So much interest has been aroused by the new B.M.C. mini-motors that journalists have thought up ingenious means of putting them through their paces. One paper embarked on a long Mediterranean tour, another drove a Morris Mini-Minor for 24 hours on a circuitous route in the Home Counties. While Motor Sport has done nothing as ambitious as the former or as boring as the latter, I have been finding out in my own way how the Mini-Minor ticks. This has embraced driving one well over 1,000 miles in a week, during which I coped with London’s increasing traffic congestion and penetrated into South Wales. The conclusion is that the Mini-Minor ticks exceedingly well.
For an 850 c.c. full-four-seater saloon the performance is outstanding and this can be put into clear perspective by stating that when compared with 22 small cars ranging from 580 to 1,200 c.c., 20 to 40 b.h.p., 9 ft. 6 in. to 13 ft. 4 in. overall length and 9.7 to 17.5 cwt. unladen weight, the little Morris is 8 per cent. faster than the average of these cars and 24 per cent. faster than the slowest, 17 per cent. better than average at top-gear hill climbing and 77 per cent. better than the worst, 15 per cent. better than average and 78 per cent. better than the worst from 0-50 m.p.h., and 15 per cent. above average and 46 per cent. better than the worst on fuel consumption. It comes within the first six in each one of these performance categories, proof that Issigonis has refused to overdevelop one characteristic at the expense of another. Therein lies the brilliance of his design.
Furthermore, the Mini-Minor corners extremely safely at high speed in a noticeably “flat” manner, roll being virtually absent, and the apparently hard all-round-independent rubber suspension exhibits its variable-rate characteristics by providing a good ride over rough roads, there being some sharp up-and-down motion but no pitching. The steering is very light but rather “dead,” is sensitive to ruts and changes of camber, has castor-return action which becomes somewhat viscious from full lock, but transmits no kick back, has no lost motion, and, geared 2¼ turns lock-to-lock, is splendidly “quick.” There is virtually no indication that this is a front-drive vehicle. The Lockheed brakes, with a pressure limiting valve in the rear pipeline, are light to apply and ensure straight-line retardation, even on wet roads, in spite of the castor-size wheels.
Naturally, high performance with outstanding fuel economy and low first-cost bring penalties. The Mini-Minor is very noisy, a combination of engine roar, gear whine and cooling-fan noise, mainly the latter, combining to give a “lawn-mower” effect at anything over 40 m.p.h., this being a tiring accompaniment to cruising with the speedometer needle on the “70” mark. The gear change is stiff and rather clumsy, against which the flexibility of the engine allows top gear to be retained for long periods. The clutch is smooth if one respects the small pedal travel. Speedometer speeds of 25,40,60 and 88 m.p.h. were obtainable in the gears, but the speedometer was indecently fast, the true top speed being approx. 75 m.p.h.
The internal finish of the little car is poor, very sharp edges being encountered on the underedges of the facia shelf and inside the huge door-wells, while there are unfinished welds inside the roof, etc. If the bonnet is opened too far the non-self-cancelling screen wipers can be bent, the rubber floor mats are not stuck down and the standard version lacks a roof lamp. The front seats are rather hard but offer good support.
A careful check gave the excellent petrol consumption of 44.4 m.p.g., and although good-quality fuel was used, it must be remembered that road performance is superior to that obtainable from other economy vehicles.
As to oil thirst, the warning light gave a hint by flashing after 240 miles and, checking the accessible dip-stick after 715 miles, as much as half-a-gallon of Castrolite was needed to restore the level in the engine/transmission unit. A pint of water was also added to the radiator.
The fast road from Cardiff back to England enabled the Mini-Minor to “mow the grass” for mile after mile without easing up, but petrol consumption remained at over 44 m.p.g. This represents the useful range of 241 miles, and there is a suitably-pessimiatic petrol gauge.
