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Motoring: BMC Mini (850) - 1959

The Mini is one of the greatest designs of Automobile Engineering and one of the classic designs of the twentieth century. Its designer was Sir Alec Issigonis, (1906-1988), born in Smyrna, Turkey, of Greek father and German mother, who, in 1936, joined the Morris Motor Design Team (which would later become the BMC) as a Suspension designer. During the Second World War, he commences the design of a compact car, which would become the Morris Minor, which was launched in 1948 with great success. In 1950 Issigonis he experimented with a Morris Minor prototype with front wheel drive which was discarded, but later the idea would be used in the Mini.

In March 1957 Issigonis focused on the production of a compact car with the only requisite of using already existent BMC parts to reduce costs. The idea was to build a small-dimension vehicle with capacity for four adults and their respective luggage. His formula was to design a car with independent suspension on all four wheels, transverse engine, front wheel drive and with the gearbox under the crankshaft, working this way, as a sole unit, radiator to the left, reducing dimensions notably to a 3.05m width by 1.41m in length, and 1.35m tall. The Engine used was the veteran A-Series, used in the Austin A37 Models and the Morris Minor. The proposed engine size was originally 950cc. However, Leonard Lord, chairman of BMC thought that the 90mph top speed was excessive and thus reduced the engine size to 848cc to gain a more manageable speed (for the time) of 72 mph.

The Mini was a genuine four seater. Issigonis established the dimensions of the Mini's interior by sitting his wife and children on chairs in his kitchen, two in front and two behind, and then basically designed the car around them. This was possible within such a small bodyshell because the engine was mounted transversely, driving the front wheels via a gearbox which was uniquely incorporated into the sump of the engine. Engine and gearbox thus shared the same oil, which was a significant piece of design in response to the 1953 Suez crisis and the fears of future oil shortages.

1980 Morris Mini GT

The overall width of the vehicle was reduced, because there was no need to accommodate a separate gearbox across the width of the car and because there was no transmission tunnel in the floorplan of the Mini, there was more space that could be used to accommodate the passengers thus compensating for the reduced width. Because of the Mini's two-box design, comprising only a pasenger compartment and the engine compartment, there was no third box providing a separate luggage compartment (i.e. a boot), though that inevitably compromised luggage space. To offset that problem, large bins beside each of the four seats provided some useful interior storage and a centrally located instrument binnacle allowed the dashboard to be opened up for storage too. The requirement for storage bins in the front doors effectively determined that the Mini should have sliding windows rather than wind-up windows. The tiny 10 inch wheels helped to reduce the intrusion of wheel arches into the interior of the vehicle and allowed a modest amount of additional luggage space in a "boot" area behind the rear seats. Overall the Mini represents some very clever packaging which has often been imitated but has never been bettered.

The Morris Mini Minor was shown to the press in August, 1959, creating a great wave within the public. The car released as the Austin Seven and Morris Minor (later it would be changed to Morris Mini Mino, Morris 850 in Australia and finally Morris Mini). In October 1967 the MkII was introduced, which had a wider rear screen, a larger front grille, rectangular taillights. Two years later it was released in MkIII form. The most notorious changes occur in the front doors - instead of sliding they now wound down, an innovation that had been developed a few years earlier in Australia. The Clubman of 1969 was an unsuccessful attempt to modernise the mini created. At that time there was an attempt to replace it with the Austin Mini Metro. The Mini was withdrawn from production on September 18, 2000, and it's successor, BMW New Mini Cooper was launched in 2001.

Morris Mini Cooper

Issigonis' friend John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company and Formula 1 Champion and rally driver in 1959 and 1960, saw the potential of the little car, and after some experimentation and testing, the two men collaborated to create a nimble, economical, and inexpensive car. The Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper debuted in September 1961. The original 848cc engine from the Morris Mini-Minor was increased to 997 cc, boosting power from 34 bhp to 55 bhp (25 to 41 kW). The car featured a racing-tuned engine, double SU carburetors, and disc brakes, uncommon at the time in a small car. 1,000 of this iteration were commissioned by management, intended for, and designed to meet the homologation rules of, Group 2 rally racing. The 997 engine was replaced by a shorter stroke 998 cc unit in 1964. By the time production of the Cooper model ended in 1967, 12,274 of these popular cars had been sold to the public. A more powerful Mini Cooper, dubbed the "S", was developed in tandem and released in 1963. Featuring a 1071 cc engine and larger disc brakes, 4,030 Cooper S's were produced and sold until the 1071 model was deleted in August, 1964. Cooper also produced two models specifically for circuit racing, rated at 970cc and a 1275cc, both of which were also offered to the public. The smaller engine model was not well received and only 961 were built with 970cc engines until the model was discontinued in April 1965.

