Concepts and Prototypes : BMC Mini Sports (1966-68)

The BMC Mini Sports project was penned by BMC as a response to the excellent Pininfarina 1800 Aerodynamica – could this wonderful fastback shape be scaled down into the Mini class?

Given a Mini Van floorpan and an overall design concept, BMC’s Design Office devised this interesting-looking supermini for the 1970s. Alas, it wasn’t to be.


Mini Sports: A British take on an Italian recipe

BMC Mini Sports

It’s interesting to consider how history could have been very different for BMC. With a little more time and patience from the Government, allied with the strong leadership of Joe Edwards (who was being groomed to replace Sir George Harriman in the lead-up to the Leyland takeover of 1968), the corporation really did stand a chance of having a bright future without the interference of Stokes and his men.

Central to the company’s renaissance could have been the groundbreaking Paolo Martin-styled Pininfarina Aerodynamica 1800 and 1100 concepts. The firm really should have pursued these cars – and there’s plenty of evidence that they did in Longbridge. Sadly, in reality, there was no way that was ever going to happen, not while Sir Alec Issigonis was in charge of engineering.

The downsized 1800

Firstly, the 18o0 made it to Longbridge, where technical chief Harry Webster ended up running the car – either during or after its technical shakedown. Then there was the firm’s support of Pininfarina’s second variation on the theme – the smaller, and just as handsome Citroën GS-sized 1100.

However, an even smaller model was pursued. It first saw the light of day in the public domain in the book British Leyland: The Truth About The Cars, by Jeff Daniels, which contains the image (below) of a rather fascinating wooden mock-up. It’s captioned as the BMC Pininfarina Aerodynamica 1100 and, for many years, this has been the conventionally received wisdom.

However, this was a smaller, Mini-based car, that – judging by the Longbridge tunnel location this shot was taken in – was being evaluated by BMC in the UK. Further evidence of this is in the picture at the top of the page published by Car Design Archives – an in-house BMC-branded sketch referring to the Mini Sports, which would have been developed into the aforementioned mock-up

Pininfarina Mini
Not the Pininfarina-styled 1100 Aerodynamica, but a Mini-replacing hatchback

A smaller package

Pininfarina-man Paolo Martin has confirmed that this was not a Pininfarina model, and merely a BMC conflation of his previous designs into a smaller package. He said, ‘The pattern seen in the photograph was not built by Pininfarina, the pitch and length are different – it is probably an attempt to adapt to Mini.’

So, contrary to earlier conclusions, these Italian models had not been rejected out of hand by the British. Longbridge treated them seriously enough to see if it would package successfully on a Mini Van platform with its 84in wheelbase to create an exciting small car for the 1970s.

Based on the Mini Van

According to Jon Pressnell’s book, Mini – The Definitive History, this is very much the case. ‘This mock-up was created at Longbridge as an extrapolation of the Pininfarina originals and stored in the Longbridge tunnels. On a 4in longer wheelbase, the overall length has gone up to close on 12ft, so one can’t see Issigonis having approved. The car seems barely smaller than the 1100 proposal and lacks the elegance of the 1800.’

BMC was feverishly working on a number of projects to replace the Mini and battle in a supermini sector that had yet to be defined. The main programmes were Issigonis’ pet project, the amazing 9X, an intriguing ‘barrel Mini‘ (Project Ant) that we really don’t know enough about, and various ideas by Roy Haynes including a neat hatchback, which ultimately led to the Mini Clubman.

However, the idea of the Mini Sports was possibly far more radical than the rest, at least visually and certainly in a marketing sense of the word. Think about it – BMC’s Pininfarina-inspired model strategy was very simple: three vehicles, based on Issigonis’ front-wheel-drive Mini, 1100 and 1800 platforms and styled to have a clear family identity. Sounds very modern, doesn’t it!

A new marketing direction, too?

The 1800 wore the BMC initials proudly on its nose. It completely dropped the Austin and Morris marque names. Could that have happened for real? Brave indeed – but, with the benefit of hindsight, possibly the correct path to choose, although Citroën GS/CX comparisons might not be too wise considering what happened to that company in 1974.

