Blog : Mini – it wasn’t perfect, here’s why

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Rick Ehrlich

mini_01

The Mini was challenged with the gearbox in the sump from a technical point of view. That it was brilliant there is no doubt. That it was durable depends on your experience. What has been written about the mini over time was that BMC/Leyland had to make plenty of repairs to the Mini under warranty and the most expensive or serious kind of warranty claim would be to the drivetrain with the gearbox and common sump arrangement for the engine, transmission and final drive.

If BMC/Leyland had the foresight to adapt to an end-on gearbox/powertrain arrangement as the Japanese Honda and all the other small front-wheel drive minis of the era, perhaps the original Mini might have fared better. BMC/Leyland did away with Hydrolastic and retreated to rubber cone springs mostly to save money. Hydrolastic in the larger cars was a wonderful ride such as the BMC 1100/1300 cars. While not many who drove Minis may agree, personally I found the Hydrolastic a comfortable ride. I was sorry to see it removed from the production cars.

Other improvements that should have been made after WW2 was the electrical system with the stupid 2 fuse system to protect half the circuits on one 35 amp fuse and the other half with another 35 amp fuse. That old Lucas ‘Prince of Darkness’ image and all the jokes that went along with the reality of old technology really did leave many drivers in the dark and cursing. If you are driving in foul weather and you lose one fuse, your panel lights for the gauges go dark, along with your blower motor for demisting and your turn signals – talk about driving blind, your wipers are also on the same circuit!

Now you can’t see through a rain or snowstorm with a windscreen being rained on or snowed on and have no idea what your gauges are reading. Not to mention defrosting the front glass won’t work and if it’s cold out, you aren’t getting any heat blown by the motor. The other circuit protects the horns and brights flasher and interior light. So it was all stupid to continue this right up through the final Austin America sold and manufactured in 1971 in the USA. I’m sure this was common to all cars no matter where produced and sold.

As a final thought, the idiosyncrasies associated with Sir Alex’s small front-wheel drive cars were addictive and something unique. The gearshift lever that bounced up and down in it’s rubber mountings according to engine torque when tromping down on the gas pedal or lifting it quickly. The whining of the gearbox, the throaty carburetors sucking air, and the booming of the exhaust. The steering and suspension gave the driving experience a wonderful feeling of control and the ability of a Mini or the BMC 1100/1300 had such precision in their ability to track accurately that it gave the feeling of a being in complete control at all times.

It’s a shame that events conspired to kill off the great qualities of these cars and the worst part of it is that no genuine breakthroughs in technology allowed these cars to continue as they were with technical improvements. It would have been fantastic to have a Honda-type of final drive or trans axle with the Cooper S engine.

Hondas don’t break their gearboxes and final drives like the old Sir Alec designs.

60 Comments

  1. Not, I’m afraid, a very perceptive article. The Hondas referred to were hardly mini-cars, but were 2 cylinder aircooled buzzboxes of very doubtful durability. When did you last see one ? It was the fact that they were only 2 cylinder that enabled the gearbox to be positioned alongside the engine rather than in it . Similarly , the criticism of the electrical sysem, and in particular the fuses , is misplaced . Virtually all European cars produced up to about 1968 had no more than 4 fuses, however, complicated the car . Failures were , in fact, very rare. The problem with fuses in older cars is that the fuses age – each heat cycle work-hardens the wire and eventually they break. Since few people replace fuses which are working, this problem is not eliminated. However, for perhaps the first ten years of a car’s life, this will not arise . The “Prince of darkness” jokes, originating no doubt in the United States , are a gross calumny , since most people’s experience of Lucas equipped cars was that the electrics ( unlike modern cars ) were very reliable . Certainly, from my own point of view, the first one third of my motoring career ( amounting in total to about 1.5 million miles ) was spent exclusively on Lucas electrics and I never had a single failure apart from the odd bulb failure

    • Chris, the Honda you refer to was the original little 2 cylinder 600 cc model which was mini-size but only had what was a motorcycle engine in it. When those made their way to the US, they only sold for 2 years and did not have a huge success. They were ok, but did not appeal to the American market because gasoline was still very cheap at 30 cents a gallon so there were few people attracted to what was a little “shit-box” with no room in it and no HP to speak of. Whoever might think about acquiring one of these insanely small and underpowered cars would opt for a more powerful American car. Again, gas was cheap and would stay that way until 1973 when the first Arab oil embargo forced Americans into gas lines and the first shock of oil price spikes. It was the Honda Civic which was introduced in ’73, the same year as the oil embargo that captured the American market a little bit at a time. The Civic was larger than the little Honda 600 and had decent HP for it’s size with the engine at 1,169 cc. This provided for 40 mpg fuel economy. My first Civic was a 74 with a slightly larger 4 cylinder which had more power at 1237 cc and it returned about 30 mpg and 40 on the interstate highway.

