SAM’S SLOT: My first Car!
Where do we start with such an iconic car? A masterpiece is one word for the Mini Cooper, another would be fun. This is the vehicle that shook the world, but as ever, nothing is perfect. So, is the 1990 icon one of the all-time greats or has it passed its sell by date?
During the late 1950’s many manufactures had attempted to make a small hatchback and Fiat had only really managed to make a small family car with the 500. However, the characterful Italian motor lacked power and excitement. Then in the April of 1959, the British Motor Corporation (BMC) launched the Mini. The car was designed by Alec Issigonis who decided to place the engine in the Mini sideways with the gearbox underneath so that there was more room for passengers and luggage. Its lightweight body and nippy 848cc engine meant that the mark 1 mini was no slouch. When testing the car, the handling was so good that the wheels cracked and had to be re-made with a different material to make them stronger. BMC was further surprised when they discovered that the Mini was outpacing some of the Jaguars that were being launched. The Corporation released the cars to the public in the August of 1959 under the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor names.
In October 1961 Alec Issigonis teamed up with John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company to create the Mini Cooper. The engine was upgraded from 848cc to 997cc and had 21hp more than the original mark 1 Mini. With more horsepower under the bonnet, the Mini Cooper could reach a top speed of 84mph, which for 1961 was pretty quick. In 1963 the Mini Cooper S was released and was once again an instant hit. This time the Cooper Car Company went even further by putting a 1071cc engine under the bonnet of a car that only weighed 686kg. Sales rocketed to over 19,000, and because of its nippy qualities it was used for the renowned Monte Carlo Rally. In 1964, Paddy Hopkirk drove a Morris Cooper S to victory beating the more powerful Porsches, Fords and Saabs. The Cooper S won again in 1965 and 1967.
BMC continued to make the Cooper and Cooper S until 1971, when it was discontinued and other models of the Mini were released such as the Mini 1275 GT. In 1989 the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Mini, the popularity of the car grew. Rover and John Cooper then held talks to try and bring back the Cooper name. In the July of 1990 the Mini Cooper returned and was named the RSP after Rover Special Product, the team that had designed the new car. The car had similar performance to the original Cooper S and had a 1275cc single carburettor engine from the MG Metro. The RSP had certain details which set it apart from the other Mini models. It came with a sunroof, a red steering wheel, half leather seats, painted wheel arches, bonnet stickers with John Cooper’s signature and Minilite wheels. This limited edition Mini was so successful that Rover and John Cooper decided to make a whole range of new cars.
This is where I come in. In February 2015 I decided that a Mini would be a fantastic first car. After much searching I came across a Flame Red Mini. It had been advertised as any other Mini, but at the end of the description it said ‘RSP’. The car was reasonably priced and from the pictures looked in good condition, considering it had done 156,000 miles. My Dad and I went to look at the car and you only really get a sense of the size when you see one in the flesh. It was a great little car, and as ever it did have the odd scratch and bump, but overall it ran well and looked the part. We made the purchase and to say I was pleased is an understatement even though I was only 15!
My Dad gave the car the odd run out (with my permission) and we didn’t have any problems with it until we were using it for a grass Autotest, when it broke down and decided to leak a considerable amount of oil. We limped the car home to discover that there was a hole in the differential casing and the piece that had broken off, had decided to go for a trip around the gearbox too, so this was also broken. As the gearbox of the Mini is underneath the engine this major part had to be removed so that we could fix the problem. After many hours fighting with the various engine parts it was freed and the gearbox detached from the engine block where we could see the extent of the damage. While the gearbox was being refurbished I painted the engine in its original bright red. The restoration took several months of hard work but it was all worthwhile as it looked superb.
When we acquired the car, some of its original parts were missing such as the Minilite wheels and the wheel arches were black plastic rather than Flame Red. We found some Minilite wheels and had them refurbished as they were badly worn and instead of having wheel arches made we painted the plastic ones and they look just like the originals. When the Mini was fully finished after its small restoration, I was so pleased with how it turned out I decided to display it at a local Classic car show.
Since the beginning or June I have been learning to drive in the Mini. It’s a magnificent little car with tonnes of character and it’s impossible not to love it. As ever though it has a few faults. The steering wheel blocks your view of the speedometer so you don’t know how fast you’re going, the pedals are off centre so you have angle your body, the ride is quite bouncy and the leg room in the back is non-existent. However, it is a truly fantastic car and we forget it’s 26 year’s old. It makes an exquisite noise, it handles well, and because it’s small it will go anywhere.
The Mini Cooper RSP harks back to the days of the Cooper S and captures the drama of the 1960’s model. Rover and John Cooper produced a triumphant little motor and let’s hope that people continue to display, drive and look after their Mini Coopers too.