Magazine Cover - Classic Cars For Sale - 1000s of Classic Car Reviews, How To Service & Maintenance Guides

Mini Cooper

Published: 25th Jan 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Mini Cooper
Magazine Subscription
The latest issue of Classic Cars For Sale is on sale now - Pick up your copy from all good newsagents including WHSmith or click here to subscribe now

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 20%

Subscribe NOW

Available at all good newsagents including WHSmith

This year marks 55 years of the Mini Cooper, a name that’s as popular now as it was when this racing car maker helped save this out of favour economy car

What do they say about racing improving the breed and win on Sunday, sell on Monday? Well, in the case of the iconic Mini it certainly proved to be the case – despite rather than because of its designer Sir Alec Issigonis.

The father of the Mini was initially dead set against hotting up his economy car and yet it proved to be a lifesaver for this quirky design that the public was originally slow to take to its heart. Launched in 1959 as a better alternative to those funny (and now highly prized) ‘Bubble cars’ that came to prominence due to the 1956 Suez Crisis, our British BMC baby had a troubled upbringing with the average motorist – not least due to the myriad of teething troubles it suffered – a BMC speciality…

However, the brick on wheels was instantly loved by more lenient enthusiasts who, thanks to the car’s remarkable handling, could see enormous potential in making one much quicker than the standard 39bhp 848cc model could muster and live with the numerous faults!

Issigonis’ stance was strange because he was actually very keen on motorsport although believed, “If you go in for any kind of competition it is a complete waste of time unless you win.”

Tuning the A-Series engine was, by the turn of the decade, a well established practice thanks to the engine being used in Formula Junior racing and pretty soon hotter Minis surfaced, including one from Downton Engineering (who went on to develop the Cooper S) that Issigonis rather took to. Racing legend Stirling Moss was probably the first celebrity to crash a Mini but it was a lengendary race car builder who really put the Mini on the map.


As the time the Mini was launched, John Cooper was already on the way to securing his first Formula 1 crown with this revolutionary, mid-engined single-seater layout that changed the face of racing cars for ever. He struck up a friendship with Issigonis and even let the Smyrna-born engineer loose in a Cooper Grand Prix car at one Silverstone test!

When the new Formula Junior category was introduced, Cooper asked BMC to supply special A-Series engines which were specially tuned 70bhp 948cc Frog-eye Sprite (featured in a buying guide elsewhere in this issue) units. Cooper was also lent a Mini to take to the 1959 Italian GP at Monza where it impressed fellow race constructors as well as the F1 drivers, many who, as a consequence, bought and modified their own Minis.

Cooper saw this as a massive compliment to the car’s basic design and so made his own; a Cooper, fitted with a 997 Formula Junior engine and special disc brakes he had Lockheed make up. A sceptical Issigonis drove the Cooper car and gave it the thumbs up – all the pair had to do now was convince BMC head George Harriman to turn it into a production model, which was no easy task.

Yet convince him they did and Cooper’s reward was a £2 royalty on all cars sold – once they were built that is because some of the Mini’s troubles were only compounded by the faster Cooper version and the July launch date looked optimistic.

At launch, ten Coopers were evenly split between Austin and Morris and the motoring press were joined by some 27 Grand Prix drivers wanting to have a go too!

As the car was to be homologated for racing, 400 were made before the car was officially released to dealers on 20th September although even then some at BMC were concerned about the reliability, especially the new-fangled disc brakes and the special nylon cord C41 Dunlop tyres.


The new Mini was a marvel. While laughable now, the car’s dash to 60mph in 17.2 seconds was deemed impressive, as was its top speed of 85mph. Couple this with the car’s exceptional handling and few cars – even Mk2 Jags – could keep up with a Cooper and at under £600 was the default choice for well heeled enthusiasts who could afford the insurance premiums.

“A wolf cub in sheep’s clothing” Motor said that many will think that “£680 is better spent on this model than on something bigger but no better.”


The launch of the Mini Cooper coincided with the appointment of a young Stuart Turner as head of BMC’s competition department and the pair were a marriage made in automotive heaven resulting in instant successes on the race track and rally stages. This was further rammed home with the advent of the higher tuned Cooper S; a Mini initiated by Cooper yet developed by Downton Engineering. The Cooper S was destined to offer a choice of three engine sizes – 970cc, 1071cc and 1275cc – to suit different competition disciplines; the 970 was a ‘screamer’ that only die-hard motorists would go for and the best all rounder was largely perceived as the 1071cc being a lot sweeter if not as slogging as the 1275.

