Works Minis in Detail book review

It was the family car that became a superstar on the rally stage. Gordon Cruickshank learns all about the works machines

Rauno Aaltonen et Henry Liddon Mini Cooper S at the Monte Carlo Rally

Rauno Aaltonen and Henry Liddon with their 1967 Monte-winning Cooper S

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It chimed with the times and came across as the coolest of David versus Goliath victories – petite four-square Minis seeing off rival makes’ uncool, staid saloons. The Mini’s successes on track and even more famously in rallies waved the Union flag across Europe at the time when Britain was finding its postwar place and London was the grooviest spot on the planet. You can read this work as a history of the Mini’s greatest moments or as a catalogue raisonné of Abingdon’s finest, since it investigates and dissects all the works cars in forensic detail, from the first bog-standard 850s through the various Cooper iterations which steadily eked more and more performance and handling from that tiny power plant.

This is not a book to read from start to finish; it’s better suited to diving into a particular event, or investigating what the works crew at Abingdon did to a factory-fresh Cooper S when they got their oily hands on it. Anyone building a replica team car will surely find every detail in here for their build, including all those go-faster dashboard goodies (like those long switch extensions which were always advertised in the front of Motor Sport), and while most of us will gloss over the finer details of engine numbers and bonnet straps, such information will help to tie down accurate provenance for each vehicle, especially as so many were re-shelled or modified later. As the Mini Cooper registrar for the 77 ex-works cars, Young is well placed to access the factory build sheets and other sources, and obviously knows his stuff.

For those of us with a more general interest it’s about the stories around the events and the characters involved, and soaking up the photos – 840 of them – which convey the times: an anxious crew watching a Mini dangle from a derrick on an Athens quayside, or a roof rack full of tyres propped against a road sign with a hand-lettered tablecloth nicked from a restaurant warning locals that the team is doing a recce on their quiet French back road. There is racing and rallycross too, but it’s those snowy Monte Carlo stages which are the abiding image of how a tiny but agile and innovative machine lifted so many prizes.