      My experience with the Civic was that nothing broke except a clutch cable which was replaced under warranty. The trans-axle was superior to any Issigonis gearbox in the sump and final drive pinion driving the crown wheel in the differential. That was the weak point in the design. The two gears may not have broken for you on your cars but apparently the quality control at the factory when they did the assembly had no quality control as whoever selected the final drive pinion and crown wheel gears must have mismatched the gear sets. They stripped themselves to death in no time. Anywhere from under 10k miles to 30k.

      Regarding your comment about all European cars having 4 fuses – that doesn’t say much for it being good. That was low tech when you compared it to American cars that used separate fuses for almost everything. I recall a 1965 Chevelle had a fuse block and it was all neatly arranged and labeled. Fuse for lights, wipers, radio, etc.

      You seem to have no experience of how British cars were perceived in America. The jokes about Lucas came from England and perhaps the continent of Europe. We only heard about Lucas and the jokes from car magazines and British car clubs. You don’t know how the British car industry failed here in America, do you? You have no clue that people who owned these cars always had problems with them and one huge issue was the electrics.

      Anyway, I did want to stay on point with the front wheel drive arrangement and the ill fated drivetrain. If it was so good, why did other manufacturers not adopt it? Honda which successfully marketed their Honda brand which really took off after the oil embargo in ’73, gained market share here in the US but they were not alone. Toyota and Datsun, aka Nissan and even newcomers like Mazda and Subaru all slowly built their reputations on their new designs.

      This was a problem with BL because they were hemorrhaging red ink and losing money hand over fist. The dealer networks in the US started to fold up their tents a little bit at a time for different reasons. One dealer told me he quit selling Leyland cars because of the strikes in England. He traveled to England just to see what the deal was and saw it first hand. If one bloke didn’t get his tea break, the entire assembly line walked off in sympathy and shut down the plant. So the dealer just picked up Datsun/Nissan and dropped British Leyland.

      So in the long run the Japanese invasion of the US with their small fuel efficient cars that offered incredible reliability, and modern electrical technology with multiple fuses that were never a constant challenge just presented buyers with better cars for the money. The big old BLMC came up with a bomb of a car called the Austin Marina that didn’t really sell and that was to replace the Austin America. By the late 70s it was pretty much over here in the states as Triumph and MG were either in the last iteration or perhaps by 1980 it was done. Hondas got more modern with modest increases in size and engine capacity and really just picked up more and more in sales as did the other Japanese cars. The British car industry failed to respond adequately and lost the battle, lock stock and barrel. All you have on our roads today are essentially historic British cars that are kept by the faithful. Jaguar and Rover excluded but they are no longer British, are they?

  2. Has this guy ever even seen a Mini or 1100? His drivel about transaxles makes me wonder if he’s ever even seen a transaxle, let alone wondered how it could ever fit in a Mini!

    • Kev
      Yes, this guy has not only seen a mini and an 1100. I own a mini and have owned many 1300s.

      But you should just go on and insult anybody you feel like. When you get back to me maybe you might rephrase your introduction.

      FWI – a transaxle takes up no more room that Sir Alec’s design. Many folks around the US stuff Honda Civic lumps into minis!

      Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

      Before you think, use your brain!

  3. Yes I agree with comments above, but he is right that sticking with the gears in the stump was a hinderance. Issigonis recognised this and I believe the X9 had the gear box behind the engine. The point of putting the engine over the gear box was definately lost in bigger cars like the 1800, maxi and probably even the 1100, where space utilization was not such a critical matter.

  4. For all of its faults, the Mini in its original form was a huge success for most of the sixties and seventies. Indeed until the seventies it had few rivals, Hillman tried with the Imp, which was quite a good car but a bit unconvential for British tastes and had some issues when it was launched, and cars like the Fiat 500 were just too small and rare over here. However, a replacement should have been in production by 1970 at least.

