Blog : The mystery of the Pininfarina Mini

Keith Adams

Pininfarina Mini

Not the Pininfarina-styled 1100 Aerodynamica, but a Mini-replacing hatchback?

It’s interesting what looking at an old information source with fresh eyes can turn up. While over at my mate, Richard Kilpatrick’s, place yesterday, we got down to talking about BMC and how with a little more time and patience from the Government, allied with the strong leadership of Joe Edwards (who was being groomed to replace Sir George Harriman in the lead-up to the Leyland takeover of 1968), the corporation really did stand a chance of leading a bright future without the interference of Stokes and his men.

Richard mentioned the groundbreaking Paolo Martin-styled Pininfarina Aerodynamica 1800 and 1100 concepts and we then discussed how and why BMC really should have pursued these cars – even though I know in my heart of hearts there was no way that was ever going to happen, not while Sir Alec Issigonis was in charge of engineering. Then I had a little recollection: a while ago, regular AROnline Contributor Ian Nicholls mentioned that a downsized version of the Aerodynamica concept, which was smaller than the Citroen GS-sized 1100, had been under consideration.

I’d already noticed that Richard had a copy of British Leyland: The Truth About The Cars, by Jeff Daniels, and flicked it open to a page with the image above of a rather fascinating wooden mock-up. It’s captioned as the BMC Pininfarina Aerodynamica 1100 and, as far as I know, this has been the conventionally received wisdom – but, like Ian Nicholls, I know that this is a smaller, Mini-based car, that – judging by the Longbridge tunnel location this shot was taken in – was being evaluated by BMC in the UK.

When you look at the image above, it’s clear this is a much smaller car. Although we have no real frame of reference for scale, the wheels look like 10in Mini Clubman items and the overall package of this three-door car (not five door, like the 1100 and 1800) is shorter, taller, more supermini shaped.

Even more interestingly than all of this – Pininfarina-man Paolo Martin has confirmed that this was not a Pininfarina model. He said, ‘The pattern seen in the photograph was not built by Pininfarina, the pitch and length are different – it is probably an attempt to adapt to Mini.’ So, clearly despite many of us assuming that these Italian models had been rejected out of hand by the British, someone at Longbridge treated them seriously enough to see if it would package successfully on what looks like a Mini platform. Indeed, Harry Webster himself liked these cars and he used to drive around in the 1800 – enough for fellow workers to call it the ‘yellow peril’.

Anyway, since I first posted these thoughts, a couple of readers have pointed out that, according to Jon Pressnell’s book, Mini – The Definitive History, this is very much the case. ‘This mock up was created at Longbridge as an extrapolation of the Pininfarina originals and stored in the Longbridge tunnels. On a 4in longer wheelbase than a Mini [the Mini van - Ed], the overall length has gone up to close on 12ft, so one can’t see Issigonis having approved. The car seems barely smaller than the 1100 proposal and lacks the elegance of the 1800.’

There’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that BMC was feverishly working on a number of projects to replace the Mini and battle in a supermini sector that had yet to be defined. The main programmes were Issigonis’ pet project, the amazing 9X, an intriguing ‘barrel car’ that we really don’t know enough about, and various ideas by Roy Haynes including a neat hatchback, which ultimately led to the Mini Clubman. But the idea of a Mini-based Pininfarina-styled hatchbck was possibly far more radical than the rest, certainly in a marketing sense of the word.

Think about it – BMC’s Pininfarina-inspired model strategy was very simple – three vehicles, based on Issigonis’ front-wheel drive Mini, 1100 and 1800 platforms and styled to have a clear family identity. Heck, the 1800 even wore the BMC initials proudly on its nose, dropping the Austin and Morris marque names. Brave indeed – but, with the benefit of hindsight, possibly the correct path to choose, although Citroen GS/CX comparisons might not be too wise considering what happened to that company in 1974.

The funny thing is – BMC was slowly grasping its way to just a model strategy of its own, during its shortlived British Motor Holdings era, masterminded by Roy Haynes and Joe Edwards in Cowley. The problem was that the management centre of gravity under Harriman still favoured Issigonis and his engineering team in Longbridge – and, as we know, they were set fair for a industrial-sized collision with Lord Stokes and Leyland.

That said, it’s good to wonder what might have been.

Thanks to Ian Nicholls and Richard Kilpatrick for reminding me to explore these ideas further…

Mini facelifts (2)

BMC’s intriguing barrel car proposal to replace the Mini

Mini facelifts (3)

The 9X is the best-known Mini replacement project

Mini facelifts (1)

Various proposals for the Mini Clubman – one of which was a very neatly styled hatchback version

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


31 Responses

  1. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling - November 9, 2013

    I’m sure you’re right that this photo isn’t the Pininfarina 1100. The distance between the leading edge of the front door and the front wheel arch is much shorter. Fascinating to speculate how such an advanced set of designs would have appealed to the market in the late 60s. BMC had the reputation for innovative design, and this styling would have added to that. Interesting comparisons to be made with the generic looks of the Maxi and the 3Litre. Doubt the drive-trains would have matched up though!

