A superbly finished glass-fibre body on the Mini-Cooper chassis
David Ogle Ltd. entered the Motor Industry in 1961, having already acquired a good background in industrial design work. David Ogle, who was tragically killed earlier this year in a car crash, designed a glass-fibre body for the Riley 1.5 chassis. Looking something like an Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the body finish set a new standard for glass-fibre, which has always had a reputation as being “cheap and nasty.” This car had only limited success for the high price of parts and purchase tax put the car into the £1,500 class. However, this car was only intended as a design study to get the organisation geared to cope with all the problems of car production and a special body based on the Mini-Minor was already well advanced. When introduced earlier this year it created something of a furore as it was the first special-bodied car to show that a British bodybuilder could rival the Italians.
Once again because of the lack of co-operation from B.M.C. it was found impracticable to build the car up from scratch and customers had to take their Mini to the factory to have the body cut off and the new body fitted. This cost £550 and, although not cheap by any standards, began drawing two or three customers a week who were willing to have their Mini brutally butchered with the oxy-acetylene torch.
The success of the design apparently did not go unnoticed at B.M.C., with the result that they have agreed to supply parts direct to Ogle’s, on the understanding that the name of the car does not give away the fact that B.M.C. parts are under the skin! Accordingly the car is now known as the Ogle SX1000, although with the “perversity of things” it will probably still be called the Ogle-Cooper by enthusiasts, as SX1000 sounds like the name of a Russian space rocket. The car is now only supplied complete and with all Cooper parts sells for £1,176 12s. 9d., including purchase tax, the fitting of the body with its additional purchase tax adding £536 5s. to the price of a Cooper-Mini.
What do you get for your £1,176? Economists would probably shudder, for you lose two seats and gain very little in the way of performance or fuel economy. The answer lies purely and simply in the external shape and the extra equipment offered. Views on the appearance of the car differ from person to person, but it is a well-balanced design which fits the mechanical components with little overhang and manages to be very distinctive without flamboyance. The 2-door glass-fibre body has a very smooth finish and our test car looked impressive in metallic bronze, eight coats of cellulose being applied to every body.
On entering the car the driver finds a pair of the shapely and comfortable Microcell bucket seats, the driver’s seat having a slightly more reclining back-rest. This seat has been lowered since prototype days as tall drivers found they tended to hit the roof on bad bumps. Now there is about three inches of headroom for a 6-foot driver. There is a good range of fore and aft adjustment on the seat, the adjusting control located behind the seat being easily reached by the driver when at the wheel. However, the overriding factor when adjusting the seat is the position of the gear-lever, which is the standard Cooper-Mini type and therefore a little too far forward for the more rearward seating position of the Ogle. A tall driver will be far happier with the gear-lever raked back about six inches, which will give him a perfect straight-arm position. The steering column is raked downwards quite considerably, which gives a better driving position than the “lorry driver’s” type on the normal Mini. A woodrimmed 3-spoke steering wheel is standard equipment on the Ogle, the central button sounding loud but tuneful twin-tone horns.
Instrumentation is comprehensive and well laid out, the six instruments being mounted in a rectangular housing in front of the driver which is insulated from the body to avoid needle flutter. The central instruments are the Jaeger speedometer, reading to 120 m.p.h., incorporating trip and total mileage recorders and the high-beam warning light, and the Smiths 8,000-r.p.m. tachometer which incorporates a dynamo warning light. To the left of the main instruments are the water-temperature and oil-pressure gauges, both by Smiths, and to the right are an ammeter and fuel contents gauge, the former being a Lucas instrument marked “C” and “D” at either end, which mattered little as the needle did not move from the central position. The Jaeger fuel gauge is marked ” E, ¼ ½, ¾, F.” with an orange section marked at the lower end as a reserve, although there is no reserve tap. The instruments are recessed into the panel and on the raised edges at each end the accessories switches are positioned, the choke, windscreen wipers and washers switches on the left, and the lights switch and ignition/starter switch on the right. Below this panel on the left are toggle switches for interior and panel lights, while a similar toggle switch for switching the lights to full beam is placed on the crash-padded upper edge of the facia. A spotlamp switch is fitted below this panel and a fog-lamp switch in a similar position in the centre of the facia. The direction indicators stalk protrudes from the right of the steering column, being of the type fitted to the Riley 1.5 with green flashing light at the tip. The windscreen is also taken from the Riley 1.5. A central console separates the driver from the passenger, the gear-lever protruding through this with the three heater controls being placed in front. The handbrake is centrally mounted. A parcels shelf is fitted in front of the passenger, its front edge being padded. A radio was fitted on our test car to the lower edge of this shelf but static interference rendered it virtually useless, despite the fact that the standard equipment includes a built-in aerial and speaker. There are no sun visors, which gives rise to some dazzle when the sun is low, and the centrally placed mirror gives poor rearward vision, partly due to its poor position and the distortion in the plastic rear window.
