Chris Cowin takes a look at the South African Mini ‘MK3’ of 1969-71, and pieces together an interesting and little-told story.
We focus on the confusingly-named Mini MK3, which combined the booted rear end of the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet with the rounded front of the standard ADO15 Mini.
Mini MK3: putting the boot in
The late 1960s were confusing if you were shopping for a Mini in South Africa. The merger which created British Leyland in Britain led to the formation of Leyland South Africa, which for a short time branded its car division Leykor (a new name intended to work in both English and Afrikaans).
Shortly after the creation of Leykor, in September 1969, the Austin, Morris and Wolseley brands were dropped in favour of simply ‘Mini’ for South Africa’s Mini range, which paralleled what was happening in the UK. As in Britain, a revised range of Minis was introduced to coincide with this changeover, but it was a different line-up to the UK. Out went the old (Austin and Morris-branded) Cooper models and the Wolseley 1000 (which was effectively a Wolseley Hornet without the extended boot).
Topping the new line-up of Leykor Minis was the MK3 (written in capitals), a model with an extended rear which would serve as South Africa’s posh Mini for only two years.
It was going to be called the Elf
Planning for this short-lived and not very successful Mini had started life under BMC, with the initial plan being for South Africa to call the car Elf (which proved not to be possible as this was already the name of a truck locally).
Production of the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet ended in the UK in mid-1969 and the intention had been to ship the tooling for their extended rear end to South Africa, allowing the introduction of a Mini with 50% bigger boot (trunk) capacity. The outgoing Wolseley 1000 had done without such a boot in the absence of that tooling. In the context of South Africa’s strict local content regulations, it did not make sense to import these panels from the UK.
However, it appears the first Mini MK3s were built using British panels, with a switch to local pressing foreseen once the tooling had been shipped and installed. It’s unclear if this ever happened given the limited life and low sales of the MK3, which was soon being slated for the chop. Board Meeting minutes held at Gaydon show that in March 1970 (almost a year after UK production of Elf/Hornet ended) panels for the “Mini Elf” were still being pressed in Britain and exported to South Africa.
A thoroughly modern Mini?
Apart from the bigger boot, innovations introduced on the MK3 included doors with concealed hinges and wind-up windows, which were indeed a key feature of the Mini Mark 3 range being introduced in the UK at the same time, and the same design. These replaced the Australian Mini doors (with quarterlights) which South Africa had been importing from Australia and which continued to be fitted to the two cheaper Minis in the range, the ‘1000 Standard’ and ‘1000 Deluxe’.
Brake linings were bigger, and a new pressure relief valve prevented rear lock-up. There was now synchromesh on all four gears in a new remote-control gearbox, but dry cone suspension was fitted which was better for the all-important ‘local content’ calculation than fitting the arguably superior Hydrolastic suspension system.
Power came from a 998cc South African built ‘first generation’ A-Series engine. The car was 21.3cm longer than the standard Mini and 36.3kg heavier. As pictured, the new MK3 had a conventional round-nose Mini front end, the only time this front end was combined with the Elf/Hornet rear.
Mini MK3: not a success
Buyers were not that impressed with the MK3. Leyland South Africa (where the management team included the son of BLMC Chairman Donald Stokes) later concluded they had priced it too high. The new rear end with its pronounced tail fins had looked very sharp when first introduced on the Elf and Hornet in Britain in 1961. But by 1970 there were those who doubted the MK3 styling really updated the Mini at all, and luggage space remained modest. In two years, just 3871 cars were sold (equivalent to one week’s production of Minis at Longbridge).
Planned developments of the MK3 were cancelled as the strategy for British Leyland’s South African car activities evolved. As South African Mini expert Ryno Verster relates, it had been intended to fit the MK3 with the Clubman front end and the larger 1098cc A-Series engine in early 1970, with that engine upgraded from ‘generation one’ to ‘generation two’ (with higher local content) at the end of 1970.
The ‘hybrid’ Mini with a Clubman nose and Elf rear that has appeared at shows in Britain thus resembles what might have been offered South Africans from 1970 (though in fact it’s a more recent confection from parts). But none of that happened. Rather than persist with the MK3 Leyland South Africa (as it was now increasingly called in preference to Leykor) replaced it with the Mini Clubman saloon (estates were also offered briefly) in the autumn of 1971.
Boot gets the boot, round nose lives on…
From August 1971 onwards, Mini saloons with the Clubman nose were always part of the range in South Africa, but the base Deluxe and a sequence of special editions kept the classic round-nose Mini on the market until 1980.
The continued availability of round-nosed Minis made South Africa different from Australia where all Minis, even the van, were Clubman-nosed from 1972. The cheapest Mini (and cheapest car in South Africa for almost all the 1970s) was the Mini Deluxe (pictured below) which was available for the entire decade, going through various detail updates but always retaining a round nose. The Mini van was also always round-nosed and stayed in production until 1979 (although the pick-up bakkie was dropped in South Africa in 1971).
In addition, there were a number of special editions: Sunshine (launched February 1977), Moonlight (launched September 1977), Mini Deluxe Special (launched June 1978) and Mini Vanden Plas (launched August 1978). Those four were all round-nosed. These round-nose Minis appeared in showrooms alongside the Clubman-nosed models (as was the case in the UK).
After a brief hiatus during 1979/80 connected with the proposed Sigma takeover, Mini production in South Africa recommenced and lasted until 1983 (though sales continued into 1984), but those final 1980s 1275E Minis were all Clubman-nosed. However, at no point after the demise of the MK3 in 1971, was the extended rear end offered on another South African Mini and it seems likely (as mentioned above) that the tooling required to press it never reached the country.
South African Minis of this era were manufactured at Blackheath, Cape Province, with the majority of components being South African-sourced in the 1970s reaching 66% measured by weight in 1975.
- Written with reference to A South African Mini story by Ryno Verster. Any comments very welcome.