Concepts and Prototypes : Zagato BMC Mini ‘Cat’ (1961)

First shown at the 1961 Earls Court Motor Show, the Zagato-styled BMC Mini Gatto (Italian for Cat) was designed to extend BMC’s latest car into a Grand Tourer.

Although only one was built, the Cat did make quite a splash.


Zagato Mini ‘Cat’: A Mini with added glamour

BMC Mini Cat

Dating from 1961, the BMC Mini ‘Cat’ (also known as the Zagato Mini Gatto) glassfibre coupé prototype was based on the BMC Mini. It was designed by Ercole Spada and built by Zagato and was first shown at the London Motor Show at Earls Court.

Interestingly, it was based on the longer underpinnings of the Mini van derivative, which adds a useful extra four inches to the wheelbase. At its launch in 1961, the Mini ‘Cat’ was very much at the vanguard of specials based on BMC’s entry-level model – but would end up later being joined by some very appealing cars such as the Broadspeed GT, Ogle SX1000 and Unipower GT.

What makes the Mini Cat more interesting is that. unlike many coachbuilt Italian coupes like this, it was actually offered for sale, rather than just being motor show eye candy. Anthony Crook Motors (he who would later front Bristol Cars) had the responsibility of marketing the car in the UK, issuing a press release that stated that the show car had been created to further enhance the appeal of the BMC Mini.

Production plans mooted

It was appreciably larger than the donor car, measuring in at 3.70m in length (compared with 3.05m for the Mini saloon) and 1.40m wide. Weight was 610kg, a 50kg increase – but, in its most powerful Cooper-engined form, a maximum speed of ‘more than’ 90mph was quoted, which was more than competitive. Keep it to the standard 850cc form, and that dropped to ‘over 80mph’.

At its motor show debut, Anthony Crook Motors spoke of a weekly production of 30 cars, which seemed optimistic. However, in the end, a single car was built after it became clear that BMC wouldn’t supply Zagato with the running gear on which to build the production versions.

Three years later, the spirit of the Mini Cat was recreated when Zagato presented the Hillman Imp-based Zimp Coupé. It was similar in style and concept (although obviously with a rear engine), but suffered a similar fate, with just three cars built – and series production plans were left in tatters following Chrysler’s takeover of the Rootes Group.

Meanwhile, the Cat went to ground after its time served on the motor show circuit before being re-discovered in 2007 by Mini collector and journalist Jeroen Booij. Since then, it was restored and subsequently offered for sale in an online auction, but never met its reserve.

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Keith Adams

3 Comments

  1. Always thought this was “interesting” in its design compared to the later Imp Zagato, which had similar style but seemed to be proportioned better. It’s funny that BMC would not supply the base units, especially as the likes of Ogle, Unipower etc. did get access. Wonder if there was a concern that this might hurt Innocenti sales, being the likelihood Zagato would sell it in Italy?

  2. It’s more than a little awkward. It’s ill-proportioned and has more than a hint of “will this do?” . It’s as though the designer lost interest by the time he came to style the rear end. Not good.

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