The funny thing is BMC was slowly grasping its way to just a model strategy of its own, during its short-lived British Motor Holdings era, masterminded by Roy Haynes and Joe Edwards in Cowley. The problem was that the management centre of gravity under Harriman still favoured Issigonis and his Engineering Team in Longbridge – and, as we know, they were set fair for an industrial-scale collision with Lord Stokes and Leyland.

Thanks to Ian Nicholls, Richard Kilpatrick and Car Design Archives

Keith Adams

39 Comments

  1. I’m sure you’re right that this photo isn’t the Pininfarina 1100. The distance between the leading edge of the front door and the front wheel arch is much shorter. Fascinating to speculate how such an advanced set of designs would have appealed to the market in the late 60s. BMC had the reputation for innovative design, and this styling would have added to that. Interesting comparisons to be made with the generic looks of the Maxi and the 3Litre. Doubt the drive-trains would have matched up though!

  2. The 1100 study has the C=pillar ahead of the rear arch, too. In fact, they’re very different when you look at the articles linked below and this image. So… with colour shots of 1100 and 1800, where, I wonder, are the rest of the images of this one…

    I’m pretty sure this IS Mini, the more I look at it. And it’s just horrifying to think this was overlooked in favour of a car which looked dated at launch, let alone at the end of the production run.

  3. Or, or… another thought. Perhaps the book is right, and we’re missing a stage.

    The BMC1800 was from ’67. The 1100 was from ’68 and differs in some detail areas, such as the swage line and the concealed door handles.

    Unlike the 1800 and 1100 models we’ve seen, this is a mockup. It’s a wood & clay buck, not a prototype. And it has the same dart-like doorhandles as the 1800.

    Maybe this car IS a late, but not yet finalised, 1100 proposal before the 4/5 door Turin prototype. Maybe they chose to pursue a 4-door model and considered both.

    It’s a thought. Unless more pictures surface that might help verify the wheelbase and scale…

  4. Lots of ifs, buts and maybes here. But lets remember the reality of what was happening at BMC in the run up to the merger. Another Issigonis disaster, in fact his biggest. The Maxi. In this environment of weak management, non-existent product strategy and an arrogant, celebrity, chief engineer the Pinninfarina cars from that foreign chap didn’t stand a chance.

  5. This is also contemporary with the 9X – Pininfarina made the 9X mockup.

    The wheels look bigger than the wheels on the 9X and the 9X engine Minis. So, 12″?

  6. If you look at the front wheel, it is a cooper wheel, it is not an 1100 rim. The hub cap on the back is a mini one too

  7. Well, having had that thought about it being an early stage in the BLMC 1100 story, I’ve done some Googling… and maybe I’ll find the definitive answer.

    But I really hope it is a Mini. The roofline looks like packaging and wheelbase were a compromise, and they don’t on the BLMC 1100.

  8. Imagine people sitting in the car, the rear window curving round behind the rear passengers heads, and its easy to see the Mini’s proportions with larger overhangs at each end of the wheelbase.

    Another way of checking the theory out is to superimpose a mini over the pininfarina, to scale of course.

    Well done Watson’s, you’ve just made a tragedy more tragic, 🙂
    But fabulous what might have been!

  9. Forgive me f this sounds stupid and obvious, but if we know they are 10″ rims, would that not help us to work out the dimensions of the rest of the car?

  10. I cant work out the wheel base of that car,could it be a stretched mini?

    Why does the “Barrel” remindme of the current Paceman?

    That 9X could have been a winner.

  11. Interesting picture ! But asks the question why did they investigate this but reject the others? I presume the Pinfarinna 1800 was 1st, 1100 2nd then this?

    If you look at the wheelbase from the last pictures of the Roy Haynes Mini it isn’t far off, Somehow the shrunken styling to me doesn’t quite work on the mini, tiny wheels and over bodied overhangs and what was the logic behind this? size wise it looks not far off the 1100 so was this to create a space for the smaller barrel MINI? Intriguing Stuff.

