On the Road with the Monte Carlo Rally-winning Mini-Cooper S

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We thought that the first British win on the Monte Carlo Rally for eight years deserved something more than a straightforward report and consequently we decided to arrange to road-test Paddy Hopkirk’s Mini-Cooper S. This proved more difficult than stealing the Crown Jewels for there were 500 other people with the same idea, and as the win was not entirely expected no one at B.M.C. knew where the car was for more than five minutes at a time. In fact, while the car was being paraded round on various publicity stunts we amused and frightened ourselves in one of the rally Ford Falcons (see page 565), which seems to have about twice as much performance as the Mini-Cooper S.

However, the winning Mini was at last run to earth and we were summoned to Cowley where the car was being shown to the people who make the Minis. Everyone was as proud as Punch of the win and when we drove it around the works it always drew an enormous crowd.

Unfortunately we couldn’t take the car away for long enough to get it to the test track to take performance figures, which is a pity for, from our short experience with the car, we would say that the performance figures would only go to emphasise the fantastic piece of driving that Paddy Hopkirk must have turned in over the special stages. The winning Mini team of Hopkirk, Aaltonen and Makinen all drove identical cars running in Group 1, which means that the cars are allowed very few modifications from standard, and of course over 1,000 have to be sold in a year. When the rally started the sales of Cooper Ss had reached just over the 2,000-mark, so everything was all above board. Not many people are very convinced that 1,000 Ford Falcon Sprints to Monte Carlo specification have been sold, and from our own observations we would say that the Coopers are more Group 1 than the Falcons, although of course the Falcons are well within the regulations. The cars use standard steel bodywork with no lightened parts except for plastic side and rear windows and the interior trim is glued to the door panels instead of being fitted to hardboard panels. The rear seat has most of its stuffing removed but the general shape is retained. The driver and navigator have suitable seats, the driver’s being a tight-fitting bucket seat while the navigator’s is a reclining type. The steering column is lowered a couple of inches and a Les Leston wooden steering wheel fitted, while a longer throttle pedal is fitted to allow heel-and-toe gear-changes. Soft padding is fitted along the door pockets and around the door lock at shoulder height, and the gear-lever is encased in a rubber tube. A full-width facia is employed incorporating a central 200-k.p.h. speedometer which includes the fuel gauge, while in front of the driver is the combined oil-pressure/water-temperature gauge and a 10,000-r.p.rn. tachometer with no red line marked! A starter button is fitted on the extreme right of the facia, as is a lights flasher switch. The navigator has twin stop-watches, a very large illuminated magnifier for the mileage recorder, and a complicated array of switches for various lights. The car is fitted with five auxiliary lamps on the front and a roof lamp, as well as the normal headlamps because the main lamps are fitted with iodine vapour single-filament bulbs which cannot be dipped. The headlamps are fitted with their own washers to clear dust. A powerful 2-speed windscreen-wiper is fitted and the windscreen-washers have a very strong jet. The cars also have a heated Triplex screen in view of last year’s terrible conditions, but these were not needed. The heater is larger than standard and this necessitates fitting the brake servo under the facia in front of the navigator. All brake and electrical lines are run through inside the bodywork to avoid damage. The navigator also has the fuse box in front of him so that rapid changes of fuses can be made without getting out of the car. The hard-worked navigator has his own hooter, worked by a floor-mounted button, and he is also in charge of the fire extinguisher. A tool roll is clipped to the rear seat back-rest and a small selection of spares are in a bag on the seat, while two wheel braces are clipped to the shelf behind the rear seats. A shovel is clipped into one of the rear pockets and the jack is fitted in the pocket on the navigator’s side.

The boot is filled with twin fuel tanks and the two spare wheels, which are held in place by a metal cage having quick-release elastic octopus straps.

The engine does not look much different from the standard unit, the only external sign being the air intake trumpets on the twin S.U,s. An oil cooler is fitted low down behind the grille, which is sawn in half and made quickly detachable. Aluminium plates are fitted to deflect water from the distributor and other electrical parts. A radiator muff is fitted, as is a steel sump guard. The suspension does not look much different from standard, the only visible modifications being the spacers fitted to the rear wheels to give a slightly wider track. Hopkirk’s car was fitted with 5.00 x 10 in. Dunlop racing tyres as it had come straight from the circuit races at Monaco.

We made a false start when we got around to doing some driving for we went off in the wrong car! The mistake is understandable, for B.M.C. have been so inundated with inquiries from people wishing to exhibit the winning car that they have fitted up Makinen’s car with Hopkirk’s rally numbers. This is the car we made off with originally, which was unfortunate, as it had been stolen from outside a West End night club in the early hours of the morning, a day or two previously, by an inebriated soldier who had a fine dice through Knightsbridge hotly pursued by the Police, and in the excitement he over-revved it, with dire effect on the power output. However, we eventually got into the right car and were soon playing at rally drivers in rural Oxfordshire.

In fact there is not a lot that can said about the car because it behaves much the same as a normal Mini-Cooper S. The ride is a good deal firmer than standard, which means it is very firm, although the racing tyres no doubt contribute to the stiffness. Otherwise it seems to handle exactly like any other Mini. The rally cars have a slightly lower final-drive ratio so acceleration is improved quite noticeably. Obviously this engine has been carefully hand assembled and balanced for it is the smoothest Mini engine we have used, except perhaps for the Speedwell Elf, and it will rev quite comfortably to 7,000 r.p.m. in all gears, giving speedometer indicated readings of 30, 50, 75 and 92 m.p.h. in the four ratios. Thus it can be seen that it is slightly slower in top speed than a well-tuned standard Cooper S but the lower axle ratio gives the acceleration which is so necessary in rallies, although we would say the performance is only slightly up on a normal Cooper S.

The gearbox is also one of the best Mini boxes we have tried for some time for it is difficult to beat the synchromesh, yet the lever moves from gear to gear very smoothly and rapidly. The irritating gear-lever rattle is virtually eliminated except for a slight vibration over 6,000 r.p.m. The brakes of the rally car seemed very poor to us in spite of the vacuum servo, as really high pedal pressures were required to obtain any sort of retardation at all and there appeared to be no bite at all. We have tended to disregard those stories about competition drivers not using Mini brakes but, having tried this car, we feel it must be true for the brakes hardly felt capable of stopping a bicycle, let alone a 90-m.p.h. car.

The overall impression given by the rally-winning car is of a meticulously prepared machine which has had a lot of time spent on it by experts to make it as efficient as possible but which still remains to all appearances a standard Cooper S. Few expensive extras have been added and it is unlikely that the cost of extra equipment on this car exceeded £200, but in terms of the amount of hand assembly and finishing which went into the rally cars they must be worth something like £4,000 each. As we said before, this makes Paddy Hopkirk’s and Henry Liddon’s performance all the more remarkable for in respect of performance and handling their car was probably nearer to the product you can buy at your local B.M.C. dealer for £695 75. 1d. than any other car in the rally. But don’t offer Stuart Turner £695 75. 1d. for Paddy’s car. It’s not for sale! – M. L. T.