Matters of Moment

Happy Birthday

While we are inclined to agree with D.S.J. that there are far too many anniversaries of varying periods being celebrated these days, no doubt encouraged, even invented, by the mass-media, we feel we must offer "Mini Happy Returns" to the little car designed twenty years ago for BMC, if only to salute the genius of 72-year-old Sir Alec Issigonis and perhaps to commiserate with him over the plaguarism that has followed his brilliant concept — remembering, however, that imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, and that other engineers have not been as brave as he in dropping their transmission in the lubricant or doing away with conventional springing.

The Editor of Motor Sport remembers very well the advent of the then-new and quite breath-takingly revolutionary Morris Mini Minor, as it was released to the Press at Cowley in August 1959. It is significant that the only other completely-new cars that constituted a similar technical breakthrough were the Citroen 2cv, the Citroen DS, and the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow — genius at each end of the motoring spectrum! In due course we were allocated one of the one hundred new Minis lent to the better-known motoring writers and journalists for a year's appraisal. This led to Gordon Wilkins being accused, during a TV interview, of having accepted a bribe from BMC. In fact, of course, it was very courageous of the Corporation to permit critics to conduct such an extended road-test of a completely new model.

For old-times' sake the Editor wished he had been allocated the Austin Seven version ("badge engineering") of what he soon dubbed the "minibric". But the de luxe Morris Mini Minor he ran for 10,000 miles in just over seven months served him very reliably — more so than the Morris 1100 that followed it. There were the now-characteristic failings, such as the damp, smelly carpets, much cacophony from the cooling fan until a differently-bladed one made some slight improvement, and a tendency for the ignition to get drowned in wet weather. The last-named snuff-out wasn't confined to the transverse engine of the Mini. We recall having a similar problem with an early Citroen 2cv, because we had forgotten to hang a little curtain over its frontal grille at the first sign of rain; and that was a car with transverse cylinders but with the power unit conventionally installed.

The Mini captivated us, as it did almost everyone, Royalty included, by its safe cornering, its spacious interior on an 8 ft. 6 in. wheelbase, and by its sheer "cheekiness". The later Mini-Coopers were just the kind of small cars that we have been thinking about recently, as the concept likely to carry the petrol conservation message to those used to, and able to afford, far bigger cars. The current limited-edition £3,300 Mini 1100 Special, with the reservations made below, is also just such a car.

So we wish to pay a very warm tribute to Sir Alec Issigonis, for his great and lasting Mini concept, his interest in motor-racing (with the rubber-suspended Lightweight Special he shared with his friend Dowson and which has been seen in action at Prescott in quite recent times in the hands of Dowson, Junr. ), and also for his memorable utterings. One remembers Sir Alec saying the Mini is so safe there is no need for safety-harness, that its unusual driving-stance keeps the driver awake at all times, and that he hates anything big. The last-named is toned down by his design of the still-born 3 1/2-litre Alvis and by the Austin/Morris 1800, which latter we regarded as a very desirable medium-class big-car, nicely sprung on Alex Moulton's Hydrolastic suspension system. Even if an early specimen of 1800 we were trying suffered an exhaust leak, caused by the movement of its transverse engine in relation to the bodyshell, which made the writer so ill that he nearly missed a Motor Show lunch at which he was placed next to Alec Issigonis, so that he was able to explain to the designer himself exactly why he had arrived late!

In order to commemorate the Mini's 20 years in production, with more than 4 1/2-million of these cheeky little cars built, including 42,897 of the Cooper versions, the Editor rather reluctantly left the Rover 3500 in London recently and took away one of the aforementioned 45 b.h.p./40 m.p.g. Mini 1100 Specials. It is very fully equipped. does not feel a particularly small car, and has more than adequate performance, while retaining the "dodgeability" and road-clinging that are such pleasing Mini qualities. But it was disappointing to discover how little development has been done, otherwise. It is still possible to make terrible kangaroo take-offs with the sudden clutch and poorly-controlled torque-reaction, the cable-operated throttle still needed a jab on the accelerator every time the car was stopped, to obviate the idling revs. from climbing to an absurd figure, as on "my" 1959 Mini, and then the steering wheel vibrated like that of a commercial vehicle. The worse feature, however, is the high noise level, when cruising at 60 or 70 the latter is done at only about 4,300 r.p.m. The row is most unpleasant and it spoils this and other Minis. That these little cars have headed the BL sales-charts makes one wonder whether the British nation is becoming hard-of-hearing . . .