The success of the Cooper filtered down to showroom sales of all Minis. Celebrities and Royalty loved to be seen in this classless car and by 1969 the millionth Mini was produced, the same year that the car gained immortality by starring in The Italian Job although ironically by now the days of the Cooper were almost over.


Ten years after the car’s launch British Leyland, who took over BMC with the encouragement of the Labour Government, the year before, was to launch the first major revision of the Mini, not least calling it a brand in its own right. Head of BL was super salesman Donald Stokes who saw little worth in the Mini’s success in motorsport. Wielding the axe to the Competition’s Department he then looked at the Cooper connection. John Cooper, who pulled out of Grand Prix racing in 1969, hardly helped his cause when, asked by Stokes what was his role at the carmaker, the cheeky chappy replied: “I come up once a fortnight to wind Issigonis up”.

The pragmatic Stokes soon cut his connection with Cooper and the name, preferring to call the new sportier Mini Clubman the 1275GT although the Cooper S survived – probably due to a more watertight contract with Downton – and lived on for a further two years. The official line is that sky high insurance premiums were the cause of the Copper cull; it was placed in Group 4, the Cooper S in top Group 7 rating whereas the new 1275 was only Group 3 yet faster than any standard Cooper.

However, the excellent biography of Issigonis provides another perspective, that Cooper was becoming a bit too cheeky and overconfident. In 1965 he wrote to BMC’s Harriman describing a super Cooper he intended to market. Harriman was furious Cooper had gone so far down the line without consulting him and refused to give approval. Perhaps the ‘cosy’ relationship was never quite the same again?


There’s little doubt that there was some bad feeling over Cooper being dropped from BL’s plans and most industry pundits reckoned the short-sightedness of Stokes in not appreciating the connection was just one of the many, many mistakes made which led to the demise of the carmaker. But on the other hand, Ford dropped the Lotus tie up with its Cortina and went on to forge far greater success with its RS label!

Cooper, who always remained a premier name in Mini circles had the last laugh when his name (and now bonnet signature) returned to the Mini in 1990, ironically as a marketing ploy to inject new life into the car that was old enough to be a classic. This in turn lead to John Cooper Works Conversions and a new line of tuning and customising gear that snared a new buying base. When the old Mini made way for the BMW one, there was never any doubt that the Cooper name would be retained where it accounts for the majority of MINI sales…


As East and West squared up to each other in Cuba and Germany, 1961 was a pretty bleak year as these snippets reveal

Biggest news of the year was man going into space. First was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin that April, completing one orbit in Vostok 1, with the US following suit with a 20 minute sub-orbital flight two months later.

There was a ‘credit crunch’ in the UK as Chancellor Selwyn Lloyd announced a base lending rate of seven per cent. A year later purchase tax on motor vehicles was slashed to boost flagging sales.

It was the year that Britain applied, for the first time, to join the Common Market, while Russia split Berlin in half by building the famous wall around the former capital of Germany. US tries to topple Castro as Cuban leader.

Late that summer the dance craze called ‘The Twist’ hit the UK but the top records were Poetry In Motion by Jonny Tillotson, Walk Right Back by the Everley Brothers, Del Shannon’s Runaway and Elvis with his Latest Flame.

At the cinema was one of the classiest films ever, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, plus the Xmas favourite Guns of Navarone. Maigret of the French Police and secret agent John Drake as Danger Man were on the TV.

When The Car Was The Star

The super Cooper was a star of the silver screen, such as Julie Christie’s in The Fast Lady, a comedy starring Leslie Phillips, and do you remember pre-Prisoner Patrick McGoohan as secret agent John Drake in Danger Man driving a Taurus-tuned Cooper S? Peter Sellers drove his own special Cooper S in A Shot In The Dark but the car’s real claim to fame was, of course, in the Italian Job where Red, White and Blue Cooper Ss immortalised the Mini. And yet BLMC still made the film makers pay full list price for them… And the rest as they say, is history.

Share This Article

Share with Facebook Share with Facebook

Share with Twitter Tweet this article

Share bookmark with Delicious Share bookmark with Delicious

Share with Digg Digg this article

Share with Email Share by email

User Comments

This review has 0 comments - Be the first!

Leave a comment

Keep it polite and on topic. Your email address will not be published. Please do not advertise products, all posts of this nature will be removed. We do not stock or supply any of these products, we independently review these products.

Subscribe Today
Latest Issue Cover - Click here to subscribe

Subscribe to Classic Motoring Magazine and save over 25%

Britians top classic cars bookazine