Concepts and prototypes : Mini four-door

Keith Adams

Four-door Mini, picture supplied by Ian Elliott

The launch of the MINI 5-Door Hatch has sparked memories of a similar product that BMC could have launched, right at the dawn of ADO15 production, in the early 1960s. A more practical Mini seemingly has been on the cards ever since Alec Issigonis devised his clever 10ft (and a quarter inch) long baby car.

According to John Pressnell’s epochal book, Mini: The Definitive History, the idea of a four-door Mini had been floating around Longbridge since 1957, once the ADO15 project was underway. However, little work was done on the car, as the priority was just to get the two-door to market, but it was the arrival of the commercial and load-carrying variations that had the designers thinking more seriously about the idea of a more practical Mini.

The 1960-1961 Morris Mini van, Countryman, Pick-up and the Austin Se7en Traveller’s new underpinnings would potentially form the perfect basis for the new four-door Mini. They received a much-needed four-inch stretch of the wheelbase (from 80in to 84in), giving the car more rear room and a worthwhile extension in the luggage area.

According to one ex-Austin apprentice who helped with the Mini’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 1979, when he was researching the Mini’s early life, he came across the above interesting image of a four-door Mini produced by the Longbridge engineering team as a possible upwards extension of the Mini saloon range.

He said that the approach back then was very much a case of ‘suck it and see’, with many one-offs being produced as the result of a ‘good idea’. The four-door Mini in the image was built in 1962-1963 and,  as can be seen from the accompanying image (note the gap between the rear wheelarch and the rear corner flange), it was based on the longer-wheelbase platform and was photographed at the Longbridge development shops behind Austin’s HQ, known by one and all as the Kremlin.

The fate of this car is unknown, but it almost certainly did not survive. There was a rather unfortunate policy at Longbridge of scrapping most ‘non-standard’ prototypes like this, so it probably didn’t survive very long, or was stuffed into one of the infamous tunnels and got burnt in the fire in the late-1980s.

John Pressnell said that Ron Dovey of the experimental body shop remembered the single running prototype. Consideration was also given to a long-wheelbase two-door saloon and it seems possible that a car was also built to that specification. The fate of that car remains unknown.

Keith Adams
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  1. Interesting, would’ve formed a niche for itself when small cars were only designed for 2/3 doors.

    (It took Austin til 1984 for the 5 door Metro and Ford until 1989 to have a 5 door Fiesta!)

    • Curiously Ford did actually looked at a 3 box 2/4-door saloon version of the Ford Fiesta during the Bobcat project, along with another Bobcat proposal from the US known as Wolf featuring a 3-door coupe hatchback and 3-door estate similar to the Volkswagen Polo mk2.

      So had the 2/4-door saloon versions of the Ford Fiesta been given the green light for production, the original (and later mk2) Ford Fiesta would have featured a 5-door hatchback bodystyle from the outset.

  2. BMC would have cleaned up with this 4-door variant, especially if they incorporated an early hatchback bodystyle to create 3/5-door variants along with other advances mentioned in John Pressnell’s book.

    Not sure where a LWB 2-door saloon (or LWB 3-door hatchback) could fit in the range, a unique Clubman specific model in rebodied form perhaps?

  3. Would have been a perfect small family car with the notchback from the Elf/Hornet. 4/5 seats and enough luggage space to go on holiday…

  4. Paul

    Unlikely if it has the same wheelbase (84.2 in) as the Van, Pick-up and estate variants (ADO16 is 93.5 in), with the 4-door Mini saloon being roughly about 5.7 in shorter (at 124.2 in) in terms of length compared to the (129.9 in) estate and commercial models (ADO16 being 146.65 in).

    Even a potential 4-door notchback Wolseley Hornet/Riley Elf with a 84.2 in wheelbase (instead of the existing 80.2 in) would only have a length of 134 in (as opposed to the existing models 130 in).

      • It would not take sales from ADO16 if the 4-door (later 5-door) Mini was initially limited to 850 and 1000 models, with the 1100 and 1300 Minis soon to follow initially being reserved for high-spec Vanden Plas / etc and Cooper / GT variants only for 5-door 1100/1300-engined Minis to become standard when ADO16 is replaced by the Allegro.

        • Nate, I get what you are saying; limiting the Mini to the smaller engines makes sense but the larger engined four door Mini with VP badging sounds awfully like an 1100 VP. With so many incremental/aspirational Mini models there would be a slightly smaller competitor for every 1100. Bad enough that there was 2door 1100 (with an MG variant) to compete with the two door Mini (with Riley and Wolsely variants all with basically the same power plant. How many two door FWD/A series engined models did BMC offer at one time? Repeating the exercise with the four range would offer too many slight variations that would confuse even the most choosy buyer.

          Might as well have made VP, MG, Riley and Wolsely versions of the Minor so that every car that rolled out the door was custom built. Con formation of my theory that BMC/BLMC never understood badge engineering. Lesson #1 from GM in the 30s….don’t stick every badge on every model and save the better engines for the top of the range.