The sturdy doors have wind-up windows with nicely highgeared handles, the frames being of alloy material. The doors are recessed, allowing a metal door pull to be fitted, and each door has an ash-tray which is pivoted at its centre so that the tray can be swung back into the door to avoid ash blowing about in the car. Large front-hinging quarter-lights are fitted, having strong over-centre hinges, which provide a good extractor effect. No movable front quarter-lights are fitted. Behind the two seats is a small shelf which could accommodate two small children, but the squab, which is actually the only means of reaching the boot, is not upholstered, although an upholstered squab can be made available as an extra. Pulling forward the squab reveals the spare wheel laying flat on the floor, together with the battery, jack and wheelbrace. A fairly large suitcase could be accommodated on top of these items, but no means of separating the tools and spare wheel from luggage is provided. Behind this compartment lies the 10½-gallon fuel tank, which is filled from a centrally-positioned filler on the outside of the body with a quick-release cap. A good deal of attention has been paid to quietening the lusty Mini with underseal and extensive felting. Rubber mats are fitted and the interior trim is carried out in Vynide with a cloth roof lining.
Mechanically the car is identical to the Cooper-Mini, having all the virtues and most of the vices of this intriguing car. Naturally some stiffening is required for the platform chassis when the body is removed from this unit construction car and stiffening is carried out along the sides and at the rear of the frame, while two steel tubes are welded between scuttle and passenger compartment floor to brace the front end. These have been cleverly covered over to form a mounting for the heater controls and the driver’s left foot can slide underneath the tubes when not operating the clutch. Visibility is good through the large screen but shorter drivers have difficulty in sighting the car due to the low seating position. The raised edges of the front body sides form a good sight line for taller drivers. The speedometer of the test car had 9,000 miles on the odometer and one or two items reflected this mileage. The carburation, which is never perfect on a Cooper-Mini, was rather lumpy at idling and inclined to stall, but after attention improved somewhat. There is little power below 2,500 r.p.m. but once above this mark the rev.-counter swings round the dial in a satisfying manner, reaching 6,000 r.p.m. before an unpleasant vibration, transmitted through the gear-lever, causes the driver to change-up. This gear-lever “zizzing” is, of course, a feature of the ordinary Cooper-Mini. The engine noise level is rendered acceptable by virtue of the sound-deadening insulation, and wind noise is quite acceptable, it being quite possible to drive at 70 m.p.h. with the driver’s window fully open without serious buffeting becoming apparent. A good cruising speed is in the 70 to 80-m.p.h. range; above this the gear-lever vibration and road rumble tend to limit higher speeds to short bursts. However, an indicated 90mph can be reached on relatively short straights, with 100 m.p.h. coming up on long downhill gradients. The problem of vibration could probably be overcome by careful engine balancing, but this is not the sort of operation that the buyer of a near-£1,200 motor car wants to carry out.
The gearbox itself has reasonable synchromesh if hurried changes are not required, but loud crunching noises are made if the lever is forced through. Double de-clutching enables clean changes to be made but the relatively poor pedal positions rule out heel-and-toe gear changes, added to which the gap between 2nd and 3rd gears is rather high so that on certain comers the driver is torn between staying in 3rd and losing revs or dropping to 2nd and over-revving.
The SX1000 is slightly heavier than the standard Cooper-Mini and a more rearward weight bias has the effect of softening the suspension at the rear. This gives a noticeably more comfortable ride with less of the high-frequency vertical movement to which the ordinary Cooper-Mini is subject. On poor surfaces the body remained taut and rattle-free except from the objects in the boot, which tended to hop about.
Michelin “X” tyres were fitted to the Ogle halfway through out test and when we had discovered the best pressure settings (which involved removing the ridiculous “de luxe” wheel trims to fit a garage air line), the handling was all that we have come to expect of a Mini. Understeer was apparent but not so noticeable as on the standard model, and the car can be flung through corners at the quite incredible speeds of which the Mini range seems capable. Handling in the wet remains extremely good as long as power is kept applied; cornering a Mini in the wet with a trailing throttle is not recommended. The steering is light and responsive and a moderate amount of castor action is apparent. Only severe road shocks affect the steering,
The front disc, rear drum braking system is excellent on dry roads, albeit requiring rather high pedal pressures. In the wet, the picture is less promising for it is difficult to find a pedal pressure between no braking effect at all and the locking of all wheels. The driver’s foot sometimes fouls the throttle pedal when depressing the brake pedal.
It was not at all difficult to achieve 35 m.p.g. with the SX1000 but heavy use of the throttle pedal will reduce this to around 30 m.p.g., but even so the large tank gives a range in excess of 300 miles, which is excellent for this class of car.