    • Agreed the mini concept was revolutionary but it was a huge loss leader for BMC/LEYLAND when they realized they were losing money on each car produced, they ran to the bean counters looking for ways to save the commissions paid to John Cooper.

  5. Given that the Minki-II was widened by 50mm in order to fit a K-Series unit mated to an end-on gearbox, how much would the Mini have needed to be widened by in order to use an existing A-Series unit with end-on gearbox?

    • Nate, I have a Mk 2 and know there are minor differences but don’t know about 50 mm widening. I don’t doubt your statement as I have never taken the opportunity to measure it. That amounts to just under 2 inches. Who knows, maybe that was part of the thinking of Sir Alec. I do know that after the merger Sir Alec became redundant to Mr. Stokes and his Leyland dominated company so any future designs for the new mini were deep-sixed.

      To the way I see it, the mk 1 and mk 2 body panels are all so close, that if not identical, you can use a mk 1 front clip and weld it to a mk 2 as a replacement front panel and it will fit.

      • Was referring to the 1995 Minki-II prototype that was widened as well as lengthened at the wheelbase by 50mm each way in order to fit a 1.4 K-Series and end-on gearbox, with the 1992 Minki-I prototype meanwhile (that was neither widened nor lengthened) a Maestro A-Series engine and end-on gearbox was investigated though was considered too tight (prompting them to look into a 3-cylinder K-Series) yet might have possibly fitted in the widened Minki-II.

        http://www.austinmemories.com/page46/page46.html

        http://new.minimania.com/The_wide_boy_Mini_that_never_was

        • Came across the Minki a few years ago and is still intriguing of What might have been (you have to appreciate just how compact the A series unit was), Perhaps a longer nose like the Bini may have overcome the k series bulk?

          However I cant help thinking that if they dressed the then current Rover Metro to look like a Mini, it would have saved a few £££ and they could have still charged handsomely for the new Fashion Accessory, (only the NCAP tests would have let them both down), But would this have changed the BMW course of History? ….

          • Aside from the K-Series unit and modern dashboard / interior, a Mini with all the advances of the Minki (mainly Minki-II) and more (3/5-door hatchback, 4-door saloon, 2-door with split-tailgate, increased width / length 50mm each way, 4/5-speed end-on gearbox, etc) could have potentially appeared as early as the late-60s to early/mid-70s.

            That is not even mentioning a stillborn proposal in the 1970s to do away with the external seams, bowing out the body sides to gain interior space whilst retaining the basic Mini shape as well as introducing more tumblehome to satisfy German regulations on shoulder room, which would also have had the effect of making the car much less labour intensive to build (e.g. making a one-piece floor pressing instead the existing 6 pressings, etc).

            As for a Mini based on the Rover Metro, cannot see it getting the go-ahead over R6X (unless the Mini was restricted to 3-cylinder K-Series units with R6X receiving 4-cylinder K-Series units) though Nissan was able to produce the Figaro, S-Cargo, Be-1 and Pao from the Nissan Micra.

          • The Minki is described in the Alex Moulton “Red Book” and I have the impression it was simply a diversion, give the UK something to do while all along the BMW studios were at work on the yank-tank MINI

  6. It’s a fair criticism. Engines and manual gearboxes have very different lubrication needs. Thus it was an issue that was know to exist on these cars. Also, while the ten inch wheels are an endearing feature to enthusiasts today, they did wear out tyres quickly due to their small diameter and thus were not universally loved when the cars were new. In a lot of ways though, the Mini made the best use of what was available for it in 1959. That it kept the same basic drivetrain after every other car of it’s type had moved on is part of the problem. A small engine/transmission package from a Japanese manufacturer, as is popular for engine swaps, could have solved the issues and kept the packaging the same. It needn’t have been a 4 cylinder either as companies like Daihatsu and Suzuki made very good, compact 3 cylinders with less weight and similar power outputs to the antiquated A series, all in a more fuel efficient package.

    Then there was always the 9X drivetrain. Even though it may not have been feasible to build Issigonis’ magnum opus, the drivetrain should have been developed as a replacement for the A series. It would have made the Mini a more competitive product in the 1970’s when compared to excellent choices such as the VW Polo and Golf, not to mention the competition from Japan.

    • Agree that the 9X drivetrain should have been carried over to the Mini and replace the A-Series, perhaps in Clubman form that together with a hatchback would have made the Clubman much more highly regarded (particularly if the company had the foresight to use Daihatsu 3-cylinder diesels like Innocenti did).

