1997 Rover Mini

Rover’s beloved Mini will be around to celebrate its 40th birthday in August 1999, and that’s official.

Even more remarkably, the A-series engine will pass its 50th anniversary in 1998 now with multi-point infection electronic management and the elimination of the distributor that used to succumb to water at the most inconvenient times.

Perhaps the most significant of many changes seen on the 1997 model Mini is the installation of the radiator at the front, a slimline design with an electric tan shoehorned in behind the grille. Cooling, always marginal in the more powerful versions, is improved, power is released and the commotion quelled in the engine department.

The final evolution of the Mini was required by EC law in several areas.

Noise levels had to be reduced significantly to a maximum of 74 dB(A), effectively halving the output.

The final drive has been raised to 2.76 (16 per cent higher, saving 550 rpm at 70 mph in top gear), and the Mini now has a driver’s air bag, side intrusion beams and seat belt pre-tensioners, items that would have been rather alien to Sir Alec Issigonis in 1959.

There is one specification only for the 1275 cc engine, developing 63 bhp. Seemingly puny in output, the 1997 spec A-series makes the Mini feel quite lively, better than the 0-60 mph time of 12.2s would suggest. This is down to the excellent torque figure of 70 lb ft at 3000 rpm, and to the Mini’s still feathery 715 kg kerb weight. Both the Mini and the Cooper cost £8995 on the road. Proving that some things in life really are ‘free’ the Cooper’s specification includes Minilite-style alloy wheels, characteristic bonnet stripes, spot lamps and a white roof.

The Sport pack costs £795 and includes such things as Koni dampers, 13-inch diameter 6J alloy wheels, body spats, a quartet of front auxiliary lamps, big-bore silencer and extra gauges for oil temperature and battery condition.

But be warned the Sport pack increases the Mini’s frontal area, blunts the 0-60 mph time by 0.6s and knocks a whopping six mph off the top speed, lowering it to just 84 mph. The good news, perhaps, is that you might just get away with flat-out traversal of Britain’s motorways.

If you want more performance from your Mini. John Cooper’s garage in Worthing (01903 504455) has a complete catalogue of tuning and personal accessories and can tweak the A-series by stages to 74,77, 80, 85 and, ultimately, 108 bhp.

Sump guards, extra lamps. supplementary fuel tanks, seat runner extenders and all the traditional Mini ‘goodies’ are available, plus decadent items like air conditioning and walnut dashboards. At the millennium the Mini will be replaced by an entirely new model powered by an engine built in South America and shared with a small Chrysler.

It may well surpass the Mini’s five million-plus production figure, in time, but it will have to be an amazing car to inspire literally thousands of clubs there are currently no fewer than 160 Mini clubs in Britain, and 400 in the Mini’s largest market, Japan! M L C