          If we are going to include the Allegro as a reason to build four door Minis in the 60s does that make the TR8 a reason to keep the Sprite in production?

          • Geoff Ellis

            You have a point regarding increased badged-engineering, what I had in mind with the luxury-spec 1100/1300 4-door (later 5-door) Minis is having them being launched as special order models for well-heeled customers / celebrities / etc, with later standardized 1100/1300-engined 5-door hatchback Minis appearing after the ADO16 has been replaced whether it is via the Allegro or another similar-sized model.

            The idea is that the ADO16 replacement’s upper engine displacement being increased from its previous 1300cc maximum in ADO16 to 1600-2000cc would in turn justify the standard 5-door hatchback Mini’s upper displacement range being increased from 850-1000cc (sans special-order 1100-1300cc variants) to 850-1300cc since there would no longer be any fear of the Mini stealing sales from the ADO16 replacement.

            Then again the possibility also exists that the standard 1100/1300-engined 5-door Minis would simply be restricted to the Clubman hatchback before later appearing on the Classic-bodied Minis.

          • Now that would have been brilliant marketing.

            GM-Holden had a lot of success in the 70s with limited edition (2000-3000 units) runs of particular combinations of options/ paint schemes with names such as “SS” or “Vacationer”. Your idea would have tapped into the British bespoke/carriage builder tradition and could have kept the Riley/Wolsely/VP names alive to this day. BMC could have used bespoke Minis to advance the cars mechanically and stylistically and could have turned a profit on VP luxury editions.

            Such a great idea, I wonder why no one thought of it then???

            I totally agree re bigger motors for the ADO 16 to increase differentiation from the 4 door Mini. My family owned two (ADO 16) 15oo sedans and two Nomads which were fabulous when they were running. [We always had a donor car in the backyard] With a bit of work the 1750 E-series could have been utilized.

            Sadly, the 5 speeds had a reputation for breaking their casings which helped sink Leyland Australia through warranty claims.

            The Aussie model range actually made more sense than the Brit one in, say, 1970, when we had the A series in the Mini and the E series in ADO 16. These were both officially Morris and the 1800 was THE Austin. The Moke was a “Mini-Moke” so that was the start of MINI as separate entity.

            And then one day we woke up to find that the Marina had replaced the 15oo. That made no sense at all as the Honda Civic had just arrived to prove FWD could be fast, fun and reliable. And then they dumped the FWD Tasman/Kimberly for the RWD P76. All that development effort tossed away…….it was like some weird attempt to pre-empt Retro designs like the PT Cruiser.

            BMC had three great assets: Issigonis, The Cars (Mini/1100/1800/MGB)and the Marques. They squandered all three.

        • I have been ruminating on the idea of a limited edition, mid sixties, 2 door Mini/Riley shooting break to complement a 4 door Mini/Vanden Plas. I can picture them on the cover of Country Life and suspect they would have been popular with the rural elite. The limited edition Mini four door hatch could have been the Wolsely and was there ever need for a two door Mini/Wolsely. (No!)

          • It might have helped Riley and Wolseley in terms of sales, particularly if the Elf / Hornet was sold as a 4-door booted saloon from the outset instead of a booted 2-door though not sure whether it would have been enough to save both marques.

            A better bet would have been to either merge or discontinue both Riley and Woseley in favor of Vanden Plas, with Elf / Hornet style front-ends treatments being sold alongside other coachbuilt styling options for the Vanden Plas Mini from the likes of Pininfarina, Bertone and Zagato.

            Not quite sure how a Mini Shooting Brake would work, the closest project that vaguely comes to mind is “MG Sport” ADO56.

            In terms of engine size, like the idea of ADO16 receiving a Downton-tuned 1600cc E-Series putting out similar power to Downton-tuned 83-106 hp 1500-1750cc E-Series compared to what the existing 1500-1750cc E-Series was putting out (68-91/95 hp), if only to put some distance between the A-Series and E-Series ADO16 models.

          • I keep looking at this from an Aussie market perspective where, in the 60s Riley had a great reputation, particularly in rural towns, due to the late 40s/early 50s 1.5 and 2.5 litre sedans which were perfect for our conditions, Wolsely was well known as THE up market Austin and Vanden Plas was some sort of coach builder.

            Out here Armstrong Siddely sold quite a few Saphire Utes so I picture my Rileys (Shooting Brake and ute) as the successor to that. I think there was a Mini ute?

          • Yesh, there were indeed Mini Utes built though aside from ADO56 and allegedly a market specific 3-door Mini Estate am having difficulty envisioning a Shooting Brake Mini.

            Despite the low sales in the UK Wolseley might still have worked as an Oz/NZ specific marque, particularly since there were post-war plans by Morris to develop a 3.5-4.0 litre inline-6 for an unrealised rival to the Austin Sheerline that could be used in such markets.