  12. Compared to the Pininfarina 1100 and 1800, the Pininfarina Mini really does not look right.

    The Barrel Car Mini and a more developed Clubman would have been more suitable replacements for the original Mini, especially with a hatchback along with a 4/5-door akin to the Broadspeed Mini Four Door Limousine.

    As for the 9X Mini (another suitable Mini replacement), while the prototype was developed with a new engine to replace the A-Series, would it have been possible for a production version to have been powered (at least initially) by A-Series engines?

    Keith

    Is the Clubman hatchback prototype in the following what you was referring to?

    http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/cars/mini-classic/archive-mini-clubman-takes-shape/

  13. At 13, I see where you’re going & it makes sense. To have the barrel below this would be a perfect scenario.

    The above image looks great, but is likely to have been thought as too advanced for the time, thus alienating traditional buyers. But the avant garde set would love the new model & it could have lasted a long time in production, with plastic bumpers etc in the mid ’70’s. The barrel Mini would have appealed to the average Brit small car buyer.

    Maybe with low funds & the continued sales of the original, plus Issiginis’ influence & the cost at a tricky time put paid to it. I see it as another opportunity lost. Sigh.

  14. Was it “stick in the muds” that held back the designers?

    You only have to look at Citroen’s DS(although a large car)
    and you would think it was from space back in the day.
    Even the Traction Avant has a abstract modernity to it-one of the most attractive cars around, although most would not agree!

  15. In Jon Pressnells book Mini The definitive History it says….
    Quote:
    This mock up was created at Longbridge as an extrapolation of the Fioravanti originals (1100 and 1800 aerodynanic saloons)and stored in the legendary Longbride tunnels. On a 4″ longer wheelbase than a Mini, the overall length has gone up to close on 12ft, so one can’t see Issigonis having approved. The car seems barely smaller than the 1100 proposal and lacks the elegance of the 1800 berlina aerodinamica so one can understand Fioravanti’s reticence about the project.
    (Doug Adams)

  16. Further Quote from the excellent Pressnell Mini Book (page 156)

    Fioravanti created the 1100 and 1800 aerodynamic saloons but he denies any responsibility for this Mini-derived variant. “Issigonis asked us try but we refused because it was impossible to make anything good of it” he told the author. (Doug Adams)

  17. That period of BMC and BMH history is so fascinating. What if the Labour Government had injected funds into BMC through the NRC and allowed Leyland Group to continue their successful advance with Rover Truimph and Leyland Trucks? If BMC had had the guts to launch x9 and the Pininfarina replacements for BMC 1100 and 1800 and then Roy Haynes had developed a better rear drive platform for Marina, an MG Coupe and a Jaguar executive car (planned to sit below XJ6) then by the early 70’s BMC would have been thriving and investing in improving productivity.

  18. A word in your shells – remember that the Mini van/estate was a longer wheelbase than the Mini saloon….

  19. The Barrel Car, Clubman hatchback and 9X seem to be more suitable Mini replacements then the Pininfarina Mini.

    Btw regarding the 9X, would it have been possible for a production 9X to be have at least been initially powered by A-Series units prior to being replaced by a more thoroughly developed family of engines derived from the stillborn 750-1000cc 9X engine?

  20. The aero fastback look doesn’t translate well to such a small floorpan.

    Even Citroen didn’t try and downscale a DS with the Ami 8, instead giving it angular bodywork.

  21. 22: It’s not a Pininfarina Mini – it’s a BMC attempt to make it a family look.

    I don’t think it’s far off, actually. Think Metro.

    Metro wheelbase is 88′ with an overall length of 3.4m (Sorry, I always think of wheelbase in inches). The BLMC 1100 was 4.1m on a 96′ wheelbase; as Keith says, right there in Escort class.

    That’s it, really. Think Metro, not Mini.

  22. 23: Though it is beside the point there was the stillborn Citroen C 60 project that was pretty much a cross between the DS and Ami, one of two stillborn projects that pre-dated Citroen GS.