      At the same time given what was successfully experimented upon the A-Series over the years that never entered production (including DOHC, Hemi-heads, 5-bearing crankshaft etc), it seems the A-Series was capable of being further developed into a die-cast (instead of sand-cast) all-alloy OHC engine with 7/8-port heads and lighter then the existing A-Series by around half to 1/3rd.

  7. Instead of the half hearted and ugly Clubman update in 1969, British Leyland should have had a replacement ready for the launch of the Renault 5 and the Fiat 127, which started to steal sales from the Mini. I would have liked a car similar in styling to the Cinq, a hatchback fitted with 1100 and 1300 cc engines, with the option of a base, luxury and sports model, and also doing away with the gearbox in sump set up to improve reliability.I reckon this could have really sold well in the seventies. Indeed it could have predated the Metro by eight years by using this name.
    As for the classic 1959 Mini, this could have lived alongside the Metro as an 850cc city car.

  8. The Fiat 128 & Simca 1100 had been launched by 1969, while being larger than the Mini, was there much noted by the BMC / BL design department as to the end on gearbox?

    Certainly they had the Renault 16 in mind with the Maxi.

    • I came close to buying a Simca in 1970 and was glad that I did not as the Simca dealers folded up their tents about the same time I bought my first Austin America.

      To my way of thinking, the Honda company copied the Sir Alec design almost totally with the exception of the trans-axle which they opted to engineer as a sidewinder or conventional arrangement. The Fiat 128 afaik didn’t make it’s presence in the US until after BL withdrew the Austin America. Fiat FWD 128 arrived perhaps sometime in 1973 or later.

  9. The majority of motorcycles, even very high power 150 bhp 1000 cc units, share engine oil with the gearbox and also the clutch, (wet clutches), such as the Honda step-through C50/70/90, 35 million plus produced and still counting. I used to own a Metro and had a scrap engine/gearbox bought from a breaker, other than the cost and inclination, I cannot see too many obstacles to prevent BL from the redesigning the gearbox casting to run and lubricate the gears in a gear chamber seperated from the engine oil.

    • BL could have done plenty but the money problem (lack of it)kept them from investing in R&D. The entire outfit was in free fall and then the British government took them over.

  10. British Leyland relied on the 1959 Mini for too long. By the late seventies it was completely outclassed by the Renault 5, Fiat 127, Ford Fiesta and VW Polo, and while not much fun to drive, the Japanese competition like the Datsun Cherry at least had reliability and better equipment on its side. Certainly the Mini was still reasonably cheap, very cheap to run and maintain, and still handled well, but by 1978 it was an ancient design, very unsafe in a crash, cramped, very noisy at speed, basic and not particularly reliable.

  11. You have to remember that the Mini’s design purpose was to destroy those “Bloody awful Bubble cars” by order of Mr Lord, However as we all know it didn’t make any money until the early 1970s, (allegedly) which could be lost by just a bit of overtime at the Factory. To an Accountant’s point of view “why spend money on the thing” Hence lack of development, incidentally The Hillman Imp was just as bad for development It didn’t get a fuse box until 1974 .

    Yes the whole costing’s should have been sorted well before then, but sadly it didn’t happen, And what was learned from Issy’s K9 should have been integrated into the Mini But again was not to happen.

    However siting The Mini below The New crop of Supermini’s would have worked, (4 speeds would have been more than acceptable for a town car, Ford were still selling Escorts in the 1990s with 4 speeds).

    Even in the early 1980s it was still a brilliant town car (boot space aside and lack of versatility) as a tiny package I doubt it will ever be beaten… However as it’s Parent Company was on Life support, The Management upped the prices (In 1975 the basic Mini cost more than an Escort mk2 Popular, which was a lot of car for the money, The Datsun Sunny was even cheaper and had a radio !) To be priced to compete with the bigger cars above, meant it was badly outclassed… (However it still hasn’t stopped The current Bini selling at near Golf prices ! ) and yet back in the 1970s it still sold quite well despite the basic interiors and neglect.

    The fact is the 1100/Allegro should have been the new Supermini,(with Hatchback) but it didn’t happen.

