Over the past year, we’ve had several emails from readers about where to find out about MINI rallying history. While there are countless books (including “MINI: 50 Years” which will be reviewing shortly) we thought it might be appropriate to dig out one of BMWs old press releases that gives a brief introduction into MINI’s motorsport past.
Official MINI Press Release: They had planned their supreme success in racing well in advance: While developing the “regular” MINI as a road-going car for everyday use, the racing department of BMC in Great Britain was also in the process of preparing the first prototypes for motorsport. So following in the wake of the Austin Healey with its legendary three-litre power unit, Alec Issigonis’ revolutionary MINI quickly developed into a serious contender in motorsport. And indeed, the score system applicable at the time with cars split up into categories as a function of engine size, clearly favoured the MINI originally powered by a small 850-cc engine.
Team Manager Marcus Chambers himself was at the wheel of the racing MINI when it made its debut in motorsport in the Norwegian Viking Rally in September 1959. Then, in 1960, the MINI for the first time won a rally in its category, the Geneva Rally, with brothers Don and Erle Morley at the wheel. And two years later the MINI was even able to clinch overall victory in rally racing, with Pat Moss, the sister of world-famous Formula 1 driver Stirling Moss, and co-driver Ann Wisdom bringing home the Tulip Rally in the Netherlands.
Another two years later the MINI works team entered the annals of motorsport once and for all: No less than six MINIs showed up for the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally, already the most famous rally in the world. Four of the cars were MINI Coopers developing maximum output of approximately 70 hp from 997 cc in Group 3 trim (close to production standard) and two were MINI Cooper S with maximum output of approximately 90 hp from 1,071 cc in Group 2 trim (improved), together facing more than 290 competitors in the event. Some of the other cars entering the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally had more than twice as much horsepower, such as the 4.7-litre Ford Falcon, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SE, the Volvo 544 “Humpback”, or the Alpine Renault.
In a genuine struggle of David against Goliath, the MINI quickly proved its fortes. With its compact exterior dimensions and broad “stance on the wheels”, as well as its long wheelbase, the MINI excelled through its optimum roadholding and above all its superior grip in bends even at the car’s top speed of 160 km/h or 100 mph.
Driving a MINI Cooper S, Irish rally driver Paddy Hopkirk showed all his qualities in an exciting duel with Swedish driver Bo Ljungfeldt at the wheel of a Ford. The last stage of the rally, the famous and much-feared “Night of Long Knives”, quickly became a genuine game of poker in choosing the right tyres. The decisive and most demanding test was the drive up Col de Turini at an elevation of no less than 1,607 metres or 5,271 feet. Some drivers decided to race their cars on spikes, others opted for special rubber compounds. Tyres with an asymmetric tread were expected to provide optimum traction even under the most treacherous conditions. And shortly before the start, ice “spies” drove up and down the snowbound serpentines, seeking to warn the drivers of possible hazards.
This soon became the big hour of the MINI Cooper S. With its small engine, agile handling, and front-wheel drive, the MINI Cooper S took Paddy Hopkirk and his co-driver Henry Liddon smoothly and softly to the finish line as if they were running on rails, boosting them up to the top position in the overall score.
On the last stage of the rally, a circuit race on the Monaco Grand Prix course, Hopkirk again kept on pushing, not granting the MINI Cooper S even the slightest rest. And finishing the Rally 30.5 points ahead of Ljungfeldt, he actually brought home the sensation, scoring the first win of the MINI works team in the Monte Carlo Rally. Ever since, starter number 37 and the numberplate 33 EJB of this exceptionally successful MINI have been hallmarks of fame for every fan and admirer of the brand the world over.
Virtually overnight, this small car originally conceived as an inexpensive and economical means of transport had become a genuine legend in motorsport. So not surprisingly, the hot-blooded MINI quickly became the “small man’s sports car”.
With the new model version making its appearance in summer 1964 featuring an engine now displacing 1,275 cc, the Works Sports Department soon managed to extract almost 100 horsepower from this agile four-cylinder. And so again, the new MINI Cooper S proved to be a winner right from the start
in its first race.
On account of extremely bad weather, the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally was acknowledged as one of the most difficult races of its time. Dense snowfall in the mountains reduced visibility for the initial line-up of more than 200 teams to almost zero. Hence, it was no surprise that the number of cars remaining
in the race dropped significantly in the almost frightening night-time drive from Saint-Claude to Monte Carlo over a distance of 610 kilomeÃ‚Â¬tres or almost 380 miles, with the drivers encountering one snow-storm after the other.
Eventually, therefore, only 35 teams reached Monte Carlo on the coast of the Mediterranean Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and one of them was Finnish driver Timo MÃƒÂ¤kinen at the wheel of a MINI Cooper S, scoring the fastest time in five out of six special trials. So for the second time, a MINI brought home victory in the Monte Carlo Rally. And another Finnish driver, Rauno Aaltonen, successfully rounded
off the 1965 season for the MINI works team by winning the European Rally Championship.
The following year was expected to provide the absolute highlight, with the MINI works team not only winning the Monte Carlo Rally for the third time in a row, but rather Ã¢â‚¬â€œ this was the big target Ã¢â‚¬â€œ coming home first, second, and third. And indeed, the three MINI drivers MÃƒÂ¤kinen, Aaltonen, and HopÃ‚Â¬kirk achieved the unachievable, crossing the finish line first, second, and third as the fastest drivers in the race.
But then came the big shock: The “three musketeers” were disqualified on extremely dubious grounds on account of four additional headlights not exactly in compliance with the French homologation rules.
Understandably out for revenge, both the drivers and the MINI Cooper S returned to the Monte Carlo Rally once again in 1967. And Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not too surprisingly Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the “Flying Finn” Rauno Aaltonen boasting starter number 177 left all the others behind, winning the race 12 seconds ahead of Lancia works driver Ove Andersson. Clearly, this once and for all put an end to the previous year’s disaster, with MINI winning the Monte Carlo Rally for the third time.
In circuit races, MINI drivers were virtually just as successful as their colleagues in rallies: Throughout the whole of Europe, private drivers went from one class victory to the next in their small racing cars from Abingdon in Britain. The works team, in turn, focused primarily on the British Touring Car Championships, with the John Cooper, Broadspeed, and Equipe Arden teams literally dominating the class up to 1,300 cc. Indeed, drivers like John Love and Alec Poole collected so many points in the process that they successfully brought home the Championship.
Despite outstanding results of this calibre, it slowly but surely became clear in the late ’60s that the MINI Cooper S had reached and passed its climax as a rally car. For now modified rules clearly gave the advantage to bigger cars with much bigger engines. And the ambitious team was not willing to make any compromises, going “only” for class titles. So the last official works entry was in the 1970 Rally of the Hills in Australia, with Brian Culcheth at the wheel.
While this marked the end of an era, the legend remained. The ’60s were the decade of the MINI, with no other car offering as much sporting performance for so little money, providing such outstanding driving pleasure within such small exterior dimensions.