Concepts and prototypes : Mini replacement proposals (1968-74)

From barrel to wedge: the failed Mini replacements

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, British Leyland tried unsuccessfully to produce a viable replacement for the Mini. A number of interesting proposals emerged – none of which made it into production.

Long before the term ‘supermini’ had been coined, British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) had begun to think about producing a new Mini with superior space, comfort and practicality. This gallery contains some initial thoughts and some blind alleys.


Project Ant: the ‘barrel’ Mini replacement

This car was tentatively developed around the same time as Sir Alec Issigonis was developing his 9X project. As with the 9X, the idea was to improve on the Mini’s already brilliant space efficiency, while also being cheaper and less labour intensive to produce.

The resulting full-scale mock-up clearly shows a fair degree of success, with its Mini-like styling and simplified body engineering. The flanks of the car were clearly convex, which apart from adding to the interior space of the car also (according to Longbridge Engineers) added a degree of strength.

Of all the abandoned Mini proposals, this one was the most successful in its styling because it managed not only to look cleaner, but also maintained clear links with its predecessor.


Roy Haynes’ hatchback Mini Clubman proposals

Roy Haynes was a very accomplished stylist, of this there is no doubt, but in this particular instance, he was always going to be hamstrung by the fact that the Mini body was going to be nigh-on impossible to improve on. The brief he was given was to improve the style of the Mini and increase the boot room. Certainly, he succeeded in the latter…

The final proposal, dated May 1968, looked good considering it used so much Mini hardware, and successfully integrated a hatchback. If anything it worked because it looked like a Morris Marina.

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1972 Leyland-Crompton electric car prototype

Dating from 1971, this electric research vehicle was designed by Michelotti and built jointly by British Leyland and Crompton-Leyland Electricars, based on Mini underpinnings. While obviously not intended as a Mini replacement, it does demonstrate the direction of BLMC’s small-car thinking at the time, and predicts some of elements of the project ADO74 designs.

The design was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show in 1972, but went no further. (Note how similar the shape of the door frame and C-pillar is to that of the later Triumph TR7).


Towns Minissima

William Towns produced this striking design, called Minissima, for the 1973 London Motor Show. Entry to the cabin was via a single rear door, and it managed to fit seating for three within its overall length of just 90 inches.

The car was bought by British Leyland, along with the design rights, only for it to emerge over ten years later as the Elswick Envoy invalid carriage.


Early ADO74 sketches

Was Gordon Sked influenced by Minissima when he produced this 'new Mini' sketch in 1974?
Was Gordon Sked influenced by Minissima when he produced this ‘new Mini’ sketch in 1974?

This sketch from the pen of Roger Tucker dates from January 1974.
This sketch from the pen of Roger Tucker dates from January 1974.
Keith Adams
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25 Comments

  1. So the Barrel Car was indeed Project Ant or at least became known as Project Ant after later becoming part of ADO74 to represent a true Mini replacement proposal compared to the larger Ladybird and Dragonfly Projects?

    Given the Metro development article mentions Project Ant would be available with 750cc-950cc engine sizes, it makes one wonder whether the Ant would have likely carried over the 9X Mini’s 750-1000cc engine from its in-house rival since they were developed at the same time.

    Since it cannot be the the H-Series and K-Series prototype engines used for ADO74 as their displacement range in total was only 900-1300cc, unless they could have been reduced to 750cc nor is it 100% known whether the H-Series and K-Series engines would have fitted to the Ant as opposed to the Ladybird and Dragonfly.

    Interesting the Ant was to be available in both two- and three-door bodystyles, though cannot help but think of the Ant carrying over elements from it predecessor’s projects such as the Mini 4-door or even the Marina-like rear-end on the Clubman hatchback prototype.

    Compared to the Ladybird Project that officially became ADO74, the Ant looks significantly better and IMHO puts the Ladybird in a bad light given the latter’s problems of project drift. It would have made more sense for BL to take an evolutionary approach in replacing the Mini with the Ant instead of going with the Ladybird.

  2. Project Act definitely feels like a missed opportunity. A cheaper and easier to build Mini would easily have paid for itself within a few years, and it wasn’t an expensive and risky programme like 9X either.

  3. As Project Ant was developed around same time as ADO20 in 1968, how plausible would it have been to appear around the same time as the Clubman ended up doing?

    Were such a feat within the realm of possibility than surely it would have been feasible for Project Ant to be planned from the outset to underpin a larger Supermini as was belatedly the case with the original Metro, which reused much of the Mini’s engineering though heavily re-engineered and modernised.

    Such a process should in theory be cheaper as a whole if Project Ant’s engineering was already mostly re-engineered and modernized to begin with, with the updates on the Supermini in turn being filtered down to Project Ant and further improving economics of scale.