Otherwise, this Mini 1100 Special is a good adjunct to a larger car, as are the other Minis, starting from £2,289. But the noise problem is unfortunate, as is the harsh ride from the rubbers. If Issigonis had been able to use the engine he had originally wanted, if the fan behind the still side located radiator could be quietened, if when, to obviate carburetter icing and an inaccessible ignition distributor, the power unit was turned through 180" it had been given a redesigned camshaft and revised porting to enable it to run the other way, instead of just introducing an extra gear-wheel into the drive-train, the Mini might not have been so drastically left behind, noise-wise, compared with other f.w.d. small cars. Incidentally, this Mini Special still uses 10 in. tyres, designed by Dunlops specially for the first Minis - Dunlop SP Sport Formula 70s on the test car.

Nevertheless, Sir Alec Issigonis must have the respect of us all over his ingenious ADO 15 design, which has been so widely copied since 1959. It proved the full effectiveness of the front-wheel-drive layout for the lower-powered, smaller cars, a layout which Alvis and BSA had pioneered in this country and which Citroen introduced so successfully to the family-car market long before the war, DKW (with transverse-engine by 1931), Adler and others likewise believing in it. No longer need we fear dramatic accidents, as once happened. due to seizure of the drive-shaft universal joints, as some feared front-wheel-brakes when they were first generally introduced, circa 1923. Indeed, with Mark Snowden of Austin/Morris stating that rear-wheel-drive will not figure in future models and General Motors having just brought out a front-drive Opel Kadett, anyone who still feels that it is "against nature" to steer wheels that the drive-line is trying to pull straight will soon have only the Reliant Kitten and the Vauxhall Chevette from which to choose. One suspects, too, that the existing Chevette will give way to a f.w.d. version, just as the new Ford Escort will adopt this form of drive.

It was the universal use of f.w.d as a space-saver that is the real tribute to the foresight and technical skill of Sir Alec Issigonis, together with the fact that his transverse-engine arrangement is now used for the Austin Allegro and Maxi, Talbot Horizon and Alpine, the big Citroens, the Colts, all the Datsun range, the smaller Fiats including the new Strada, the Ford Fiesta, the Honda family, the Lancia Beta, the smaller Peugeots, the Renault 14, the BL Princess, by Volkswagen from Polo to Scirocco, by Daihatsu in the new Charade and for the latest Opel Kadett, etc. Recognition of genius, at the highest level! Sir Alec, and the Mini, we salute you . .

Motorfair Cancelled

Motorfair, London's motor show which was to have been held at Earls Court from October 17th to 28th will not now take place. Behind the cancellation lies a conflict between Motorfair's organisers and the Society of Manufacturers and Traders. The Motorfair organisers have alleged that the SMM & T has applied pressure on its members not to participate in Motorfair and have begun legal action against the SMM & T to clarify the legal standing of the exhibition clause in the Society's membership agreement.

The cancellation was made too late to withdraw the advertisement for Motorfair appearing on page 1480 of this issue.

New World Land Speed Record

Hollywood stunt driver Stan Barrett has set a new World Land Speed Record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA. Driving a 48,000 h.p. rocket car, Barrett raised Gary Gabelich's nine-year-old record of 631.367 m.p.h., set in "Blue Flame", to 638.637 m.p.h. Bonneville proved too rough to let Barrett break the sound barrier on land (between 740-780 m.p.h.). He is now negotiating with the US Government for the use of a huge USAAF runway in California to make another attempt at the sound barrier. As Barrett ended his record-breaking run on the 6.5 mile salt-flat strip, one of his two braking parachutes failed to open and at 400 m.p.h. his cockpit canopy flew off. He was uninjured and stopped safely on one parachute.

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