Experience in torrential rain indicated that small-scale production has its benefits for the only rain that entered was through the rubber windscreen surround at the top and even then only a few drops squeezed through. The windscreen wipers clear a very wide arc and when the driver’s wiper broke in half, the other wiper, transferred to the driver’s side, proved able to clear threequarters of the screen. The demisting arrangements are barely adequate.
The test car was fitted with a set of Marchal driving lamps with matching fog- and spotlamps, but in future production the latest Lucas four-headlamp system will be used. However, on full beam the spread and reach of light of the Marchals is excellent, the facia-mounted toggle switch being most useful for flicking on to low beam, once its location is learned.
This then is the Ogle-Cooper, a G.T. car of great promise. Already the standards of the body finish rival that of any Italian coachbuilder and must represent one of the finest attempts at making use of glass-fibre reinforced plastics. Economically it is difficult to justify the purchase of a car like this which is heavier than the standard car from which it is derived and has fewer seats. However, those to whom a car is more than mere transport, will recognise the merits of this intriguing small car. Naturally most owners will want the car to go that little bit quicker than a standard Mini-Cooper but as yet Ogle have not concentrated on the mechanical side of the cars they deal with and indeed do not have the facilities. At present they wish to remain as coachbuilders and leave mechanical modifications to the tuning specialists who have already proved that a standard Mini-Cooper will top 100 m.p.h. with ease. The better shape of the Ogle should ensure that it exceeds three figure speeds more quickly. With John Whitmore and John Ogier on the board of Directors it is obvious that the competition sphere will not be neglected, so that perhaps in the future the name Ogle in Britain will hold the same position as Abarth in Italy. Developments are already under way on various other cars and Motor Show visitors will see an Ogle-bodied Daimler SP250 which should put the standard product to shame. It is good to see a British firm entering the ranks of coachbuilders using chassis which are within the purchasing powers of a large section of the community. Long may they flourish. — M. L. T.
The Editor concludes:-
Unfortunately business commitments prevented me from conducting the full road-test on the diminutive Ogle G.T. coupé, but I was able to enjoy a 300-mile week-end in it and found it very safe, satisfactorily quick, and very good fun. It tends to be noisy, not only from its transverse engine but through a loose gear lever, rattling passenger’s door (cured by locking it) and so on. This I can forgive in a 1-litre car capable of a top speed approaching 90 or 95 m.p.h. on motorways and sufficient acceleration to make light work even of the dawdling traffic on the Romsey-Winchester road on a sunny September Sunday afternoon.
In fact, I did not see more than a speedometer 85 on normal roads but the “dodge-ability ” and cornering power of this Michelin “X”-shod Ogle contribute more than maximum speed to impressive and useful average speeds. I should, however, have enjoyed the little car still more had it not been delivered with a big load of flat-spots in the S.U.s and rather ineffective brakes. I understand that it had been returned for these two short-comings to be put right, so it seems that the Ogle people must hasten to find a mechanic who is capable of tuning Mini-Cooper machinery … !
There are a few points that do not seem compatible in a £1,200 small car appealing to a specialised market—a headlamps dipswitch inaccessibly located on the facia sill, a bonnet lid that needs propping open, interior lamp switch it is possible to operate inadvertently when changing gear, and a fuel gauge that does not seem to have been re-calibrated for the larger fuel tank. Nor could I drive lying on my back in the racing-style bucket seat, which would not slide far enough forward because it butted against a cross-member, while until thoroughly wet the screen-wipers failed to clear just that area of windscreen through which the driver peers.
The finish of the Ogle is excellent, giving the impression of a metal body, the doors shut nicely and the arrangement of the high-quality interior is most commendable, with plenty of useful stowage space and a neat instrument panel, on which a Smiths tachometer (which went readily to 6,000 r.p.m.) and a Jaeger speedometer are the main dials. Sun-dazzle from the polished metal spokes of the wood-rimmed steering wheel was occasionally troublesome and the dishing of the spokes rendered the horn-push a trifle inaccessible. The quick-lift driver’s window was appreciated but not the absence of sun-vizors for the windscreen.
The back side windows are arranged as well-made ventilator panels but with no front ¼-windows ventilation is apt to be draughty. But I liked the good visibility provided by the G.T.-style rear window and the recesses in the doors for driver’s and passenger’s elbows.
The ride over poor roads is excellent, the gear lever well placed if a little reluctant to cross the gate, the handbrake convenient. Water temperature stayed at a reassuring 180° oil pressure at 75 lb./sq. in. and on a moderately fast run to Silverstone and back I got a very acceptable 35.4 m.p.g. Of Esso Extra fuel.
Altogether a very jolly little motor car, and a fine stable companion for the “going-to-the-shops, fetch the kids from school ” upright and angular normal B.M.C. Mini round the brilliant design of which the late David Ogle contrived this Mini G.T.