    As for the gears in sump, The whole A series unit is one of the fastest I can think of to remove, whilst Peugeot used a similar layout for its 104/Citroen Visa and later 205 which had 5 speeds, shame there wasn’t some cooperation between the PSA and BL, although it did happen with the Rover Metro using Peug Gearbox’s

    • Well said. I would have liked my Austin America to have been able to last. It was not to be. Every one of these cars suffered the same fate. The final drive pinion and the crown gear in the differential stripped themselves so the car was disabled. You can’t transmit power through stripped or gears that fail.

      The solution at the time (this is over 40 years ago) was a set of MG 1100 gears fitted to the gearbox – just the ring and pinion gears. They seemed well suited or matched for one another.

      The Austin America had this as a common defect, perhaps not every car manufactured. But it happened to every America I had and it was not me or my style of driving. Everybody I knew that had an America had these gears fail. A mechanic that I was using made quick work of replacing the gears after I saved myself the labor fees of pulling the lump out of the car and transporting same to his garage.

      From what I know, and perhaps I know very little – this is not common the cars made for the home market. England had an identical car which was known as the 1300 GT. Minor differences were 4 door vs 2 door, tachometer, higher engine HP at about 70 vs the Austin America with 58 HP. The America was also fitted with single carb and lower compression 8.8:1 and vacuum advance dizzy. It was also hampered by a HP robbing device aka emission control which ran off an rubber drive belt to comply with the clean air act of 1968. The Austin America, though slightly anemic in 1275 form because it was detuned for the American market would have been a much better runner if it was outfitted the way the 1300 GT was.

      Otherwise, aside from running out of steam at 5800 rpm, the handling of the hydrolastic suspension and rack and pinion steering was uncompromising and I’ve never experienced such a great smooth ride in a car that size or even larger. There is surely no car that has been manufactured since then that can match nor exceed the comfort and solid road-holding with definite tracking while executing a turn at speed. In addition the hydrolastic suspension would absorb shocks from huge pot holes and crater sized depressions or big bumps without a hiccup.

      It is a bloody shame the tooling for the hydrolastic design was discarded and lost. To me that was the magic of the car in addition to all the idiosyncrasies, nobody could condemn the liquid suspension. Nobody else had anything that came near it except if you spent much much more on a highly complex arrangement such as Citroen.

  12. Wonderful in 1959, a great classic in 2014, but pretty hopeless between say 1970 and end of production in 2000. Like all BL cars let down by lack of any development throughout its life.

  13. @ Paul, it should have been replaced in the early seventies, the Mini was becoming ancient even by the standards of that era. Ideally it should have been kept as a budget city car and supermini with a hatchback introduced in 1972.

  14. For West European markets the Mini should have been replaced by a new city car and supermini family featuring hatchbacks and other advances.

    Having said that there was still quite a bit of life left for the Mini in non-Western markets with a well-costed cheaper-to-make yet thoroughly developed version of the Mini likely doing well enough that it could perhaps even be exported to Western markets now and again as a classic retro car, especially if the likes of the Hindustan Ambassador, Volkswagen Citi Golf, Volkswagen Beatle, Maruti 800, Lada Riva and other cars with long production runs (albeit typically updated / modernized) are any indication.

      • The problem with the Innocenti was that it had less rear legroom then the Mini (which could have been sorted with a longer wheelbase), that is not to mention the concerns regarding both the cost of the rebody by Bertone as well as the rigidity.

        The ideal would have been Minki-style advances mated to a modern Innocenti-like rebody with either coil-spring or hydragas suspension.

  15. The squareback Polio was the most horrible thing I have ever ever driven, bar the Orion 5. Even a Clubfoot in skidmark beige, firing on three cylinders and more rust than bodywork and more filler than either – in a hurricane, would be more desirable.
    Yes in modern cars you really do need different gearbox oil – I hate to imagine what would happen if you put engine oil into the lesser spotted Hyundai “alpha” transmission – even with the proper stuff its not so much syncromesh 5 speed as syncromesh 3 if you’re lucky, the other two are either MIA or make noises that would embarrass an early E-type jag (its also somewhat like stirring coal with a swizzle stick). However the Mini was not the only car to use the same oil in both the transmission and engine circuits – anything with a Laycock D overdrive so far as I know mixed the oils which was perfectly accceptable if you were doing 3k between changes on a iron engine – its not so acceptable when its rated at 12k using various alloys, with a couple of turbos slapped in for good measure.
    The problem Issigonis had was simple, in a way, he just had to get 4 people into a small box with a very small engine and in order to do that he had to design something brand new using 50s technology – so I’d personally cut the guy a little slack, and as for the Prince of Darkness 2 fuse wonders – be happy that you have never had to play with the fuses and electrics of a circa 1996-2010 Renaults. There is also such a thing as bringing spares… and a large hammer for the starter motor which *will* lock up solid at the wrong moment.

