Updated: Apr 2, 2020
WHEN I arrived to pick up my Mini, I’d had very little sleep — my mind had been buzzing with excitement and anticipation. The dealership had barely opened and I was there. I signed the final forms, was handed the keys and walked out to see my car — a gleaming British Racing Green/ white top Mini Cooper S with Minilite mags, Dunlop SP41 tyres and a wood-rimmed steering wheel.
I walked around it noting the trademarks, the little “S” badges front and rear (many weren't quite upright coz the assembly worker was cross-eyed), the twin fuel tank caps on each rear haunch, and wide front and rear track that bulged out of the fenders. I bent low to get in the seat, checked the gear lever and turned the key. The 1275cc four-cylinder engine burst into life with an exciting rasp I recognise to this day.
No, this wasn’t the BMW-built Mini Cooper S I picked up a couple of years ago for a road test, but the real deal original — the Monte Carlo Rally and Bathurst 500-conquering 1966 Morris Mini Cooper S I bought just after turning 18, w-a-a-ay back in 1968.
The statistics now seem so very ordinary. Extreme compactness and ultra-lightness gave the Mini remarkable performance, particularly when the engine went from a paltry 850cc to the 1275cc version in my pride and joy. But it still only produced 57kW of power and 107Nm of torque.
However, it weighed just 615kg, which was why a couple of mates and I could easily lift up the back of a teacher’s Mini at school and turn it around so he couldn’t drive away.
The “S” was flat out and screaming at 96mph on its big central speedo — 157km/h in today’s language, but the low gearing meant it blew away everything else on the road under acceleration. It also disappeared around corners at an impossible rate, embarrassing pedigree sports cars that cost several times as much.
I had so much fun doing that, my Dunlops didn’t last long, and the gearstick quite often jumped up and down with the throttle movement as the engine-bracing bar damper rubber disintegrated.
After only a year, my dad pressured me to spend my $50/month HP payment on a block of land instead.
Secretary of the WA Mini Car Club Ted Curr and his pride and joy.
So I approached today’s Mini wistfully; would I find links between the car of my youth and today’s iteration? Nope.
Fifty years have transformed expectations, and BMW’s highly successful investment in the Mini name and aura is targeted at a new breed of stylistically conscious, trendy and up-market buyers attracted by the funky image and the promise of sporty performance.
Conceptually, new Mini couldn’t be more different. It’s still sporty, and the chassis delivers pin-sharp steering and response. But inside, most control movements spark an array of coloured juke-box lights on the massive central binnacle. The controls are in conventional positions and the seats are infinitely adjustable, as is the steering column. Plus everything works.
I handed the Mini back with a lot less reluctance than when I sold my own “brick” under sufferance in 1969. Was this new car fun? Absolutely, but to a purist, it’s not a Mini, it’s a car.
“LE GAGNANT DOIT ETRE FRANCAIS!”
“The winner must be French!” Mini won the Monte Carlo Rally from 1964 to 1967 but was disqualified by French officials in 1966 for having the gall to share the same headlights as the fifth- placed Citroen DS that they declared the winner. The Citroen’s Finnish driver Pauli Toivonen boycotted the awards ceremony, resigned in disgust and swore never to drive for Citroen again!