The cars : Mini 850 Lady special edition (1977)

Chris Cowin remembers the 1977 Mini 850 Lady sold on the continent. ‘For Ladies, from Leyland.’

It continues his brilliant look at models sold overseas which helped to define British Leyland’s interesting image.


Once, twice, three times a Lady: The Mini 850 Lady

Mini 850 Lady

The Mini 850 Lady was a limited edition model marketed in some European markets around 1977 and which came as standard with an umbrella in a plain blue cover (in advance of Rolls-Royce, or Skoda). There were several variations on the Lady theme, as was common with special models assembled for sale on the continent at Seneffe in Belgium.

Symphony in blue

Perhaps the most striking thing about these models is the seat fabric, which as seen in the pictures below came either in a Blue Rainbow design, or something more like the Strobe design later seen on the 1980 Austin Metro 1.3S, but again in blue.

In both cases, the fabrics complement the Midnight Blue exterior colour with broad side striping well.

Mini 850 Lady

Mini 850 Lady

It appears these lovely Ladies (or Ladys) were not all the same – Austrian models received a wood dashboard, which was described as mahogany, and a special blue steering wheel, but Dutch cars sometimes did not. Though to compensate they had sports wheel trims from the continental Mini 1100 Special. The Lady could also be found at Belgian dealers.

The 850 Lady: a lot of kit

A make-up mirror in the driver’s sun visor, a chrome door mirror and a heated rear window were included in the package, and there was a ‘LADY’ badge on the boot lid which was sometimes in script, sometimes a gold-coloured plaque.

However, despite being rather posh for a 1970s Mini, the Lady retained the thrifty 850cc engine and the single, centrally-placed instrument dial of the basic Mini.

Mini 850 Lady
Details of the Lady in Austria included a wood dashboard with ‘Lady’ engraving and blue steering wheel
Mini 850 Lady
A Dutch Mini Lady. Dutch cars had wheel trims from the Mini 1100 Special (Picture: Rein Burger)

Seneffe strength

The Mini Lady models were assembled at Seneffe in Belgium, British Leyland’s main continental assembly plant which had its own design function which focused on such limited editions.

They were masters of the stick-on stripe and bolt-on accessory, developing many ‘specials’ – and, with around 15 individual markets in continental Europe all receiving their own variations, the permutations of Mini were almost infinite. To a lesser degree, the Austin Allegro came in for the same treatment.

Mini 850 Lady
Lady badging at the rear

A market not to be neglected

It may seem odd that a car was targeted specifically at female customers, but there were plenty of precedents. Way back in Eisenhower-era America, the Dodge La Femme was launched, exclusively for the fairer sex.

The Dodge La Femme was targeted at the lady buyer in 1950s USA

And much closer to home – the Designers of the 1979 UK-market Mini 1100 Special expected the metallic rose version to appeal mostly to women, while men would buy the metallic pewter model…

And when Innocenti introduced the pretty Mini-based Innocenti Mille for 1981, which was marketed through BL in some countries, the adverts portrayed it as a super-sized beauty case for the modern lady about town.

Innocenti Mille
The Innocenti Mille was firmly targeted at the female buyer in advertising, and could be found at some continental BL dealers in 1981/82

Happily, quite a few examples of the Mini Lady survive, as being a Mini they are easy to keep on the road, and a practical classic car. At least ten survivors are known of, with three still on the road.

However, finding a surviving continental-market Allegro special edition from that era, like the Allegro Silver Arrow or Sunshine, is much harder, if not impossible.

Mini 850 Lady
‘The most beautiful Mini ever built for a Lady’ – the Austrian brochure.

Some images via Miguel Plano, Bart Mini, Gaetan Poelman and Rein Burger – thanks.

Chris Cowin

17 Comments

  1. Looking at old adverts for all manufacturers, many of them had models specifically aimed at female drivers, usually with very patronising and condescending text.

