When discussing automobile icons, the list of candidates is rather short. Most prominent examples would be the Mercedes Gullwing, the Porsche 911, the Volkswagen Beetle, and of course, the original Austin Mini.
It all started with this sketch, drawn on a tablecloth in a pub, back in 1956.
A small car, seemingly bigger on the inside than the outside, with enough room for four adults and luggage. Quick, nimble, and thrifty. Perfect for inner-city traffic. Its designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, affectionately called it Mini.
Production of the BMC Mini started in August 1959, a time when tail-finned behemoths ruled the streets of the New World. Yet the Mini was an instant hit and, being so small and so much fun to drive, would become one of the most successful car designs of all time. In the guise of the now legendary Cooper, it would even conquer the grueling Rally Monte Carlo four times in a row (from 1964 to 1967)!
The 1973 Mini 1000 Mark III presented here, VIN *WA2S1N591329A*, is the genuine article.
Offically, BMC exported very few Minis to the United States, from 1960 to 1967 only. Classic Minis offered for sale today are for the most part right-hand-drive examples from "down under" in need of restoration, or post-1975 models that have been--illegally--backdated with questionable paperwork to avoid U.S. regulations. Buyer beware! On the other hand, this fine example was sold new in Germany, back in 1973. It's a matching numbers Mini, comes with a clear California Certificate of Title, and 100% guaranteed to be the real thing.
Let's now inspect this Mini in more detail, starting up front, with the engine compartment.
Click on any of the above images for a full-size view
The small but potent 998cc 4-cylinder engine resides in a very clean environment. According to the car's prior owner, all mechanical systems were addressed as needed. New parts dominate the picture, including a brand new, heavy-duty radiator.
On February 24, 2011, our mechanic took a compression check, and the results are truly excellent and as follows:
Compared to the oh-so-hip NEW MINI by BMW, the original Austin/Morris Mini is a dwarf car. Just 120 inches long, it weighs less than half as much as its Bavarian successor. (The NEW MINI outweighs a 1965 Ford Mustang Fastback, by the way.)
Mini wears the very popular color combination of Old English White with a black roof. The car has been carefully refinished, to a very good standard; there are no imperfections such as dings, dents, bumps, scratches, nicks, or chips to bemoan. Bumpers and grille are beautiful; they look new because they are new. In fact, all glass, brightwork, and weatherstripping is in fabulous condition.
Another clear indicator of a real vintage Mini are its wheels and tires.
If you see anything bigger than ten inches in diameter, be alarmed! All Minis built before 1980 came with 10" wheels and there is no reason to convert an early car to larger wheels. In fact, the small wheels are an essential part of the fun ride, just inches above the ground!
This Mini is equipped with the very desirable REVOLUTION-style aluminum alloy wheels, as found on many competition models. Tires are near brand new FALKEN FK-07E high speed radials of the dimension 165/70R-10 with a H (up to 130mph/210kmh) speed rating. That should do.
Now, let's take a look inside.
Wow, this is one spacious cabin! Mini truly is a minimalist car: it provides everything you need, nothing you don't. In doing so, it is a very practical vehicle. The ingeniously designed, transversely mounted engine driving the front wheels means no transmission tunnel to take up valuable interior space.
You are 6'5" tall? Yes, you will fit!
The iconic, mid-mount Cooper instrument binnacle. Yes, all of the gauges and warning lights work flawlessly!
Simple does not have to be spartan. Mini is legendary for being comfortable, too. Seats are well-stuffed, and Mini's suspension, another Alec Issigonis stroke of genius, using rubber cones with progressive spring rates, keeps the ride smooth at all time, even with four Sumo wrestlers aboard.
Pristine headliner and sun visors.
There is plenty of room in the rear. Black vinyl bench is in excellent condition. Black carpeting throughout looks new.
Note the pop out opening rear side windows!
Ready for a test drive?
So are we, but before we leave, let's have a good look at trunk and undercarriage.
Everything is clean and free of rust or damage. There is a recessed section for the spare--which is MIA--and the battery lives back here, too--another ingenious detail to lower the center of gravity and improve handling.
Thursday, March 3 turned out to be a nice, sunny day in Ventura County and we were eager to put the Mini through its paces.
Naturally, driving an original Mini is a unique experience. Riding inches above the tarmac, Mini handles like a Go-Kart, entirely unimpressed by gravitational forces. It jumps lanes, squeezes into the smallest spaces, and surges forward with the fearless determination of a giant.
Mini's secret is its outstanding power-to-weight ratio. Combined with its exemplary handling, even a contemporary Porsche 911 might not be able to keep pace once the roads get twisty.
Visibility in all directions is superb, and the attention you receive is priceless. Everybody loves the Mini. It's a true icon of the swingin' Sixties!
Everything works on this little car, from the emergency brake to the windshield wipers and all the lights. It even has a functioning heater, just the blower motor is silent.
In a world of fakes and rusted hulks, finding a genuine Mini that has been lovingly refurbished is something to embrace.
Despite being produced in substantial numbers in the 1960s and 1970s, there are precious few unmolested, matching numbers survivors today. An authentic, 38 year-old Austin Mini, nicely refurbished all around (while benefitting from the owner's "open checkbook" attitude) is a rare find, indeed.
Behold the Mini! In a world of gas prices rising daily to new record levels, owning a car that not only gets 40 miles per gallon but lots of smiles per gallon, too, might be your smartest decision of the decade.
We sold this MG in 2011 to an enthusiast couple in California.