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If you spend enough time as an automobile collector, (that is what we call ourselves, so our wives will not ask why we have to have so many vehicles), you will encounter a vehicle that you do not own, but are just the caretaker. Such is the case of the 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S that I now have “temporary” possession of. Although my name is on the title, I am just a caretaker for a brief time, however long that is. Kermit began life as a “real” Mini Cooper S in the last year of production that could be legally shipped to the US. He went to San Francisco. The early years are clouded in some mystery. What is known is that the car was acquired by John Ferguson in 1982, when he saw an ad in AutoWeek. “Kermit”, as it came to be known, had spent the previous few years in Colorado and had been raced. There was a roll bar already installed at the time of purchase.
John eventually commenced a complete restoration of Kermit. At the time of restoration, some left rear corner body damage was discovered, which further confirmed the competition past of the car. Other than the minor body damage, which had been repaired well, the rest of the car was pristine. The car was completely disassembled and repaired as necessary. There was no rust anywhere in the car and only shiny metal showed up when parts were taken down. Kermit was rebuilt to racing specifications, with a very comfortable interior for a race car. Racing seats by Recaro and 5 point racing harnesses were added. There is very little sound proofing, but then this is a race car.
Although the physical size of Kermit is small, as a race car, these were giant killers. In their day, Minis easily trounced Corvettes and Mustangs with equal ease. Remember, the car weighs just over 1400 lbs. and many put out well over 150 hp. This makes them truly a force to be reckoned with, when combined with their superior handling. These little cars were “terrors” on a road course. After the restoration, John campaigned the car throughout the US as he moved around. Kermit has seen competition in the Northwest, Midwest, and Southwest US. The many badges displayed in the car attest to the varied venues Kermit has competed in. The car was set up primarily as an Autocross car and was the equal of all comers in its class. In 1993 Kermit acquired a stable mate “Booger” ( a Mini Panel Van) which assumed primary race duties. Booger currently resides with John’s long time friend and co competitor Kenneth Suhre, near St. Louis. Kermit was retired then, from the role of primarily a competition car, to a hot street car.
John drove the car on tours, and as a back road ripper, until 2006 when the engine finally needed another rebuild. John was quoted in a 2006 edition of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Cars, “I love it and I want to be buried in it. Other cars come and go, but Kermit stays.” Almost prophetically John was diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer. John spent the last years, months, and days of his life re-restoring Kermit to a standard he had always wished for the car. It was his final project, undertaken with an intensity meant to defy the inevitable. Yet we all must go, and in 2008 John lost his battle; but Kermit was complete.
I first encountered Kermit in January of 2009 when I was in Tucson on my way to the Barrett–Jackson Auction. Not having missed an auction in 20 years, I was stopping off in Tucson for some business and meeting up with the friends who were going to the auction with me. When we stopped by Dearing Automotive (THE best independent Mercedes, BMW and exotic repair facility in Tucson), Bob Dearing pointed out Kermit to me along with a 2005 Mini that John had also heavily modified. Bob explained that John had recently passed away and Bob was trying to sell them for John’s widow. Frankly, at the time, I was more interested in the ‘05 Mini as I thought it to be more practical. What was I thinking? Bob and I could not agree on a price and that was that. Rushing forward to January 2010, I am back in Tucson, and again at Dearing Automotive (write that name down, snowbirds), this time just to talk over old times, compare car stories, and share a good Mexican lunch as we usually do. As soon as I walked in, Bob said “I have a car you have to buy.” I kindly demurred explaining I had promised my wife no new cars this year. He insisted. I reminded him that my wife is a surgeon; I had promised, and because she makes her living with sharp knives, I was loath to break a promise to her. He further insisted. I forcefully explained I had just put down a deposit on a storage condo near Harrisburg, SD and was really stretched as tight as I wanted to be financially. Bob was relentless. I knew what the car was worth and how much had gone into it, so I told him the only way I could buy it would be to steal it, (I knew this would save me) and my wife would have to approve. I tried to change the subject by suggesting a couple of good Mexican restaurants in the area, but Bob would not be diverted from getting me to agree to take the car. He explained that Mrs. Ferguson wanted the car to go to a good home and someone who would appreciate it and could maintain it as it should be. I made an almost criminally low offer and he told me to call my wife. I knew my salvation was at hand, I called Jane and told her of my dilemma. Her first question after I explained the situation was “that pretty little green one with the white top?” This was not going well, but, I answered “yes” to her question. Then my savior said, “well if Bob says you have to buy it, then I guess, you have to buy it.” I reminded her of my promise, and she replied “situations change.” I was ecstatic. I was going to be the next caretaker of Kermit, all I had to do now was figure out how to get it back to South Dakota. Thank you Bruce Eide for the logistical support.
Kermit is now here, still resplendent in the Almond Green with an off white top, the original colors it was born with so many years ago in merry old England. So as Kermit approaches its’ 44th birthday I will be taking care of it and preserving it for someone else in the future who will be the caretaker. My thanks and the thanks of my family go to John Ferguson for the effort and love he put into Kermit. It has provided all of us an unusual amount of enjoyment since arriving in South Dakota.
As a side story, our daughter was out with some friends a couple of weeks ago and one of her male friends since high school, during a discussion on cars, told her he could show her a picture he took last summer of his ultimate dream car, out of his phone came a picture of Kermit. He was destroyed when my daughter said “Oh, I think that is one of our cars, let me call my dad.” I don’t worry too much about a girl that can hold her own in a conversation about cars. We should all be so lucky.