|Mini Cooper 970 S|
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When Alec Issigonis unveiled his design for a small family car, he didn't expect he would be unleashing a revolution. Although the Mini was not the first diminutive car, it incorporated many new features that gave it vast interior space compared to its modest exterior dimensions. Launched in 1959, the Mini would grow to become one of the most popular cars ever produced, with the last Mini rolling off the line over forty years after its introduction. The Mini's popularity was enhanced by the incredible racing successes of the 1960s, when the small and efficient Minis beat many more powerful racers both at the track and on road-rallies.
One of the most copied novelties of the Mini was its revolutionary drivetrain. Most contemporary cars used a front engine, rear wheel drive setup, incorporating a longitudinally mounted engine with the gearbox bolted on the engine. With exception to a small number of French cars, front wheel drive was not being used. For his Mini, Issigonis used a transverse four cylinder engine with the gearbox fitted under the engine in the same block, driving the front wheels. This proved to be a very efficient setup, with the powerplant taking up a fraction of the space required by a conventional configuration. It not only allowed additional interior space, but also shortened the front end considerably.
Issigonis' expertise primarily lay in suspension design and the Mini's all-round independent suspension is living proof of that. Where most cars were fitted with either leaf or coil springs, the Mini originally used rubber cones. This presented another space saving alternative to conventional methods. Issigonis actually intended to take it one step further by using fluids as springs. His hope of implementing this was delayed due to high production costs. Eventually the hydro-elastic setup was introduced in 1964 and although it proved to be superior to the rubber suspension, teething problems forced Issigonis to revert back to rubber in 1971.
Despite the exterior length of just over three metres, the Mini offered enough interior space to seat four adults comfortably. This was the result of the revolutionary drivetrain and the position of the wheels at each corner of the car. The driver was seated very upright and the steering wheel mounted almost horizontally, which allowed adequate space for an adult in the rear seat. Rear seat access was made possible with tilting front seats. Every aspect of the Mini's design was dictated by efficiency, including the exterior. Although the Mini's body design didn't completely satisfy Issigonis like the technical aspects did, the end-result proved quintessential to its success.
The Mini was designed for the British Motor Corporation (BMC), a collaboration of Austin and Morris. At its debut, the Mini was being produced in both the Austin and the Morris factories. Both factories produced identical cars, except for badges. From 1961, two similar new variants were available, the 'Wolsely Hornet' and 'Riley Elf'. Both cars shared a modified nose and longer sedan-like tail, with the Riley being the more expensive luxurious version. All early production variants were powered by a 34 bhp, 848 cc four cylinder 'A-series' engine. Despite its affordable price, great package, and appealing styling, the Mini was not an immediate hit.
With its light weight, firm suspension, and wheel on each corner design, the Mini's handling proved excellent. It was often found outperforming more powerful cars on twisty roads. Convinced by a John Cooper tweaked Mini, BMC decided to launch a 'GT-version', with a more powerful engine. Formula 1 team owner John Cooper was commissioned to modify the four cylinder engine; the Mini Cooper was born. Despite the two driver's world championships scored by Jack Brabham in Cooper F1 cars, John Cooper is today best remembered for the Mini Cooper, first launched in 1961.
The Cooper was fitted with a larger engine than the base model, displacing just under one litre. Breathing through two SU Carburetors, the Cooper produced 55 bhp. Performance was further increased by replacing the front drum brakes with discs, which until then, were only used on the most exotic of cars. Ferrari, for example, first introduced discs on their top performing GT-cars just a year earlier. Priced at 679 Pounds, a premium of 153 Pounds was by no means a bargain, but the Cooper's stunning performance ensured plenty of buyers were ready to make it worthwhile for BMC.
The Mini had already turned the automotive industry upside down and by 1963 was set to take on the competition at the track. For this purpose John Cooper developed the Mini Cooper S, fitted with a slightly larger engine than the Cooper. The 'S' engine was derived from the modified BMC A-series units used in Cooper's Formula Junior single seat racers. Both bore and stroke were slightly decreased to make the engine more suitable for road-use. In competition trim these engines would easily produce up to 100 bhp, with road going examples being rated at 70 bhp.
The Mini's success story continued on the track, with numerous class and overall victories in national and international events. Victories in the Rallye Monte Carlo and the British RAC Rally gave the Mini Cooper a legendary racing status. Paved tracks couldn't slow the Mini Cooper either. Often cornering with at least one wheel off the ground, the Minis proved to be true crowd pleasers.
To suit the various racing classes, two more versions of the Cooper S debuted in 1964. Built purely as a homologation special the Cooper 970 S was in production for less than a year. Its homologation requirement was satisfied, although never reached the 1000 example minimum. The Cooper 1275 S replaced the original 1071 S at the end of the 1964 season and was designed specifically to compete in the sub-1300 cc class, which it did with great success. Both on the track and in rallies, the Mini Cooper remained competitive up to the end of the decade. Production of the Cooper S eventually ceased in 1971.
The Mini's cult-status resulted from many celebrity owners in the 1960s, including The Beatles. It was because of its legendary history that it remained in production for well over forty years. By 2000, it was already a modern classic and its comfort and equipment levels were no longer at par with its contemporaries. The success of the last original Minis produced can for a part be attributed to the retro-wave, which started in Japan just as then-owner Rover was about to discontinue the Mini. Leading British magazine 'Classic and Sportscar' named the Mini 'Car of the Century'.
Pictured is a beautiful example of the Mini Cooper 970 S, the rarest of the breed. It is seen here at the 2004 Techno Classica in Essen, where it was one of the stars on the Mini stand.
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