Mini in the 1960s

Mini and the Monte Carlo Rally
Mini and the Monte Carlo Rally

Mini and the Monte Carlo Rally

Press Release

The Expression of a New, Mobile and Active Lifestyle

In September 1960 two new versions of the Mini made their debut in the market: the Austin Seven Countryman and the Morris Mini Traveller. The term “Traveller” used in conjunction with the Mini clearly indicates that this model was targeted at a group of customers enjoying an active lifestyle quite new and unprecedented at the time.

Apart from the typical elements and highlights of Mini design as well as the two doors at the rear, these special versions of the Mini remain in our me­mory to this day through their wooden sideboards extending all the way back at the outside from the B-pillar. Starting in 1961, the Morris Mini Traveller was also available without this woodwork in foreign markets outside of Great Britain, with this “no-wood” option being introduced in the Mini Traveller’s home market in 1962. In 1969 the Mini Clubman Estate replaced the Traveller and Countryman, total production of the Mini Estate under all model designations amounting to more than 400,000 units between 1960 and 1982.

In technical terms the Mini Estate was based on the two-seater Mini Van launched in January 1960. Compared with the Mini Saloon, that is the original Mini, exterior length was up from 3,050 to 3,300 mm (120.1´´ to 129.9´´), with the car’s wheelbase extended by 110 mm or 4.33´´  to 2,140 mm or 84.3´´, while the roofline was 10 mm or almost 0.4´´ higher.

With its reinforced suspension and higher loading capacity, the Mini Travel­ler met all the demands made of an elegant transporter at the time, with go-kart-like driving characteristics ensuring the highest conceivable standard of agility in the market. Starting in 1961, finally, a Mini Pick-Up was also offered on the same technical basis.

One Hundred Years of Sir Alec Issigonis.

Forty-seven years after the world debut of the first Mini, this small but sporting athlete from Britain has become a huge success in nearly 80 countries the world over. And the creator of the car was indeed just as cosmopolitan as MINI is today: Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis
was born on 18 November 1906 as the son of a Greek father and a German mother in a region which now be­longs to Turkey. At the age of 16 Alex Issigonis moved to Britain, where he completed his schooling and studied engineering before becoming one of the most successful automotive engineers and designers ever to come out of Britain.

Not only the many technical innovations introduced in the first Mini clearly showed that the ingenious inventor of this car saw the subject of transport from a very different perspective – no, it was particularly Issigonis’ irresistible attitude in life that made the whole development so unique: “Mathematics is the enemy of every creative individual”, is how Alec Issigonis once summed up his creed.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Mini was a highly emotional car right from the start, chic and urban, but also perfect for winding roads and serpentine routes. Only a few months elapsed from the initial sketches to the first road-going prototypes, the Mini making its world debut in 1959. And at the same time Issigonis’ ingenious construction anticipated the principle of front-wheel drive with the engine fitted in transverse arrangement at the front destined to become the standard concept for compact cars as of the ’70s of the 20th century.

The first million Minis was sold by 1965 and this little high-performance car had already won the Monte Carlo Rally as well as the Thousand-Lake Rally in Finland. In consideration of this out­standing success, Alec Issigonis was knighted by the Queen of England in 1969. Sir Alec, as he was now called, then retired step-by-step from his everyday work, dying in 1988 at the age of almost 82 – with production of the Mini by that time amounting to more than four million units.

Mini and the Monte Carlo Rally

It was the great sensation of the 1963/64 rally winter: A small red David with a white roof left all the ultra-powerful Goliaths behind, clinching its first overall win in the Monte Carlo Rally. Virtually overnight, this little “dwarf” had become a legend.

Wherever the Mini – either in standard trim, in the form of the Mini Cooper, or as a specially tuned performance car – entered a rally or any other motorsport event at the time, it was good for a great sur­prise. Indeed, these were the years in which the Mini caused one sensation after the other in the world of rally racing, showing its tail lights to many a would-be winner on tracks and circuits everywhere. So it is quite appropriate to say that the ’60s were the decade of the Mini, far beyond official races and contests.