  2. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - November 9, 2013

    The 1100 study has the C=pillar ahead of the rear arch, too. In fact, they’re very different when you look at the articles linked below and this image. So… with colour shots of 1100 and 1800, where, I wonder, are the rest of the images of this one…

    I’m pretty sure this IS Mini, the more I look at it. And it’s just horrifying to think this was overlooked in favour of a car which looked dated at launch, let alone at the end of the production run.

  3. Simon H - November 9, 2013

    The Roy Haynes Mini hatchback was dreadful! I’m glad that didn’t happen!

  4. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - November 9, 2013

    Or, or… another thought. Perhaps the book is right, and we’re missing a stage.

    The BMC1800 was from ’67. The 1100 was from ’68 and differs in some detail areas, such as the swage line and the concealed door handles.

    Unlike the 1800 and 1100 models we’ve seen, this is a mockup. It’s a wood & clay buck, not a prototype. And it has the same dart-like doorhandles as the 1800.

    Maybe this car IS a late, but not yet finalised, 1100 proposal before the 4/5 door Turin prototype. Maybe they chose to pursue a 4-door model and considered both.

    It’s a thought. Unless more pictures surface that might help verify the wheelbase and scale…

  5. Paul H - November 9, 2013

    Lots of ifs, buts and maybes here. But lets remember the reality of what was happening at BMC in the run up to the merger. Another Issigonis disaster, in fact his biggest. The Maxi. In this environment of weak management, non-existent product strategy and an arrogant, celebrity, chief engineer the Pinninfarina cars from that foreign chap didn’t stand a chance.

  6. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - November 9, 2013

    This is also contemporary with the 9X – Pininfarina made the 9X mockup.

    The wheels look bigger than the wheels on the 9X and the 9X engine Minis. So, 12″?

  7. Chris Spreadbury - November 9, 2013

    If you look at the front wheel, it is a cooper wheel, it is not an 1100 rim. The hub cap on the back is a mini one too

  8. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - November 10, 2013

    Well, having had that thought about it being an early stage in the BLMC 1100 story, I’ve done some Googling… and maybe I’ll find the definitive answer.

    But I really hope it is a Mini. The roofline looks like packaging and wheelbase were a compromise, and they don’t on the BLMC 1100.

  9. Peter - November 10, 2013

    Imagine people sitting in the car, the rear window curving round behind the rear passengers heads, and its easy to see the Mini’s proportions with larger overhangs at each end of the wheelbase.

    Another way of checking the theory out is to superimpose a mini over the pininfarina, to scale of course.

    Well done Watson’s, you’ve just made a tragedy more tragic, :)
    But fabulous what might have been!

  10. Paul Taylor Paul Taylor - November 10, 2013

    The rear hubcap is definitely Mini, I got some for my Hornet off eBay a while back.

  11. Paul Taylor Paul Taylor - November 10, 2013

    Forgive me f this sounds stupid and obvious, but if we know they are 10″ rims, would that not help us to work out the dimensions of the rest of the car?

  12. francis brett francis brett - November 10, 2013

    I cant work out the wheel base of that car,could it be a stretched mini?

    Why does the “Barrel” remindme of the current Paceman?

    That 9X could have been a winner.

  13. dontbuybluemotion dontbuybluemotion - November 10, 2013

    Interesting picture ! But asks the question why did they investigate this but reject the others? I presume the Pinfarinna 1800 was 1st, 1100 2nd then this?

    If you look at the wheelbase from the last pictures of the Roy Haynes Mini it isn’t far off, Somehow the shrunken styling to me doesn’t quite work on the mini, tiny wheels and over bodied overhangs and what was the logic behind this? size wise it looks not far off the 1100 so was this to create a space for the smaller barrel MINI? Intriguing Stuff.

  14. Nate - November 10, 2013

    Compared to the Pininfarina 1100 and 1800, the Pininfarina Mini really does not look right.

    The Barrel Car Mini and a more developed Clubman would have been more suitable replacements for the original Mini, especially with a hatchback along with a 4/5-door akin to the Broadspeed Mini Four Door Limousine.

    As for the 9X Mini (another suitable Mini replacement), while the prototype was developed with a new engine to replace the A-Series, would it have been possible for a production version to have been powered (at least initially) by A-Series engines?

    Keith

    Is the Clubman hatchback prototype in the following what you was referring to?

    http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/cars/mini-classic/archive-mini-clubman-takes-shape/

  15. Stuart - November 10, 2013

    At 13, I see where you’re going & it makes sense. To have the barrel below this would be a perfect scenario.

    The above image looks great, but is likely to have been thought as too advanced for the time, thus alienating traditional buyers. But the avant garde set would love the new model & it could have lasted a long time in production, with plastic bumpers etc in the mid ’70′s. The barrel Mini would have appealed to the average Brit small car buyer.