            Even the Austin Sheerline inline-6 being derived from the 2nd generation Chevrolet Straight-6 could have eventually become BMC Australia’s equivalent of the Ford Barra along with the large capacity Morris Inline-6s.

            Especially since the same 2nd generation Chevrolet Straight-6 engine upon which the Austin Six is derived from also formed the basis of the related Pontiac OHC-6 engine, not forgetting to add BMC dabbling with all-alloy versions of existing engines in the early-50s to mid-60s and BMC Australia has something decent to work with engine wise.

          • My Mini/Riley “shooting brake” design would use the longest Mini wheelbase and, from the B pillar back, would be a scaled down copy of the Aston Martin DB (5or6??) Shooting Brake that Radfords built to order. It would have a slightly raised roof line and the rear seat would be a fold down bench that ran the length of the back and was mounted against the side of the cabin to offer limited accommodation for a couple of adults but more suited to kids, hounds or hunting gear. (Sort of half a troop carrier layout)

            It would actually be aimed at golfers and would easily take two or three sets of clubs, unlike most the rest of the Mini and 1100 range.

            The more I think about an Edwardian style Shooting Brake Mini the more comical it seems. Even if it had a sun roof I can foresee tragedy.

          • Sounds interesting, can even see both the Elf and DB5 Shooting Brake possessing vaguely similar tail-fins though would imagine such a car weighing quite a bit, possibly more than the inexplicably heavy ADO56 and the ADO34/35/36 (in the case of the latter even with a 1275cc Cooper S engine ADO34 was apparently only being capable of 0-60 in 14 seconds).

    • Interesting question about the profit angle since they were selling minis at a loss. The worst part of the British car industry is how they were subject to strikes and work stoppages inside and from outside by their suppliers. Factor in the antiquated piece-work and it was an intolerable way to run a large manufacturing assembly plant.

  5. Adorable, althought in one way or another it is offered today thru the BMW`s Mini four-door . One matched idea should be to bring back again some Mini notchback in the way the Wolseley Hornet did it once. Muchas gracias por darme subscripción a pagina AROnline !!! Many compliments from Argentina obviamente voy a aprovechar mis conocimientos de idioma inglès para perfeccionarlos a través de èste formidable link of Yours ( you inspire, and near 30% of Argentineans do speak and understand English) so great deeply admired U.K.`s rich culture , 10 – Q !

  6. Lovely design but there`s no protection for rear passengers, I`ll have fear of having not a trunk back… in case of colision … no warranty despite the best seatbelts.

    • None of these cars had any protection for rear passengers even in 2 door designs. If you get smashed in the back of a mini you may come out alive but less than intact. The fuel tanks were always first in line if the rear quarter was hit on an angle. If luck has any way of helping, the tanks did not catch fire or explode.

  7. I am sure something like this (a modern rendition of) appeared in either miniworld or mini magazine years ago (mid nineties). I seem to recall also, that, the artist formerly known as Prince may have had something to do with it. but I might be wrong. alex

  8. Looks ok, would have been better if it had the 5th door (another feature shows this possible)- would have rivalled Autobianchi. But would it have fitted into the tight space/price bracket between Mini and 1100? BMC should have first moved ADO16 up a little again like Autobianchi or Nomad with 5 door & modern engines, then a Clubman 5dr had a tidy slot xx

  9. Extra doors = significant extra costs to manufacture, which do not reflect in the price the buyer is willing to pay

    • I used to think of how useful a hatchback would be useful on the mini, but to be truly practical, the hatch would rise until almost vertical, otherwise you would catch your head or have to stoop to an uncomfortable posture while loading/unloading

  10. Would you believe me if I said I saw a bright red Mini today in Queensland, on the motorway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, that had four doors? I swear to you, it wasn’t a BMW Mini, but looked just like this!

    • I believe you cobber.

      It’s a stretch limo mini; any clown can hire it from Ashton’s circus.

      Apparently the builders are working on a 4 door Goggomobile.

  11. GM sometimes forget to the rules leading to a Cadillac based on the J platform, costing a few thousand dollars more than a Chevrolet Cavalier.

  12. Exactly ! The 70s fuel crisis sent GM insane. J Platform? They imitated BMC with that one. All those nearly identical models. Over here they called it Camira and sold it alongside the (Opel based)Commodore which was only slightly bigger but was RWD with 6 or V8 motors. From a distance they looked very similar.

  13. Given the French preference for 4-door cars, the popularity of the Mini there despite being only 2-doors and BMC’s intentions in expanding into Europe. A 4-door version of the Mini would have made an even greater impact on the continent along the same lines to how the Italians took to the Innocenti A40 Combinata hatchback, which ended up outselling the regular A40 Berlina.

    Even though nothing became of it, Simca were also thinking along such lines with the Simca 936 Isabelle one-off prototype.

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