An Australian version of the Mk1 Cooper was released in 1962. Badged in Morris version only, using what was to be the "defacto" standard grille for all Oz minis to come - the seven bar Morris grille. Popular rumour has it that late 998cc Coopers had the Oz wind-up/quarter-vent windows, as the car was based around the deluxe shell. The early 1997cc Coopers utilised the original sliding-window shell. This was the first Oz mini to have a remote gearchange.

An Australian assembled version of the UK MK1 mini was badged as "Morris 850" on the advice of local advertising consultants that "mini" was demeaning. There was no Austin variant, which remained the norm throughout Oz mini production. The "Morris 850" was available until 1966. Powerplant : Used the same 34bhp 848cc powerplant as all UK Mk1 minis. Sedan: ?775 ($1550) Van: ?742 ($1484). In Australia, 1965 saw the release of the redesigned Morris Mini Deluxe. The new model featured redesigned doors with conventional interior handles and wind up windows (with quarter vents), hydrolastic suspension, key operated starter (the car originally came with a floor-mounted starter button), a remote gearshift mechanism (like the Cooper) and the engine was upgraded to the 998cc version.

The popularity of the original Mini spawned many models that targeted different markets, the most popular of these being being the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf (1961-1969). Built as more luxurious versions of the Mini, both the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf had longer, slightly finned rear wings and larger boots that gave the cars a more traditional notchback look. Front-end treatment, which incorporated each marque's traditional upright grille design, also contributed to a less utilitarian appearance. The cars had larger-diameter chrome hubcaps than the Austin and Morris Minis, also additional chrome accents, bumper overriders and wood-veneer dashboards. The Riley was the more expensive version of the two cars. The name "Wolseley Hornet" was first used on a 1930s sports car, while the name "Elf" recalled the Riley Sprite and Imp sports cars, also of the 1930s. The full width dashboard was a differentiator between the Elf and Hornet. This better dashboard was the idea of Christopher Milner the Sales Manager for Riley.

Both cars went through three versions. Initially, they used the 848cc engine, changing to a single carburettor version of the Cooper's 998cc power unit in the Mark II in 1963. The MKIII facelift of 1966 brought wind-up windows and fresh-air fascia vents; also concealed door hinges two years before these were seen on the mainstream Mini. 30,912 Riley Elfs and 28,455 Wolseley Hornets were built. Neither vehicle was sold in Australia.

The Wolseley 1000, sold only in South Africas, was one of many Mini variants developed for and sold specifically in certain markets. It mated the glitzy Wolseley front end complete with the obligatory illuminated grille badge to the standard Mini bodyshell without the extended boot. The door featured ADO16-like opening quarterlights and wind-down windows, thanks to engineering input from BMC Australia. As the name implies, the Wolseley 1000 was powered by the 998cc version of the familiar A-series engine, and it also benefitted from Hydrolastic suspension. Inside, the dashboard featured extra padding and a centrally-mounted three-dial instrument pod, housing a speedometer flanked by gauges for water temperature and oil pressure, plus a small group of warning lights.

Built on the Mini's running gear, the Mini Moke was a utility vehicle designed for the British Army and developed in Australia, for whom 600 twin-engined 4-wheel-drive versions were purpose-built. Although the 4WD Moke could climb a 2-in-1 gradient, it proved to have insufficient ground clearance for military use. The single-engined front-wheel-drive Moke enjoyed some popularity in civilian production. About 50,000 were made. The car featured in the cult 1967 TV series The Prisoner, and is popular in holiday locations such as Barbados and Macau, where Mokes were used as police cars. Mokes were also available to rent there as recently as March 2006. "Moke" is archaic British slang for a donkey. Production dates: 1964 and 1968 in the UK, 1966 1982 in Australia and 1983 1989 in Portugal.

For a brief period around 1972, Leyland Australia produced a variant referred to in Leyland literature as "Moke, special export", but commonly called a "Californian", which had a 1,275 cc engine and was fitted with side marker lamps and different rear lights to conform to US FMVSS standards. The fuel tank from the Austin Sprite or MG Midget was fitted beneath the rear load area, replacing the standard tank mounted in the left sidebox. The export Californian was readily recognisable by its roof and seats, trimmed in 'Op-pop verve' black and white tiger striped vinyl or 'Orange Bali' vinyl, which looked rather like a fruit salad, and was briefly marketed to the 'flower power' culture in the United States. The name "Californian" and the 1275 cc motor were resurrected in 1977 for Australian market Mokes with denim seat covers, more comfortable seats (which concealed the same basic frame within), spoked wheels and complex tubular bumpers (known as 'roo bars').

Riley Elf

Wolseley Hornet

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