  16. PS. Hydrolastic/Hydrogas cant be that bad – after all the British Army used it in most of the AFVs for the upside of 20+ years.. although to be fair you wont be bouncing around quite so much in a Challenger, what with the 61 & a bit tonnes it has on the Mini…

  17. Jemma makes an important point about modern oils and increased sophistication. The Mini was designed when multigrades were in their infancy, and indeed probably was designed to use straight 30 . The advent of multigrades with long chain molecules made them much less durable when exposed to the shearing forces in a gearbox/final drive – the molecules got chopped up into short strands rather quickly and ceased to do their job. In any event, there were some 10 million or so BLMC gearbox in sump engines made, and I don’t remember much in the way of trouble with either the engines or the boxes . The boxes were not very pleasant to use by modern standards, and that was what told against them in the end, but apart from that were really quite successful

  18. Perhaps the bad ring and pinion gears were unique to the Austin America model which was marketed in the US and perhaps Canada but I’m not positive about Canadian models.

    I have made inquiries with English car specialists and they stated it was not common. The thing is that when it did happen the car was almost always out of warranty. The coverage that BL provided was 12 months/12,000 miles. There was no concept of extended warranties for their cars here in America back in the day. If there was, that alone would have put them into the red on a financial basis.

    While I may have come off as critical of BL, it is only the truth as to what happened with the huge auto business that was BMC/LEYLAND. In 1969 the company printed a list of dealers and distributors in North America and Canada and they proudly stated that they were the largest manufacturer of sports cars in the world. And there was another statement that they were the largest importer of cars in North America. While there is no doubt that this was true at the time, in a few short years it had all changed for the worse the empire that BMC/LEYLAND had achieved was lost. I recall at the time between 1970 that the British cars sold in America were “ours” as they did have a very strong market presence with dealers everywhere. Suddenly an invasion of barbarians such as the Japanese invaded our shores and took over what was once pretty much the province and domain of BMC/Leyland. The MGs and Triumphs vanished and were replaced by Datsuns and Mazda sports cars and sedans. It was a time of tremendous change on the foreign car scene here in America.

  19. @ Rick, I never knew Austin did that much in America as I always thought you guys preferred Jaguars and MGs. However, I do recall an Austin Marina( as it was called over there ) appearing in a Paul Newman film in the seventies.

    • Chris,

      The Austin America sold in the US from 1968-1971. It was the successor to the MG 1100 sold in the US from 1962-1967.

      After BL withdrew the Austin America from the US, they sold the ugly Austin Marina here which really did not sell well at all and if memory serves, it was all done by 1975.

      MGs and Jags were all over the place along with TRs and Rovers. The US had plenty of other British models such as Rootes Motors Sunbeams but they were not as plentiful as the BMC/LEYLAND cars.

  20. Rick was kind enough to reply to my first post, and confirmed what I thought : he wasn’t comparing vehicles of the same era, or indeed, in the case of the Honda Civic, size . His Honda was built 15 years after the Mini appeared ! at that time, 15 years represented about 25% of the entire history of the motor car as a utility

  21. @ Rick, the film was called the Drowning Pool and featured a Marina coupe. Only time I ever saw one in an American film.

    • Glenn,

      And surely the perhaps one and only appearance of a Marina in a movie made for American markets. The Marina was a short-lived vehicle in the states. From 1973 to 1975 and then it was withdrawn from the US. It had a shorter run than the Austin America which sold rather well but had a checkered repair history with respect to warranty claims, not to mention out of warranty claims. There are more Austin Americas that remain mostly in the hands of collectors. I know of no Austin Marina fan club at the moment but since it was never of interest, at least one may exist somewhere.

  22. I could never drive a Mini comfortably for more than about 15 minutes. although of average height, i have longer than average legs and could just never get comfortable. Mostly I ended up with a knee either side of the steering wheel. Just about tolerable when you are 18 years old, much less fun when you are North of 50…

    Than God they never put hydrolastic suspension in the Mini. I spent far too much time in the 1970s and early 80s replacing hydrolastic units and pumping them back up on other BL models. Gearbox in sump was a great idea, just poorly developed and doomed to failure because of poor quality engineering. Crown wheels and pinion gears made of toffee springs to mind. Mostly sorted in later models but owners neglecting oil changes could wreck a box in under 50k miles. Oh, yes and modern lubricants are very different for gearboxes and engines due to the different properties required for optimum performance.

