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The Mini Makes It's Mark M.I.N.I.

During the 1960's the public's image of the Mini couldn't have been further from Issigonis' dream of a practical little box for commuting around the suburbs. Mention the Mini and the image that sprang to most people's minds was of a screaming, foglamped red brick hurtling through the air on the way to Monte Carlo.

1966 Works Team  

 

The 1966 works team - From left to right: Paul Easter, Simo Lampinen, Mike Wood, Stuart Turner (Competition Manager), Rauno Aaltonen, Tony Fall, Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Makinen, Henry Liddon and Ron Crellin

The factory was well aware that cars that were a success in competition were also a success in the showroom, and with this in mind a Mini was delivered to the competition workshops in 1959. At first the mechanics thought it was a joke - how could such a small car hold its own in the rough and tumble of world of competitive motor sport. It was not until after management's insistence that three 850 Minis were entered into the 1959 RAC Rally. At that time the Austin Healy was to star of the competition department and so the Minis were given to B team drivers who were to aim for class win. Preparation for that rally consisted of a rev counter hung on the dash and a grab handle above the passenger door. Engines were blue printed and fitted with modified heads.

All three cars retired with clutch problems, a result of leaking oil seals. In the same rally the following year, these three cars survived with the top two cars coming 6th and 8th overall. Over the next three years the Mini was to have little success. Slipping clutches, broken wheels and studs combined with the underpowered 850 engine resulted in many disappointments.

It was not until the introduction of the Cooper that the Mini started to have some competition success. In 1962 Pat Moss, sister of Stirling, driving a 997 Cooper came seventh in her class in the Monte Carlo rally. Five months later she was to win the Tullip Rally outright, the first international rally win for the Mini.

The 997 Cooper remained competitive for several years but it was the release of the Cooper 1071S in 1963 that signalled the start of the Mini's dominance of international rallying. The larger 1071 engine gave 15bhp more power and included may features derived from Cooper's involvement in Formula Two racing, including high capacity oil pumps and exotic valve materials. The 1071S also had wider wheel rims, allowing more rubber, and an increased offset that allowed bigger disc brakes with better air cooling to be squeezed in.

The other new arrivals that year that were to have just as much impact on Mini rallying were the Scandinavians. Experienced in rallying front wheel drive Saabs, the likes of Rauno Aaltonen and Timo Makinen were to feature prominately in Minis and brought the technique of left foot braking to England. In 1963 Aaltonen scored the factory's first major win, driving a 1071 Mini to victory in the prestigious Alpine Rally.

While the Cooper 1071S was a highly competitive car, the competition was catching up. What was needed was more power but the engineers had already stretched the basic 850 block as much as they felt comfortable with. The Minis were currently racing in the up to 1100cc class with the class being up to 1300cc. Any engine improvement would need to take it out as close to the 1300cc limit as possible for it to remain competitive.

It was only after being harassed by John Cooper that the company chairman, George Harriman, ordered the larger engine to be developed. As the bores were already made as large as possible for the 1071, the only option was a longer stroke. The extra half inch of stroke made the crank a very tight fit within the block but finally the Mini had enough power to qualify for the 100mph club, thus the Cooper 1275S was born.

The 1275S proved to be devastatingly effective from pretty much its first outing, winning the 1964 Tulip Rally. Minis of every capacity and configuration were now being entered in any rally worth winning, which they quite often did much to the chagrin of other factory teams.

In 1964 the Mini scored its most prestigious win to date with Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon driving their works 1275S to victory in the Monte Carlo Rally. Hopkirk never expected to win the rally outright in the face of such overpowering opposition as the big Ford Falcons and was actually asleep in his hotel room when someone rang him with the news. The Mini's superiority in the Monte Carlo rally had a lot to do with its size. In a Mini a narrow road looked like a wide one and through the narrow tracks between the snow banks in the high mountain passes the Minis were able to be driven more aggressively with less chance of hitting the sides than other cars.

Not to be out done, Timo Makinen and Paul Easter made it two years running by winning the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally. Such high profile successes meant extra sales in the showroom so the factory was prepared to do whatever was required to score a hat-trick and win the 1966 Monte.

In their current competition form, the rally Minis were modified production cars using special competition parts and so ran in Group 2. The Monte Carlo organisers were far from keen to see another English victory in their rally and so changed the handicapping rules from giving every group an equal chance to favouring Group 1 cars. Group 1 cars were virtually production cars and required a run of 5000 to be made in the previous 12 months to qualify. Stuart Turner, the competition manager for the factory team, managed to have production of the Cooper 1275S speeded up so that the car could be homologated for the rally. By the time of the rally just over the required 5000 had been made.

 

 

The competition workshop at Abingdon in 1969 just prior to its closure

Workshop

The factory, determined to make it three wins in a row, entered three cars to be driven by Makinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk. Throughout the gruelling rally the Minis faced opposition from not only the other competitors but also the officials. The three drivers were furious at the red tape they had to go through and were more determined than ever to win. Finally, against the odds, Makinen came in first, then Aaltonen came second and Hopkirk managed to squeeze ahead of the factory Fords and grab third place. A clean sweep to the Minis, much to the displeasure of the officials. All three cars underwent an intense eight hour scrutiny. Officials dismantled the engine and stripped the body work to go over every detail of the cars with tape measure and rule book to try and find something illegal. After failing to find anything obviously wrong they decided that the dipped headlight pattern did not conform to the rules. The Minis' headlights were configured for high beam only with the fog lights used for low beam. All three Minis were finally disqualified and the victory was given to a Citroen.

The result caused an uproar in Britain and a run-off was staged between one of the rally cars and a car straight off the showroom floor. The showroom car actually posted quicker times than the rally worn car thus proving that what you could buy off the showroom floor was as fast as the cars Makinen and Hopkirk were driving. In many cases the Minis running around the streets of Britain were actually more powerful than the all conquering rally cars.

In 1967 the factory was out for revenge and entered no less than five cars. Aaltonen came in first and finally got the long awaited hat trick. All the other Minis that finished did so in the top ten placings.

The Mini won another couple of rallies during 1967 but its time was rapidly approaching. Hopkirk's win in the 1967 Alpine Rally proved to the last international rally win for the factory Minis. In 1968 the Mini's dominance of the Monte Carlo was finally broken. Porsches came in first and second with Minis filling in third, fourth and fifth. The international rally scene now belonged to the purpose built rally cars from Ford, Lancia and Porsche. In fact to this day no unmodified car has had the success the Minis had during those glorious years.

Financial and labour trouble at Leyland spelt the end for the factory team. In 1970 Lord Stokes axed the entire competition department in the name of cost cutting, bringing to an end one of the most successful factory teams in international motor sport.

 

by Dean Cording

 

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