The engine was not a problem, the faithful workhorse, the 848 cc `A` series from the Minor was abundant but not exactly what Issigonis needed. This is where Sir Alec earned his title of `genius`. He wanted the engine mounted transversely in the front to keep the bonnet short. Not difficult until you consider the gearbox question. Sir Alec`s solution was indeed revolutionary. The gearbox went into an enlarged sump, lubricated by engine oil and was placed under the engine.
The engine/gearbox unit was a little high but that did not pose a problem. The front of the engine was now the left end and so the radiator was mounted in the left wing with an engine-driven fan to cool it. The engine compartment was very short of space and the first casualty was the battery which was consigned to the boot.
The bonnet itself did not have an internal un-locking mechanism, just a latch on the outside at the front. The boot was also very small, made smaller by the presence of the battery, spare wheel (if it had been specified), and the fuel tank (there being no room underneath the floor). A little improvisation was called for so the boot-lid was hinged at the bottom and restraining straps fitted. By running with the boot-lid down it was possible to carry more luggage. A thoughtful touch was a hinged rear number-plate that hung down and was therefore legible at all times. The innovation was gathering pace.
All seams on the lower body were on the outside of the car. This gave it an inside-out appearance but served a very useful purpose. Internal seams and door hinges dictate the width of the cabin`s walls because they cannot be allowed to hinder passenger movement and catch their feet. External seams and hinges, while strange, increased the useable space inside the cabin of the Mini MKI. Sliding door windows were fitted for the same reason. Also, sliding windows were cheap. The absence of drop-windows created space for large stowage-bins on the inside. The legend goes that Issigonis designed the bins to carry a bottle of Gordon`s gin!
The interior was an exercise in space-saving and cost-cutting. The speedometer was mounted centrally and along with drillings in the left-side floor and bulkhead (filled with rubber grommets) made the conversion to left-hand drive simplicity itself. The conversion kit for this modification cost around £15 in 1960.
A full-width parcel-shelf was mounted under the speedometer and set into the front edge was a longitudinal switch-panel. This panel carried the switches for the lights and wiper (single speed) and a push-button for washers. Two knobs were also fitted, one for choke and the other for the heater, if you had one! In the centre of this panel was the key-hole for the ignition key. The starter button lived on the floor by the handbrake, a `direct contact` with the solenoid that was fitted under the floor. The horn button was mounted in the centre of the steering wheel and a solitary stalk with a green flashing tip mounted on the steering column operated indicators. The gear-stick was rather long and disappeared into the front bulkhead but the shift was good nevertheless. Rubber floor-mats completed the interior appointments, such as they were!
`Spartan` is a word that comes to mind but it should be remembered that in 1959 economy cars had little luxury built in. Heaters, spare wheels and jacks would always have been specified as `standard extras`. It is inconceivable that anyone would want to drive in a British winter without a heater and even Rolls Royces get flat tyres! In truth the only thing that was `extra` was the cost of the items. However, Sir Alec had achieved his miracle, the cheapest, viable family car on the market.
The Mini had a built-in problem with weather. The distributor was on the front of the engine and was an easy victim in wet weather. The problem was quickly solved by shrouding the distributor in a plastic bag secured by rubber bands. The Mini quickly built a reputation as a lively road car. It cornered very well and stopped quite well despite it`s drum brakes. The Mini MKI was a little slow to sell at the start but in 1960 started to sell well.
Britain was entering the period known as `the swinging sixties` and anything odd, strange and avant-garde was seized on by the British public, especially when it was fun and inexpensive. The MKI Mini was much improved by revisions in the years running up to the MK II in 1967. A `Super` and a `Deluxe` options were offered in 1961 with improved finish. A normal key-start ignition switch was also fitted and PVC seat-covers replaced cloth on the `Basic` model.
In 1962 the Austin 7 was renamed Austin Mini, and `Super` and `Deluxe` became `Super Deluxe`, which had two extra instruments in an oval binnacle around the speedometer. These were `water temperature` and `oil pressure`. In 1964 there was a major revision, the rubber-cone suspension was replaced by `Hydro-lastic` hydraulic suspension, this gave a softer ride but was not as positive.
Mini MKI spec:
Engine was of BMC `A` series, 4 cylinder OHV water-cooled, transverse mounted rated at 34 bhp. Gearbox was also BMC 4-speed with no syncromesh on 1st gear. Both gearbox and differential were placed in engine sump lubricated by engine oil. Front wheels converted the power into motion and rubber-cone fully independent suspension supplied the comfort. Drum brakes were fitted all round. Fuel tank; 4.5 gallons / 20.83 litres. Top speed; 75 mph. Fuel economy +/- 40 mpg.
Although the Mini MKI was very primitive by today’s standards, it set the initial idea of what became one of the smallest-biggest icons in the motoring world.
Mini MKI 1959-1967
|Body Type||5/4 seater 2 door saloon|
|Drive Type||Front wheel drive|
|Cargo Volume||Very little|
|Engine||848 cc BMC "A" series OHV 8V|
|Displacement||848 cc||51.7 cui|
|Power||25 Kw||34 bhp||5500 RPM|
|Torque||60 Nm||44 ft. lb||3000 RPM|
|Top Speed||121 km/h||75 mph|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph||26.5 s|
|Fuel consumption||l/100 km||Imperial mpg|
|Gearbox||4 speed manual|
|Weight||626 kg||1380 lb|
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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.
In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.
As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.
At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!
When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.
I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.
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