    BL electrics were never a serious problem in my experience, even with 10 year old cars. Most of the issues came as a result of owners adding extras onto the 2 fuse system and overloading the fuse or else hacking into circuits to fit accessories like electric rear window heaters, spotlights or large stereos. The trouble with the 2 fuse system was that there were always a few spare terminals in the box that some amateur bodger would see as great to tap into for a pair of Hella rally lights pulling an extra 20 amps and then immediately blowing the fuse.

    I always used to carry a couple of spare 35 amp fuses in the slots provided and never had any electrical trouble — at least a darn sight less than any modern computer controlled nightmare.

    As for the Mini generally — I always preferred the Hillman Imp which was far more comfortable and less prone to chassis rust.

    • The hydrolastic suspension WAS used on the Mini. Wiki puts the dates as 1964-71, when the Mini reverted to rubber cone susepension.

  23. I’ve heard of the earlier cars with dynamos giving trouble over time, often not helped by DIY bodgers fiddling with the regulators trying to solve a minor problem & causing more trouble.

    Lucas did make a specialist device to fine tune the regulators properly but it was only normally supplied to dealers as it was expensive to make.

    According to a book on classic car parts Lucas used to make similar regulator boxes for different types of engine, so it’s worth checking the model numbers when buying them from autojumble sales.

  24. To say that mounting the transmission under the engine and the use of a common oil created problems is a little unfair, as plenty of transmission at that time used engine oil as a lubricant – Rootes vehicles such as the Hillman Hunter are examples of this practice. If you changed the oil regularly, they were no less reliable than any other transmission of the period. They did suffer from snapping of the output shaft just behind the pinion nut on Metro’s, but the shaft diameter was increased to solve this issue and it was probably the increase in engine output hat created this problem.

    The Kudos to Britain’s image in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ that this style icon created continues today and despite its short comings BMW conceived an new version building on the old Mini’s cool image.

  25. All this talk of the Mini having two fuses in the sixties is probably all it needed as the car was basic( some didn’t have heaters at first) and the fuses would cover the basics like the lights, horn, wipers, heater and dashboard illumination. Probably getting a more powerful fuse if you bought a radio, which was hard to hear above 60 mph, but two would do.

    • As a general statement that 2 fuses would do, it is agreed. But when each circuit is something like 17 amps continuous, and 35 amps maximum, that is a potential overload condition which leads to burned wires or damaged components.

      I never experienced this in an American car as most fuses were 10 or 15 amps and if you had air conditioning, that might be 30 amps at the most.

      I do recall experiencing a terrible smell of insulation on the electrical wiring of my Austin America and my mini cooper s as the fuse must have failed to do its job and allowed the wiring to overheat. Insulation had started to melt on the wires within the harness.

      This odd and antiquated electrical system was dated and unsafe.

  26. It wasc clear BMC had a good many quality issues with manufacture of the gears, but the concept of gears in the sump should work, witness the vast number of motorcycles which share engine/transmission oil without detriment. In one of my books it states Innocenti were rejecting alost 100% of the gearcogs shipped from UK manufacturing for their version of the Mini.

    • I have found the book and reference to the substandard gearcogs, Mini by Simon Garfield, pages 65 and 66, the topic a field trip to Innocenti by Eric Lord

  27. The Mini failed but at a different level.

    The issues of the electricals and gearbox were not significant in the 60’s as the competition such as the Ford Anglia was hardly brilliant. However we notice them on the Mini because it existed outside its time when he had got used to much more sophisticated and better engineered cars.

    But the Mini failed in that it cost too much to make and that it missed its target market.

    The high manufacturing cost is a product of its designer however brilliant also having a closed mind to the wider motor industry, hence needing 6 panels for the floor where Fiat or Ford would have used one.

    The missing of the market, came from the designers dominance in the product planning, so the solution for the small car became an engineering one (a mistake Mercedes were to make with the original A class). If he had understood its “blue collar” first family car market they would have realised that

    1: The amount of road space it took up did not really matter, just as Mercedes were to discover than most A Class customer did not care their car was smaller than a Golf, somebody living outside central London did not see advantage in their car being smaller than a Morris Minor.

