International variations : Canadian Minis

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Heath Robinson strikes

Canadian Mini

The Mini was an enduring success for British Motor Corporation and then British Leyland – and the sheer number of markets the Issigonis Brick was exported to proves that the car’s appeal was truly international. But being designed between 1956-’58 did begin to count against it as the years rolled by.

Governments across the world were introducing increasingly tough safety legislation – following in the footsteps of the USA, which had gone safety crazy in the aftermath of Ralph Nader’s epochal book Unsafe at Any Speed. The Mini had no hope of meeting US regulations, post-1970, and was quietly withdrawn from the market. But this wasn’t the end of the Mini in North America – they continued to be sold there throughout that decade.

It was tough, though. As the ’70s drew on, the Canadian Minis needed an increasing amount of modification in order to remain on sale there. Here’s a brief overview of those changes – although the most obvious, its bumpers, won’t need too much in the way of explanation.

  • Fuel tank mountings changed
  • The fuel filler neck was modified and fuel tank caps from other markets would no longer fit
  • Huge side marker lights/reflectors were added
  • The front turn signal lights increased in size beyond anything ever offered elsewhere
  • Latches to hold the front seats in place were introduced on the Canadian Minis long before they were used in England
  • Dash panel arrangements and switches varied and even seat belt warning buzzers were incorporated
  • Bumpers were raised and an early form of smog control by using an air pump and injector ports in the head was added
  • The location of the smog pump also necessitated a change in the radiator so that the inlet was towards the back near the filler cap.

But those bumpers! Could there have been a better way of raising the bumper height without killing the Mini’s cute styling?

Canadian Mini (2)

Pictures: Andy Bannister, information from minimania.com

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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28 Comments

  1. The rubber bumper MGB looks stylish compared to this er,green mini thing. If I had to choose between this canadian mini or a clubman I would have a clubman any day.Also where were these little horrors built was it at longbridge or in another country?

  2. By the late 1970’s, safety and pollution contols rules were harmonized between the USA and Canada. By the mid-1970’s almost all care had to have catalitic converters which was near impossible to install safely on the Mini with the technology of the time so along with delcining sales probably led to ending sales in Canada.

  3. Those alloys look very similar in style to Ford’s RS 4 spokes, and that ‘snowplough’, whoa! It might have looked better on the blunt nosed Clubman however, and there was slightly more room under the bonnet to cram emissions control garbage. The trouble is though, US spec cars were massive, and dirt cheap compared to imports such as the Mini as well, so it was a battle BL would never really win.

  4. They weren’t the only ones to stick hideous bumpers on, here’s a BMW E24 6-series with 6 foot of armco barrier welded on the front . Although to be fair most European cars looked pretty rough with the 5mph impact bumpers, it didn’t affect glitzy Brougham land yachts quite so badly, although they had 120hp 5.0 V8s instead.

    Thankfully the Porsche 928 saved us from the pontoons with its polyurethane snout, and pretty quickly managed to become the fastest car in North America with it’s advanced engine that managed to pass emissions while putting out decent power.

  5. You can be critical if the impact Canadian legislation had on the appearence of the Mini. However I doubt those Canadian legislators imagined in the mid 70s that anybody would need to adapt a 1959 design to meet them.

  6. What on earth is that ‘spoiler’ thing? Quite literally a spoiler!!
    The white one ain’t so bad but even here could the high level bumpers not have been styled ‘a bit in more in keeping’?

  7. Ahem. The Green car isn’t factory standard. Can’t blame BL for what others did. You have to put the bumper mods in the context that Mini, from about 1970 onwards, never had a projected life of more than a couple of years. No sane person would have expected it to last for 41 years, would they? So the resource made available for meeting legislation demands was two fifths of zilch. Under the circs, the bumpers are quite clever. The air pump/smog kit had been around for some time, having been developed first for USA Austin America/Spridgets etc.

  8. That’s a great automobile, eh?

    The green car has a spoiler on the front. It spoils it.

    The white Mini has been dropped onto a Mini Moke, crushing a bad guy from the Prisoner series. Meanwhile, the BL stylists in Canada (should have been) were all arrested for style crimes.

  9. No, the white one is an ill-fated Land Rover Mini.

    It’s late, so I’m gong back to sleep. These were just nightmares.

  10. Clearly mods on a shoestring.

    Surely a Clubman would have been a better starting point although I love those body coloured bumpers.

  11. Ah, the seat retaining latches, a known issue for people importing Minis or ADO16s to Germany: German market cars always had these latches. You may get away without them in a 4-door ADO16 – as no tester will try to tilt the seats in a 4-door car πŸ˜‰

    BTW, A+ engined Maestros and possibly Metros got the air-injection pump for the Swiss market in the 80s!

  12. Someone once told me that one of the safety rules that defeated the Mini in the US was a requirement for a minimum distance between the B-Post upper seat belt mountings on either side of the car. Two seaters were exempt, so no problem for the Midget, but for a saloon car, no chance.

    ‘R’ and ‘S’-Series Maestros also had a secondary air pump fitted for Switzerland.

  13. The bumper halfway up the grille is somewhat reminiscent of the mk1 new Mini, which split the grille at the bumper level.

    Would it have been possible to have marketed the Mini in the US as a 2 seater? Given it’s size, it could’ve been an early Smart car. Or, once imported, would it have been possible for dealers or owners to offer / fit a “non-person carrying rear bench arrangement with ‘luggage’ belts….”, similar to some current 4×4 commercial vehicle arrangements….?

  14. Note the side mirrors on driver and passenger doors, from memory cars of the 1970s made do with a single side mirror, not that you really need such mirrors on a Mini with the excellent all round vision

  15. I visited a BL dealer in Ste Anne de Bellevue outside Montreal in 1973 and again about 3 years later. He let me test drive one of his mini 1000 models. It was so underpowered that I actually thought something was wrong with it. Then again it had that smog pump arrangement which was identical to the set up on the American marketed Austin America but the America had a larger 1275 cc engine although detuned to 58 HP and a single carb with vacuum advance distributor and 8:8 to 1 compression.

    BMC/LEYLAND just made a decision with the merger of their companies that for the year 1968 there would be no more mini in the US as emission controls legislation took effect Jan 1, 1968. So the mini was withdrawn from the US at that time. There were also bumper standards of some kind that could only be met by raising the height of the bumper which they didn’t want to do. Hence the ugly Canadian model. It wasn’t at all protective in the collision sense unless it was a parking type of collision. Any speed above 2 to 3 mph would cause this “chrome safety bar” to bend like a pretzel as it was not much more than a nudge bar.

  16. They would have been better off using a version of the Mini Clubman for the Canadian market.

    Also surprised BL never considered adapting the Mini to US standards, even to the point where Minis sold in the US would end up being powered by US emissions certified Triumph engines as was the case with the MG Midget.

    • There was no point in spending the money. The US didn’t want small cars at the time. This was the era of the land yacht in the US market. It just made no sense.

  17. IIRC apart from the niche of people wanting Mini Coopers most American buyers were put off Minis by the lack of luggage space & lack of 10 inch tyres on the market.

    A book on the history of the Morris Minor gives this reason.

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