    24: So it is essentially Metro-sized?

    Guess that the reason it does not like right in my eyes is because only a 3-door version of the Mini-replacement is shown compared to the Pininfarina 1100/1800 concepts that features 5-doors.

  23. Look at the graphics on the BLMC 1100 page – Paolo Martin’s original line drawing is of a 3 door 1100 at 4.1m length/96′ wheelbase…

  24. The ‘barrel’ has more than a bit of Honda about it. As for the first photo pure Alfasud from the side and rear. Ever noticed the similarity between the Alegro estate and the Sud estate?

  25. There was also a much shorter Mini.
    In the late 60′ / 70’s I was designing trailer undergear at Rubery Owen and we tested at MIRA. One day a Mini steel estate appears that was square. They had cut through the A post and B post, then welded the B post to the A post, you sat in the back seat, entering via near side rear door. There testing for a few days, then disappeared.

    Was it the prototype Smartcar ?

    Brian

  26. One issue with all the Pininfarina models is the thin A/B/C posts – imagine this lot trying to pass a crash test or surviving a rollover.

  27. The failure to replace the Mini with something more modern was the big failure of the seventies at British Leyland. A bigger replacement should have been on the market by 1972 to counter the Renault 5 and Fiat 127, which became massive sellers across Europe, but the 1959 Mini continued mostly unchanged through the seventies( the 1969 Clubman update was merely a front end refresh). By the late seventies, the Mini was a cramped, noisy, unsafe car that was way behind its rivals and sales were in decline. A hatchback with hints to the Pininfarina restyle, a longer body, bigger engines and more equipment could have totally refreshed the Mini.

  28. Have doubts the styling could have been effective for a Mini replacement, especially one closer in length to ADO16 as well as the Citroen Axel.

    Could some version of the Mini Sports theme have been better applied on an approximately 11ft long Mini-based Kammback sportscar project to replace the Spridget, basically what amounts to an early in-house Midas precursor?

  29. Although the Paulo Martin style is attractive, BMC would have had to have a whole new suite of engines to power them as the bonnet line looks to low for the tall engines in their locker. The 1800 used half a Daimler v8, essentially a slant 4, not the tall b series. Could have BMC slanted their engines over?

  30. The issue I see with this car is that it would have suffered from the same issue as the Mini, basically being too expensive to make for its price point in the market, noting the curved headlights and windscreen, expensive features for an early 70s supermini.

    Even the concept of the car itself is flawed, using a mini estate platform of the time, with its hydroelastic suspension it would not have been any cheaper than an Ado16 to build, yet being smaller, hit a lower price point in the market.

    Noting at the same time Pininfarina were styling what became the Peugeot 104, you could see the potential for a reskin of the existing Ado16 platform to cover off BMC small car range.

    I would thus imagine something like this

    1: Mini 3 90″WB (4″ cut of rear passenger floor of Ado16, liftback type tailgate) 3 door Supermini (see 3 door 104)
    2: Mini 5 94″WB 5 door small family car with full tailgate
    3: Minor 94″WB 3 box saloon in 2 & 4 door (See the proposed 104 sedan)
    4: Minor Traveler 94″WB 4 door estate using same tailgate as Mini 5

    This would enable you to maximize the economy of scale of the Ado16 platform, replacing Mini, Ado16 and Minor in the product range. Also in that BMC tradition, lots of sharing of the doors.

  31. View the Pininfarina Mini Sport not as an actual Mini replacement, but with significant adjustments and sharper lines more of a potential Spridget successor.

    Basically a kind of 1970s MG ADO35 with a mk1 Honda CRX and Midas Bronze type twist, one styled by Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti (credited with the Aerodynamica 1100/1800) and loosely foreshadows the AR6 MG Midget (whose coupe variant was also to be CRX-like).

    The Mini Sport as well as the Aerodynamica 1100/1800 concepts, all could have benefited from an Alfasud Sprint rear bonnet style treatment. It could also be said of the Midas Coupe as well, unless it was less an odd styling choice but rather taking into account the limitations of the fiberglass body.

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