Concepts and prototypes : Mini replacement proposals (1968-74)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

From barrel to wedge: the failed Mini replacements

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, British Leyland tried unsuccessfully to produce a viable replacement for the Mini. A number of interesting proposals emerged – none of which made it into production.

Long before the term ‘supermini’ had been coined, British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) had begun to think about producing a new Mini with superior space, comfort and practicality. This gallery contains some initial thoughts and some blind alleys.


Project Ant: the ‘barrel’ Mini replacement

This car was tentatively developed around the same time as Sir Alec Issigonis was developing his 9X project. As with the 9X, the idea was to improve on the Mini’s already brilliant space efficiency, while also being cheaper and less labour intensive to produce.

The resulting full-scale mock-up clearly shows a fair degree of success, with its Mini-like styling and simplified body engineering. The flanks of the car were clearly convex, which apart from adding to the interior space of the car also (according to Longbridge Engineers) added a degree of strength.

Of all the abandoned Mini proposals, this one was the most successful in its styling because it managed not only to look cleaner, but also maintained clear links with its predecessor.


Roy Haynes’ hatchback Mini Clubman proposals

Roy Haynes was a very accomplished stylist, of this there is no doubt, but in this particular instance, he was always going to be hamstrung by the fact that the Mini body was going to be nigh-on impossible to improve on. The brief he was given was to improve the style of the Mini and increase the boot room. Certainly, he succeeded in the latter…

The final proposal, dated May 1968, looked good considering it used so much Mini hardware, and successfully integrated a hatchback. If anything it worked because it looked like a Morris Marina.

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1972 Leyland-Crompton electric car prototype

Dating from 1971, this electric research vehicle was designed by Michelotti and built jointly by British Leyland and Crompton-Leyland Electricars, based on Mini underpinnings. While obviously not intended as a Mini replacement, it does demonstrate the direction of BLMC’s small-car thinking at the time, and predicts some of elements of the project ADO74 designs.

The design was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show in 1972, but went no further. (Note how similar the shape of the door frame and C-pillar is to that of the later Triumph TR7).


Towns Minissima

William Towns produced this striking design, called Minissima, for the 1973 London Motor Show. Entry to the cabin was via a single rear door, and it managed to fit seating for three within its overall length of just 90 inches.

The car was bought by British Leyland, along with the design rights, only for it to emerge over ten years later as the Elswick Envoy invalid carriage.


Early ADO74 sketches

Was Gordon Sked influenced by Minissima when he produced this 'new Mini' sketch in 1974?
Was Gordon Sked influenced by Minissima when he produced this ‘new Mini’ sketch in 1974?

This sketch from the pen of Roger Tucker dates from January 1974.
This sketch from the pen of Roger Tucker dates from January 1974.
Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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1 Comment

  1. So the Barrel Car was indeed Project Ant or at least became known as Project Ant after later becoming part of ADO74 to represent a true Mini replacement proposal compared to the larger Ladybird and Dragonfly Projects?

    Given the Metro development article mentions Project Ant would be available with 750cc-950cc engine sizes, it makes one wonder whether the Ant would have likely carried over the 9X Mini’s 750-1000cc engine from its in-house rival since they were developed at the same time.

    Since it cannot be the the H-Series and K-Series prototype engines used for ADO74 as their displacement range in total was only 900-1300cc, unless they could have been reduced to 750cc nor is it 100% known whether the H-Series and K-Series engines would have fitted to the Ant as opposed to the Ladybird and Dragonfly.

    Interesting the Ant was to be available in both two- and three-door bodystyles, though cannot help but think of the Ant carrying over elements from it predecessor’s projects such as the Mini 4-door or even the Marina-like rear-end on the Clubman hatchback prototype.

    Compared to the Ladybird Project that officially became ADO74, the Ant looks significantly better and IMHO puts the Ladybird in a bad light given the latter’s problems of project drift. It would have made more sense for BL to take an evolutionary approach in replacing the Mini with the Ant instead of going with the Ladybird.

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