The little Morris had carried me on a long run to Weston-super-Mare and on to Swansea and home again surprisingly quickly and comfortably, the safe handling and excellent cornering powers of this under-£500 baby being extremely enjoyable, while night motoring is encouraged by the power of the Lucas headlamps, which can easily be used for flashing a warning by reaching out for their toggle-switch on the facia, which matches the wipers’ switch. Otherwise, apart from a stalk controlling the self-cancelling direction indicators, and a rather indecisive horn button on the steering wheel, there are no other minor controls. The central speedometer on the exceedingly useful full-width parcels tray incorporates a tiny instrument-lighting switch, and another tiny switch whereby portholes light up to illuminate both sides of the tray. The standard version is devoid of a heater and as the long summer had changed to a humid autumn I experienced continual misting over of screen and windows, curable only by sliding open the windows and incurring grave risk of a stiff neck from the draught. The engine tended to stall when cold, the tick-over became excessively fast when it was hot. It started promptly after a night with the side-lamps on, in spite of the long cable-run from battery to starter. Rather a lot of servicing is called for, there being 12 points requiring grease every 1,000 miles, while the wheels should be changed round every 2,000 miles.
This test of the Mini-Minor is only a preliminary to a far more exhaustive appraisal of the new B.M.C. design which I hope to commence in the very near future.
To sum up the Mini-Minor’s handling and ride characteristics, unlike some past (and possibly present) cars, this is a f.w.d. vehicle without vices. The steering is very light and has very little feel; the car is directionally stable except for a slight wander on rutted surfaces or when crossing white lines.
It is sensitive to tyre pressures, and with the rear ones too low can be made to oversteer on corners in an extremely controllable manner reminiscent of the Morris Minor 1000. With the recommended pressures it understeers quite strongly. Taking the power off suddenly in the middle of a corner causes it to nose in slightly, but the understeer characteristic remains; this sight directional change is virtually the only indication to the driver that the front wheels are driven instead of the rear ones. Pressed to the limit, the Mini-Minor breaks away at the front although it is impossible to feel any particular moment at which this occurs, the only symptoms being a tendency to run wide in spite of a very large lock angle, and a tendency to lose speed in spite of full power. With a light load, many fast drivers will prefer more pressure in the front tyres to reduce the understeer.
There is a feeling with this car that corners are being entered at astonishing speeds, to which no doubt the small dimensions, short bonnet, and rather high noise level all contribute. A careful study of the speeds at which known corners can be taken, however, suggests that these limiting speeds are not unusually high, particularly on wet roads. There is a suspicion that the limited cornering power of the very small wheels and tyres, together with the cornering camber angles of the rear wheels, contribute to quite large drift angles and a slightly earlier breakaway than would be expected with such a light car. Naturally, this is accentuated by a full load of four people, although in other respects the handling is amazingly unaffected by this 50 per cent. increase over the unladen weight. It seems likely that this car may handle particularly well on braced-tread tyres if they become available in this size.
The performance of the suspension compels the utmost admiration. Track and wheelbase have been kept to the maximum consistent with the small overall size, and the rubber springs are definitely firm. By this means roll and brake drive have been reduced to negligible levels, whilst the ride on good roads is adequately comfortable though not outstanding, The worse the road, however, the better this suspension shows up, relative to more orthodox systems and even on unmade pot-holed roads provides a remarkably level shock-free ride without any feeling that the wheels are unusually small, and with a minimum of rattle and shake from the obvious very rigid structure. For a small car of this category, with little sound damping, both road noise and noise from sharp bumps (such as “cats’-eyes”) are at a low level, and all the wheels remain firmly on the ground on bumpy corners.
In these notes the Morris Mini-Minor has been examined, rather out of context, from the point of view of the sports-car driver for whom it was not designed. It leaves a general impression that history is repeating itself. Just as the handiing and comfort of the earlier Morris Minor made most of the crude sports cars of its time suddenly obsolete, so this one points the way to a combination of features which, with different emphasis, could eclipse the present rather stagnant production sports cars of this country.
To conclude, one of the leading questions at the Motor Show will be whether the public will go for these remarkable little vehicles or whether they will favour somewhat larger, quieter family cars. Personally, I enjoy mini-motoring to the B.M.C. formula and look forward to mowing a lot more grass; after all, I can always emulate the racing drivers and wear ear-plugs. — W.B.