    • You’re certainly right that many car adverts even in the 1950s (including some for the not very feminine Morris Oxford III) were targeted at lady drivers (though usually as part of an advertising campaign for the car concerned that “covered all bases”).
      But that’s a little different from a car like the Mini 850 Lady – with a specification (and name) which suggest the manufacturer expected them to be bought almost exclusively by women … Such cars tended to be Limited Editions (like the Lady).
      I’m struggling to think of a regular production car that (in the UK) was positioned as a car for women. Maybe the (Austin) Metropolitan ? Or much later the Suzuki X-90 coupe/jeep thing.

      • Ford did promote the KA as the car designed by women for women, even if a large chunk of it was the outgoing fiesta!

  2. Before the Daihatsu era at Innocenti produced the 650/500, was any consideration given to using the 850 engine for an entry-level Innocenti Mini?

    • The short answer is yes. Until 1972 Innocenti were building what they still called the Mini Minor (round-nosed Mini) as their entry level car – that version of the Innocenti Mini range being 848 cc. And there were various proposals to replace it (slotting below the 998cc Innocenti 90 introduced in 1974) …
      One (discussed in the AROnline article attached) would have had a 750cc engine (though that would have been an all new engine) … https://www.aronline.co.uk/cars/innocenti/mini-90-120/

      • The Innocenti 750 engine should be thought of as the first beginnings of the DX engine used in the 9X, the latter also inheriting the gearbox of the former.

        In that light it would have made sense to carry over the 848cc A-Series for the Bertone bodied Mini or use Chilean spec 750cc A-Series to get it in 4CV tax bracket on French market.

        The Innocenti Mini was not the first to be considered for the Moto Guzzi V-Twin before Daihatsu entered into the picture, that honour would go to the Fiat 500.

        https://youtu.be/Uay0R3CWAss

  3. Blimey. I wish I’d known this back in the late 80’s when I had a debate with a colleague who said she didn’t know of any cars aimed specifically at women – all I could come up with was the Fiat 127 with a handbag built into the front door trim.

  4. Strange though it may seem now, because it’s generally regarded as a classic muscle car, but the Ford Mustang was originally intended as a car that would appeal to women.

    It was designed to be compact and cute – and, compared to other American cars in its launch year of 1964, it actually was. Early advertising heavily targeted women.

    It was only later that the Mustang developed its more familiar persona as a macho machine. I don’t know if this shift was deliberately instigated by Ford, who wanted to reposition the car as more masculine, or whether it just happened naturally, as more men bought Mustangs over the years.

    The present-day Mustang, of course, is very much a blokeish muscle car, and has been deliberately designed that way. It still retains styling cues from the original, but you could hardly call it compact or cute.

    1967 Mustang advert here. Note the target market, and the features Ford thought that market would want….

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/aussie-car-adverts/49815666732/in/photostream/lightbox/

  5. In America in the sixties, compact would probably mean a Rover sized car with a six cylinder engine, but compared with some of the gas guzzling tanks like the Pontiac GT0 ( 10 mpg on a good day), the orignal Mustang didn’t have a massive appetite for petrol and would have been easier to drive for female motorists. Of course, American cars were getting bigger and by the end of the sixties, the Mustang had become a lot heavier and most motorists were opting for big V8s as they wanted the power and a V8 was seen as more manly than a six. Typically by 1969, a 7 litre V8 was seen as the engine to have in American cars, and some would grow even bigger, until the energy crisis started to see these huge engines downsized.

  6. The (new) Fiat 500 has sometimes been called a “girly” car!

    From what I’ve seen some of the early advertising for the Citroen Ami were aimed at women.

  7. Being Dutch, I remember the Lady, with the specific blue striping. Always thought it was a special version of the then quite popular 1100 Special, but just an 850 I understand…

  8. The 1955 Daimler Regency/104 also had a “Ladies’ model” featuring labelled warning-lights, simplified wheel-changing tools and a built-in umbrella-holder!

    It had a 3.5 Litre engine and could do 104MPH. Don’t get carried away with your new-found power, Ladies!!

  9. The new Beetle seemed to chase a female market with its fake flower vase on the dashboard and feminine colours like bright yellow, but it never really took off due to its thirsty 2 litre engine and large body. I reckon the Fiat 500 comes closest to what people would see as a feminine car as it’s small, chic and can be ordered in pink or a vivid shade of purple. Never see many men driving 500s either.

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