  4. Your probably right. The in theory Metro based on the Ant would probably been just a rebody saving money. Also had it gone ahead, would Roy Haynes ideas for the mini been integrated? So a clubman style front and the marina style hatch rear end?

    • It is possible Hayne’s idea for a Marina style hatch rear could be carried over, otherwise can see an Ant based Supermini using a modern derivative of the existing Ant’s front that is to the former what the Fiat 127 Series 1 was to the Autobianchi A112 (yet with room for both to be facelifted as was the case with the 127 and A112 going into the 1980s).

      From the impression one gets of Project Ant’s front, it pretty much fulfils the same brief in improving engine accessibility as the Clubman without being less aerodynamic. A Supermini that vaguely resembles Ant that itself maintains clear links with the original Mini, is no bad thing even if some find the lack of a complete “corporate look” vexing in the short term (see shift from Series 1 to Series 2/3 Fiat 127).

      Ideally a similar decisive and coherent approach would be taken with the engine, updating it to A-OHC (appeared as prototype in 1971) or A-Plus spec early on if enough money has been freed up to approve it for production. Though either depends on how dire the situation within the company is and if push comes to shove could still be initially powered by the A-Series until circumstances change.

      Taken together and you have a Supermini which more or less has the measure of the opposition until the arrival of the 205 and Uno, by which time it is likely properly replaced and/or repurposed into a city car.

  5. There was the Mini estate for those who wanted more space and which sold in decent numbers, but by the mid seventies, the whole range was becoming very outdated with poor refinement, poor crash protection, very limited interior space and old fashioned styling. Keeping the 1959 Mini as a city car with an 850cc engine and going ahead with Project Ant would have meant Leyland had a supermini to take on the likes of the Renault 5, and the original Mini would have kept its following.

    • As a direct successor to the Mini rather than a Supermini, Project Ant is believed to have sat on either regular 80-inch Mini or 84-inch Minivan wheelbases. That said approving Ant early on to appear in place of Clubman would have given the company a more modern starting point from which to develop a Supermini.

      Do agree there was still a role for a 850cc model and ponder which option they would have opted for. The simplest would be to just carry over the 850cc engine as is if not update it to A-Plus spec early on (together with the 998-1275cc), followed by more convenient yet less satisfactory short-stroke solutions dictated by the need to use a common 70.6 mm bore to help reduce production costs (as on the 970-1275cc A-OHC and South African A-Series), which short of a plausible way to add more gear ratios would have been torque shy where it mattered in everyday driving.

      Unless the following is incorrect the B-Series was apparently sold alongside its O-Series replacement concurrently for a number of years after the latter was introduced so it would not be unprecedented for the A-Series and its updated replacement to be sold alongside each other for a short period.

  6. The B series was used on the MGB until it was phased out in 1980, but stopped being used on the Marina and Princess in 1978, when the O series was introduced. The O was quieter, more economical and more powerful( particularly in the Marina) than the B series, and was bored out to 2 litres for the Princess, which gave the heavier car better performance than the 1.7 with little loss in economy. It was quite a good engine and survived into the nineties on top of the range Montegos.

  7. IMHO the mini didnt need a direct replacement but BL needed a super mini. The wheelbase of ADO16 is an inch shorter than the R5 they should have commissioned pininfarina to wrap a pretty body around it, job done.

    • @ SD67, the Mini could have lived on as a city car, but as you say, BL needed a supermini to counter the Renault 5 and Fiat 127 that were selling so well in Europe and gaining ground over here. Also by 1977, they were joined by superminis from Chrysler, Ford, Peugeot, Volkswagen and Datsun that were making the Mini very outclassed. Really a new supermini should have been on sale by the mid sevebties and costs wouldn’t have been too great as the transmission in sump and A series drivetrain would have been available.
      Mind you, it was just as well the Metro was a big hit from the start and sold in big numbers as the Mini was becoming ancient by 1980.

    • The Mini was 10 years old by the late 60s already, so it’s not unreasonable to introduce a new one, even if it isn’t radically changed. Project Ant (the barrel one) would have been cheaper to make as well, so potentially more profitable.

      The supermini would have been the next step, a big brother to the Mini.

      • @ Nate, it’s always surprised me how British Leyland didn’t know what Fiat and Renault were planning for the seventies and responded with a Mini replacement, or a car that could complement it in the same way the Fiat 500 continued in production for a couple of years alongside the 127. Project Ant or a Clubman with a longer wheelbase, a hatchback and bigger engines should have been on the market buy 1973. Things could have been so much different, but sadly it was wait until 1980 before a supermini appeared.