Just a bit more than six months after the Mini had made its debut in 1959, six Mini works cars entered the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally, with six more of these new young athletes being driven by private drivers. In 1962 Rauno Aaltonen, later to become world-famous as the “Flying Finn”, entered Monte Carlo for the first time at the wheel of a Mini Cooper, subsequently being forced to retire after a spectacular acci­dent. Two other names in the lists of participants were also destined to hit the headlines in connection with the Mini in the years to come: Timo Mäkinen and Patrick “Paddy” Hopkirk. In 1963 various Minis already came close to the top places in the Rally, but a year was still to pass before the real breakthrough.

In 1964 Paddy Hopkirk and his two Scandinavian colleagues joined forces for the first time in the same team. Putting up a great performance on several stages of the race, Paddy Hopkirk battled it out suc­cess­fully against his far more powerful competitors, moving right up to the top of the field and finally securing first place in the fiercely contested “Night of Long Knives”. Mini thus entered the history books, just like its three most famous drivers thrilling the spectators with their daredevil style of racing: Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Mäkinen, and Rauno Aaltonen.

A year later, in 1965, Finnish driver Timo Mäkinen and his co-pilot Paul Easter continued the Mini Cooper’s story of success once again, winning the Monte Carlo Rally in supreme style: Mäkinen was the only driver in the entire field to complete thousands of kilometres without one penalty point despite very difficult and challenging snow conditions in the French Alps. In all, only 35 out of 237 cars reached the finish line – three of them were Minis. For the first time Mäkinen drove a Mini Cooper with the new 1275-cc engine later to become a genuine synonym for this particular model.

In 1966 the Mini Armada went for the hat trick. The four Cooper teams were the great favourites right from the start and attracted utmost interest from the public and the competition alike. So it was no surprise that they lived up to their role right from the start: Mäkinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk quickly left the field behind, ultimately finishing the Rally first, second, and third. But then came one of the most contested and dubious decisions in the long history of the Monte Carlo Rally: In an eight-hour technical inspection, the Race Commissioners found that the four additional headlights fitted on the Mini Cooper’s radiator grille were not fully commensurate with French homologation rules and disqualified the first three cars.

Notwithstanding this bitter decision, the Mini Cooper returned to the Monte Carlo Rally in 1967, the three musketeers Aaltonen, Hopkirk and Mäkinen being backed up by Simo Lampinen and Tony Fall. This time the “Flying Finn” Rauno Aaltonen won the race and all other Mini Coopers also saw the chequered flag, Hopkirk finishing sixth, Fall coming tenth, Lampinen reaching the finish line as No 15, and Mäkinen finishing in 41st place.

The armada of works Minis set out for Monaco for the last time in 1968. This time Aaltonen finished third in his Mini Cooper S, Fall coming fourth and Hopkirk fifth.

While this marked the end of an era, the legend remains to this day. Indeed, rally enthusiasts the world over know to this very day what “33 EJB” stands for – this was the numberplate on Paddy Hopkirk’s Mini Cooper S, the winner of the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.

Mini DNA in the MINI Challenge

Forty years on, nothing has changed. What once helped the Mini Cooper win the race to Monaco is still one of the most significant basic elements of the MINI Cooper: With its compact exterior dimensions it whips around corners incredibly quickly, resting firmly on its wide track and long wheelbase.

Clearly, driving behaviour of this kind simply begs for racing activities – which is why the John Cooper Challenge, the MINI Brand Trophy, thrills an increasing number of amateur racing drivers particularly in Britain, the MINI’s home country. Several other countries have also followed this example and have established their own MINI challenges in the meantime. So just like they did 40 years ago, many young, up-and-coming drivers and talents are now gaining their initial ex­perience and winning their first trophies at the wheel of a MINI.

Source: Text & Photos courtesy BMW Group
Published Apr 6th, 2006 7:45am
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