a third. For some inexplicable reason, all were plagued by problems – both there and back. The whole family were left high and dry at the roadside at regular intervals, but they always managed to fix whatever was up and continue on their journey. According to John, nothing is ever a problem as long as you just carry the usual spares with you – a fuel pump, for example. Although that’s easy to say when you’re an experienced mechanic! At any rate, the trip was a highly memorable one for the Becker family. Even if nerves became a little frayed at times, a marvellous adventure was enjoyed by all.