The British Motor Corporation have rung the changes on their Mini range in nearly every way imaginable; with saloon versions available under both the Austin and Morris badge in normal, de luxe, super, Cooper, Cooper S, Countryman, Traveller, van and pick-up form, with Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf versions thrown in for good measure, and they have even put another engine in the back. The specialised tuning concerns have trained them to do all sorts of tricks from achieving over 55 m.p.g. in economy runs to burning up the Motorway at 110 m.p.h., or harassing Jaguars on the race track. But one thing B.M.C. haven’t done is to make a convertible – unless you count the Moke military vehicle. This error has been rectified by two firms who have combined to make the Viking Hornet Sport, which is based on the Wolseley Hornet. The car is sold by W. J. Last Ltd., of By-Pass Garage, Woodbridge, Suffolk, and features the hood conversion made by Crayford Engineering. This entails the removal of most of the bodywork above the waistline and the chassis is then stiffened by welding in steel strips along the door sills and across the car below the rear seat, which dispenses with the useful stowage space below the seat. The hood is nicely made and fits well, being designed on the style of the Morris Minor convertible with a rather ungainly-looking selection of hood irons and stays inside the car. The hood is lowered by unlatching two over-centre catches hidden by the twin sun visors and then lifting the central handle. This is a relatively quick and simple operation although it is sometimes difficult to get the material to fold properly. However, we didn’t perform this operation very often as the temperature stayed below freezing for much of our test.
On the road the hood stays surprisingly taut and there is very little of the rattle and drumming to which some hoods are prone, although the rear side windows tended to flap against the irons in strong cross winds. The normal front windows are retained but specially made plastic sidescreens are fitted at the rear. There are a few draughts but with the heater in operation the car is quite snug.
The total cost of the Viking Hornet is £756 10s. 11d., which is some £200 more than the normal Hornet but there are various other features included besides the hood. The 998-c.c. engine is mildly tuned by Taurus with a modified cylinder head having larger valves and a free-flow exhaust system. The test car had a rather raucous twin-pipe system which will he changed for something quieter on production examples. Performance is quite pleasant and the Viking Hornet recorded acceleration times of 0-30 m.p.h. in 5.8 sec., 0-40 m.p.h. in 8.7 sec., 0-50 m.p.h. in 13.8 sec., 0-60 m.p.h. in 59.8 sec., 0-70 m.p.h. in 31.7 sec., with speeds in the gears at 6,000-r.p.m. of 25, 42, 64 and 84 m.p.h. It covers the standing-start 1/4-mile in 21.4 sec. Our overall fuel consumption was 35.5 m.p.g. For those who really want to go, a Sprint version is available with a fully tuned engine giving a top speed of over 100 m.p.h., together with close-ratio gears, elektron wheels and modified suspension, all costing a further £200. Other items fitted in the standard conversion include an electronic rev.-counter mounted on the steering column, woodrimmed 3-spoke steering wheel, lowered steering column, re-located driver’s seat with a claimed 77 different positions, SPQR remote-control gear-change, organ-type throttle pedal, and a white “flash” down the side of the bodywork. W. J. Last guarantee the car for 12 months but they are hoping to persuade B.M.C. to include the Viking under their normal guarantee scheme. They also have an agreement with a leading insurance company to insure the Viking at normal Mini rates.
The Viking Hornet will undoubtedly appeal to a small market because of its relatively high price but no doubt for many people it will have a great novelty value for it certainly attracts a lot of attention in London. There is the question of structural rigidity, for although we detected no sign of weakness or scuttle shake the convertible is bound to be more vulnerable in an accident and repair charges could be high. Apart from this reservation the Viking is an amusing and interesting car to drive which will no doubt come into its own in the hot summer which we are bound to have in 1964! – M. L. T.