        • The original Renault R5 carried over much from the R4 and like Fiat with the A112, they were even said to have been looking at an “R2” city car as it were with the “Low-Range Vehicles” (VBG in French) programme from the 1970s that with its own twists and turns eventually culminated with the Twingo.

          Cannot explain BMC or BL’s inability to anticipate the response from the opposition’s own FWD cars.

          It is perhaps a reflection of the complacency, insularity and chaos within the company at the time, not helped by the prior addition of ex-Ford people being invited in, followed soon after by the Triumph/Leyland people taking over, who each had little to no understanding of how to build upon the FWD cars space efficiency achieved with their initial side-lining of the BMC folks.

  8. The problem with attempting to convert ADO16 into a supermini is making a larger car smaller and lighter, is not always as straightforward as creating a bigger car from a smaller one which the company opted for by developing ADO88/LC8 from the Mini.

    It is also hard to believe both ADO20 and ADO22 were not originally planned to be more closely related than was the case, before the chaos at the company scuppered that and led to ADO22 canned with ADO20 being reduced to featuring only a square nose for production. It is around this late-60s period that first ideas for a supermini should have been formed.

    • @ Nate, the Clubman was a sign British Leyland knew the Mini needed an update and probably word was out that Renault was planning a supermini style car. The Mini was left to grow old with only the modest Clubman update on some models and by the end of the seventies was a noisy, outdated and nasty little car that only sold on price and nostalgia. While not the last word in refinement or quality, someone trading up to a Fiesta 1.1 L from a Mini 1000 would have been impressed with the far more modern interior, considerably less interior noise and lack of transmission whine, the higher level of standard equipment and the bigger boot.

      • It can be argued the Clubman was a very mild update from what was originally envisaged, based on Roy Haynes ideas in general and what was planned for ADO22 it is likely much of the latter would have filtered down to the Clubman.

        Its mild update was mainly predicated on being speedily replaced by the ill-fated and ill-conceived ADO74. One gets the impression the square nose was more about Haynes attempting to establish a family look then it was to ostensibly improve engine accessibility that could have just as well been achieved with a Project Ant type front.

        The SWB and LWB approach seen in the Innocenti Mini 990, where the LWB was actually planned to appear much earlier. Shows one way a LWB Clubman hatchback (possibly even with 5-doors) could have provided a way for the company to have a supermini on the cheap. Even though it was well within the scope of the company to bring a Mini-derived supermini like the Metro much earlier than was the case, one that would have been competitive against the opposition up to the early-1980s.

  9. I think Haynes was 1. Trying to produce a family look. 2. Make a car that had more room for mechanics to work on it. 3. Actually makd a new car in the eyes of the public without developing a whole new car because of budget constraints. If his actual ideas for the hatchback had come out, it would have looked to customers like a new car. The biggest question is how did two projects run at the same time? Did Haynes know of the Barrel Mini? If he did why did he not work with the team? Or if the budget was thin and he had to work with the mini, why was the barrel mini continued to be worked on?

    • The Clubman was tried out with the Hornet / Elf projecting boot to make it stand out from the standard Mini.

    • Project Ant even went on to feature Allegro rear suspension and gave a good account of itself against Project Ladybird during the ADO74 project.

      Really there should have been some joined-up thinking between Haynes and the ream involved with Project Ant, since a combination of both (together with what the Clubman was likely to have had ADO22 reached production) would have been enough to make a new car in the eyes of the public.

      As for the challenges of developing crafting an Elf/Hornet rear to the Clubman or a new booted rear in general (something the Australians were looking into and might even be connected to Haynes booted Mini, together with the white booted Morris 1500 proposal).

      Why were they making difficult for themselves when an X6-like update of the Pininfarina styled MG ADO34 prototype’s rear could have been used to provide a modern finless boot to replace the old Elf/Hornet rear?

        • The South African Mini MK3 is only bizarre because of when it was launched in 69 with the by then passe tail-fin rear and unsuccessfully presented as a new car, otherwise it looks positively tame when compared to the Elf/Hornet and would not have looked out of place in 61.

  10. My first car was a 1967 Austin Mini 850. In 1985 I hired a Mini on Isle of Man for holiday use… It was much improved over my Mini but still lagged behind the opposition cars of the time. The Clubman was probably as good as it got using the original bodyshell.

    • @ Hilton D, the Mini was still a steady seller in the eighties and had become an enthusiasts car rather like the Citroen 2CV. Austin Rover had made several attempts to jazz up the Mini by launching special editions with velour seats and tinted glass, but it was by 1985 a very dated car and most people buying a small car would avoid it.

      • Agreed Glenn, but it was a handy hire car for a few days use on IOM roads and didn’t cost much, as I recall.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. British Leyland - 1977: asking the Labour government to fund the next Mini : AROnline
  2. Mini Concept Cars – AutoMotive

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