    Maybe with low funds & the continued sales of the original, plus Issiginis’ influence & the cost at a tricky time put paid to it. I see it as another opportunity lost. Sigh.

  16. Ian Nicholls - November 10, 2013

    In John Presnell’s Mini book the same picture is captioned as a Mini.

  17. francis brett francis brett - November 10, 2013

    Was it “stick in the muds” that held back the designers?

    You only have to look at Citroen’s DS(although a large car)
    and you would think it was from space back in the day.
    Even the Traction Avant has a abstract modernity to it-one of the most attractive cars around, although most would not agree!

  18. mab01uk - November 10, 2013

    In Jon Pressnells book Mini The definitive History it says….
    Quote:
    This mock up was created at Longbridge as an extrapolation of the Fioravanti originals (1100 and 1800 aerodynanic saloons)and stored in the legendary Longbride tunnels. On a 4″ longer wheelbase than a Mini, the overall length has gone up to close on 12ft, so one can’t see Issigonis having approved. The car seems barely smaller than the 1100 proposal and lacks the elegance of the 1800 berlina aerodinamica so one can understand Fioravanti’s reticence about the project.
    (Doug Adams)

  19. mab01uk - November 10, 2013

    Further Quote from the excellent Pressnell Mini Book (page 156)

    Fioravanti created the 1100 and 1800 aerodynamic saloons but he denies any responsibility for this Mini-derived variant. “Issigonis asked us try but we refused because it was impossible to make anything good of it” he told the author. (Doug Adams)

  20. Keith Adams Keith Adams - November 10, 2013

    Thanks, much appreciated – blog updated. :)

  21. SimonW - November 10, 2013

    That period of BMC and BMH history is so fascinating. What if the Labour Government had injected funds into BMC through the NRC and allowed Leyland Group to continue their successful advance with Rover Truimph and Leyland Trucks? If BMC had had the guts to launch x9 and the Pininfarina replacements for BMC 1100 and 1800 and then Roy Haynes had developed a better rear drive platform for Marina, an MG Coupe and a Jaguar executive car (planned to sit below XJ6) then by the early 70′s BMC would have been thriving and investing in improving productivity.

  22. Ian Elliott - November 10, 2013

    A word in your shells – remember that the Mini van/estate was a longer wheelbase than the Mini saloon….

  23. Nate - November 11, 2013

    The Barrel Car, Clubman hatchback and 9X seem to be more suitable Mini replacements then the Pininfarina Mini.

    Btw regarding the 9X, would it have been possible for a production 9X to be have at least been initially powered by A-Series units prior to being replaced by a more thoroughly developed family of engines derived from the stillborn 750-1000cc 9X engine?

  24. Will M - November 11, 2013

    The aero fastback look doesn’t translate well to such a small floorpan.

    Even Citroen didn’t try and downscale a DS with the Ami 8, instead giving it angular bodywork.

  25. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - November 11, 2013

    22: It’s not a Pininfarina Mini – it’s a BMC attempt to make it a family look.

    I don’t think it’s far off, actually. Think Metro.

    Metro wheelbase is 88′ with an overall length of 3.4m (Sorry, I always think of wheelbase in inches). The BLMC 1100 was 4.1m on a 96′ wheelbase; as Keith says, right there in Escort class.

    That’s it, really. Think Metro, not Mini.

  26. Nate - November 12, 2013

    23: Though it is beside the point there was the stillborn Citroen C 60 project that was pretty much a cross between the DS and Ami, one of two stillborn projects that pre-dated Citroen GS.

    24: So it is essentially Metro-sized?

    Guess that the reason it does not like right in my eyes is because only a 3-door version of the Mini-replacement is shown compared to the Pininfarina 1100/1800 concepts that features 5-doors.

  27. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick - November 12, 2013

    Look at the graphics on the BLMC 1100 page – Paolo Martin’s original line drawing is of a 3 door 1100 at 4.1m length/96′ wheelbase…

  28. Will M - November 12, 2013

    Citroen C60 – http://www.citroenet.org.uk/prototypes/c60/c-60.html

    Doesn’t look too bad, more like an Ami with a DS nose.

    Citroen were looking to go all Citycar with the 2CV replacement – http://www.citroenet.org.uk/prototypes/g-mini/g-mini.html

  29. Pedro the parrot - November 14, 2013

    The ‘barrel’ has more than a bit of Honda about it. As for the first photo pure Alfasud from the side and rear. Ever noticed the similarity between the Alegro estate and the Sud estate?

  30. Brian Kinder - November 15, 2013

    There was also a much shorter Mini.
    In the late 60′ / 70′s I was designing trailer undergear at Rubery Owen and we tested at MIRA. One day a Mini steel estate appears that was square. They had cut through the A post and B post, then welded the B post to the A post, you sat in the back seat, entering via near side rear door. There testing for a few days, then disappeared.

    Was it the prototype Smartcar ?

    Brian

  31. Dave Dawson - November 16, 2013

    Not much of a Mini with those overhangs!

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