MINI: History of a rally hatchback
- Flaminia Brigandì
For 60 years the Mini has been one of the symbols of British ingenuity, embodying the best of compact car design. It became a celebrity in the iconic film The Italian Job and accompanied the likes of David Bowie, the Fab4, Mary Quant and Peter Sellers in everyday life, becoming one of the symbols of the British cultural revolution of the 1960s. But it was by winning trophies in the automotive world that this small hatchback proved it had potential beyond its compact size perfect for the city. Although Alec Issigonis, a designer at Austin, came up with the Mini for families with the ingenious idea of putting the engine up front and transversely positioned, with the gearbox en bloc underneath it freeing up space for both four passengers and a certain amount of luggage, it was actually a friend of his who saw its potential from a different perspective.
Racing legend John Cooper first tests a prototype with an agile go-kart-like ride: with just over 600 kilograms on the scales and independent-wheel suspension, the Mini proves a perfect base for elaborations. It takes him a while to convince Issigonis of what might have seemed an absurd idea, namely, that this little hatchback could compete in professional racing. Eventually Issigonis and BMC relented, and the first MINI Cooper rolled out of the factory in 1961 with a 55-hp 997 cc engine, gearbox with longer and closer ratios, front disc brakes, wider tires, and the distinctive two-tone look. The first sporting success came from a woman, Pat Moss, who won the Ladies' Cup at the 1962 Monte Carlo Rally. A few weeks later Moss herself, in a crew with Anne Wisdon, takes the overall in the historic Dutch competition of the Tulip Rally. Meanwhile, the engine has been improved, the horsepower becomes 70, the brakes and wheels bigger, the steering more direct, all for 635 kg total: the Mini Cooper S is born. Its debut in the Monte Carlo Rally is a success: in 1964 Paddy Hopkirk drives his Cooper S to triumph in the Monte Carlo Rally, and in 1965, with the 1275 cc, 75 hp engine and Timo Makinen's driving, the new Mini Cooper S gets its second Monaco laurel. It was the final consecration of Sir Alec Issigonis' creature, the new concept of the small universal car. In 1965, however, the stewards call the headlight filament non-regulation and exclude the three BMC men Makinen, Aaltonen and Hopkirk from the classification. Rauno Aaltonen, navigated by Henry Liddon took revenge the following year, managing to control the emerging Lancia Fulvia HF and Porsche 911. Following a new third-place finish in the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally, however, the sporting activity of the small hatchback is now at an end: the following year Leyland absorbs BMC, marking the end from the sporting activity of the small big hatchback.