Ron Williams is a legend in the Mini restoration world

From his unassuming location at the southern end of the Rouse Street, proudly painted in Castrol colours, Ron Williams has forged a reputation for rebuilding Minis that extends not only Australia-wide but internationally.

His network of friends extends along the same lines, and Ron says it's the friendship of his fellow Mini-lovers that has made his career so enjoyable, to the extent that he can't bring himself to down tools even at the ripe old age of 76.

Ron already had motor mechanic and auto spray painting credentials under his belt when he and bride Valerie arrived in Tenterfield in 1966. Originally a Grafton boy, he used to commute from his home in Mallanganee to the Ford dealership in Casino, where owner Martin Arentz took him under his wing.

Ron said Arentz was a hard but fair boss, who in 1964 took the 17-year-old along as navigator on the Ampol Trial around Australia.

"I matured two years in those two weeks," Ron recalls.

The Williams, who both worked for Ford, transferred up to Howard Dunn's Tenterfield dealership in the midst of the biggest drought Ron recalls, topping even today's conditions.

"I remember walking across the back of the (Tenterfield) dam," he said.

Ron and Valerie eventually moved out on their own, initially buying a shop in Martin Street before progressing into what is now the shed of Col Mann Engineering, then operating as a panel repairs and paint shop.

The Williams settled into their current location in 1977, and fell into a specialisation for buying and selling and then rebuilding Minis, selling them to local young ladies. Back then there wasn't a lot of choice in a small, economical car that were good to drive.

Several of his cars can still be seen driving around town, including the ones belonging to Patty Pillar and Jill Sutcliffe.

They weren't just for young ladies, of course. Ron bought his first mini back in 1962, much to the chagrin of his Ford mentor.

"I just have a fascination for them," he said.

Second-hand ones were easier to source then as well. Back in those days the Minis were used as highway patrol cars, so he was able to pick up ex-police cars in Sydney.

Around the same time he developed Ron Williams Racing, continuing through to the 1980's.

"I had a ball," he said.

He had a good racing career, taking out the Leyland Championship in 1977 and racing at Lakeside, doing both drag and circuit at Surfers Paradise, the hill climb at Mt Cotton and Grafton and drag racing at the nearer Carnell Raceway in Stanthorpe.

Does he miss it?

"Yeah, but I have the pleasure of building race cars for the nicest people."

Back in the day Ron used to rebuild four Minis a year from scratch. These days he has slowed down a little following a couple of health scares, but not nearly as much as his wife and doctor would like.

"I did finish at 2pm on Saturday," he said of his seven-days-a-week work ethic.

He has one Mini in the shop for a complete rebuild at the moment, and he figures this will be his only major job to complete this year before heading out on the couple's annual pilgrimage to favourite destination New Zealand. There are also a couple of paint jobs, including that of friend Iam Gillam who's racing car was damaged in a shed fire in Toowoomba. It just happens to be the last car used by Ron William Racing.

"They just never even need to lift the bonnet at race meetings," Ron said.

"They just race the cars for four years and then send the engine back for a rebuild."

He often hosts car clubs to view his incredible collection of memorabilia covering many aspects of the motoring industry. Several of the specialist magazines on view feature his own vehicles and Tenterfield locales.

His Minis were the front cover of the first edition of Australian magazine Mini Magic, and he's also been featured in the version of the magazine back in Britain, home of the Mini. Ron was honoured by a friendship with Mini founder John Cooper, who sent him a box of Mini memorabilia including a rare model.

Minis were made in Australia from 1961 to 1979, but Ron rarely takes on projects of domestically-built cars these day as the parts are so hard to source. Parts for the British-made cars, however, are easy to secure and at a fraction of the price.

Minis are still big business in England, and Ron said the Japanese also have a passion for them. He shipped a Mini to a Japanese client back in 1990.

"The dollars they bring now is unbelievable," he said, as the cars acquire collector status.

A car it cost him $40,000 to rebuild three years ago sold two years later for $72,000. A Cooper S sold at auction for $92,000.

A Mini Broad Speed he sold for $49,000 ended up with a Western Australia purchaser for $75,000. On their death it came back across the country to Sydney for a princely sum of $110,000.

His personal Mini museum contains three models in pristine condition, including the 1962 Model 850 he restored just in time for his 75th birthday. There are two more Minis out the back, as well as Val's Alfa Romeo.

"I'll be rebuilding until the day I die," Ron said.

"I like building my cars, and I like being surrounded by all the memorabilia.

"What else am I going to do?"

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