Half a Century Mini Victory

Posted on January 24th, 2014 by Rob Marshall

miniWhile the David vs. Goliath comparison has become a cliché, today marks the fiftieth anniversary of a true battle against the odds, when BMC’s Mini Cooper S overcame much larger and more powerful competition and claimed victory on the Monte Carlo Rally.

On the 24th January, 1964, Patrick (‘Paddy’) Hopkirk and his co-driver, Henry Liddon, proved that outright power was not the precursor to rallying success. Now aged 80, Hopkirk retains the jocular modesty, for which is he famed in journalism circles, and commented that the Mini’s front-wheel-drive, diminutive size and narrow track were the main reasons for its legendary victory, along with a healthy dollop of luck. The Mini was not finished though and notched up another two Monte victories, in 1965 and 1967 respectively.

Yet, fifty years on, both the Monte Carlo Rally and the Mini have changed beyond all recognition. The Mini, or as its German owners call it, MINI, in all guises, has transformed into several safer and much larger vehicles, with Cooper S badges identifying one of the most powerful derivatives. While BMW has been criticised by some onlookers, for developing the brand continually, considering that BMC/BL/Rover hardly changed the basic car in forty years, one cannot argue that investing in MINI continually is the right thing to do, considering its global sales appeal.

Although I am fond of the classic car, I like the current MINI range too, even though it has been spun into a confusing range of models. Yet, I cannot sympathise with BMW’s half-hearted effort, to rekindle the brand’s rallying pedigree, bringing MINI back to the Monte Carlo Rally, by entering the World Rally Championship. After a series of very un-Germanic internal squabbles, most of which stemmed from the manufacturer’s rallying programme being starved of funds, it was abandoned at the end of 2012.

I have also found that the current crop of models, which wear ‘Cooper S’ badges on their rumps, is wanting in terms of both performance and driver engagement. It is not that the cars are bad, far from it, but I am not the only critic, who thinks that they are not doing justice to such powerful, historic and emotive nomenclature. Yet, an all-new MINI hatchback will be on-sale in the spring. Underpinned by an all-new chassis, the Cooper S version will ditch its 1600cc motor for a larger 2.0-litre unit, based on BMW’s renowned 3.0-litre straight six. I hope that, when it does arrive, BMW ensures that the Cooper S is a genuinely exciting range topper that does not leave all the glamour for the more exclusive and expensive JCW (John Cooper Works) version.