    2: They wanted something that was simple and easy to fix, which could be serviced with nothing more than a few spanners and a set of ramps.

    The result was that its target market went off and bought the Ford Anglia and then later the Escort or similar.

    Of course the Mini went on to have success with the middle class thanks in a large part to the likes of Cooper, Hopkirk and Twiggy. But it did not do BMC much good as there was not enough profit or quality engineered into the product (hence the high warranty claims) to make it pay.

    • I agree with points 1 and 2 reflecting attitudes of the generation of the 1960s, blue-collar workers buying their first ever car such as my Father, with limited ready cash for spares, and a child-like understanding and knowledge of how to fix a car when it went wrong, ensured my Father would head for the Ford badge every time, simple cars with plenty of compatible parts in breakers yards etc. Cars such as the Mini and 1100 were viewed with suspicion by Father and his friends, a Minor or Austin Peanut A30 were more to their comfort zone.

      From my childhood memories the 1100 was driven by the better off, white collar middle classes, teachers etc

  28. The Mini was a big seller through the sixties, but as people became better off towards the end of the decade, and company cars became popular, the Ford Cortina became a very popular car, beating the ADO 16 to the top of the charts in 1967.
    Its success was simple, it was a very contemporary looking car with a large range of options that could sit a family in comfort and used simple engineering to sell. The Hillman Hunter used the same principle, a modern looking car with rwd technology and a range of trim levels.
    The Mini really was more of a single person’s car by 1969 and not something a family would really want to travel long distances in.

    • It has been written that Ford took a mini apart and after costing out all the parts and figuring on labor costs realized that BMC was losing money on every mini. They did succeed in the US with their Cortina sales for a short while until the Japanese invasion in the 1970s laid waste to that car. The thing that actually put an end to Cortina in America was Ford’s idea to sell the Ford Pinto which had exploding gas tanks. No extra charge for that engineering debacle.

  29. I never knew any Cortinas were sold Stateside, though I did wonder if some Canadian market ones found themselves going south.

    The big 3 (& AMC) made some oddball cars trying to compete with the Japanese makers, a little OT here but still interesting.

    • The Cortinas were nice cars compared to what they replaced it with – the Pinto which was a death car. Ford had internal company documents hidden away about the exploding gas tanks that killed people. It wasn’t until years later that the documents surfaced.

      I recall reading that the Grateful Dead’s manager had rented a fleet of perhaps 20 Cortinas for the band and their staff and hardly one was returned in working condition. Many were victims of accidents and perhaps more than one ended up in the water fully submerged.

  30. @ Rick, don’t forget that goldfish bowl on wheels, the AMC Gremlin, which was one big Gremlin. Britain produced some awful cars in the seventies, but America had some real horrors as well such as the products of AMC and the Chevy Citation.

    • Glenn,

      The US domestic disasters partial list of disasters must include the Chevy Vega. Engine bits fell off or imploded. Engine blocks fell out of the car. It was not as bad as the Pinto which killed some occupants when the gas tanks exploded upon being struck from the rear end. But on a sales basis the Pinto didn’t do badly whereas the Vega failed to keep pace.

      Depending on the Chevy Citation model, you might have a decent one. A family relation had a Citation and it might have had the V-6 engine which with a manual gearbox. He claimed it was a great car and he kept it for as long as possible. Possibly the body succumbed to tin worm before the mechanicals did. A Citation with a 4 banger may not have fared as well.

      An acquaintance had a Gremlin with a 6 cylinder engine and a 3 speed manual gearbox and he loved it. I’m not sure what happened to it with respect to long life service.

  31. Other American smaller cars from the 1970s include the AMC Pacer & Chevrolet Vega, which didn’t do much to grab a slice of the sub-compact market.

    Chrysler turned the Avenger into the Plymouth Cricket with the same results.

  32. @ Richard, the American attempts at subcompacts in the seventies were generally dire as the manufacturers weren’t used to producing these cars and the Japanese did the job better. Indeed until the second energy crisis in 1979, most American cars were still six and eight cylinders as this is what the market liked and trusted.
    I think the breakthrough for smaller American cars came in 1981 with the Chrysler K series. This was a car, probably about the same size as a Cortina in Europe, that could sit a family in comfort like a traditional full size American car, came with the usual list of options, but was powered by a new 2.2 litre engine which could average 27 US mpg( 32 mpg) and also helped save Chrysler from bankruptcy.

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