Events : Mini in the park

To celebrate the Mini’s 45th anniversary, over 100 owners’ clubs converged on Silverstone. The owners’ brought along some mightily interesting Minis to the “Party in the park”.

Ian Nicholls reports from Silverstone and picks out his favourite cars…

The famous Marples Mini – a hatchback before its time. It was on sale on the show for a cool £20,000. And it was worth every penny…

SEPTEMBER 12th 2004 saw Silverstone circuit hosting yet another Mini anniversary show.This year has seen plenty of them, organised by various different people. In the past the BIG one has been organised by the owner of the Mini brand, BL, Austin Rover and latterly the Rover group at one race circuit or another.

In 2004 the Mini or should that be MINI is once again a successful and profitable brand. However for reasons best known to BMW, the present owners of MINI, the Bavarian company declined to sponsor an event, despite the fact that many new MINI’s turned up at Silverstone. Unfortunately this gives ammunition to those who accuse BMW of not caring about the Mini’s heritage. And Longbridge, despite building most Minis, has no legal right to sponsor an event.

For this writer, it was my first visit to Silverstone since 1987. Until that year I lived in Bedfordshire and from 1983 to 1987, I often went to race meetings seeing various formulae including the mighty TWR Rover SD1 Vitesses, which made me a fan of what I consider to be the last real Rover (Ian’s opinion, not mine – Ed). Indeed the first race meeting I went to was an F3 event won by someone called Ayrton Senna Da Silva, closely followed by Norfolk race ace Martin Brundle. This was when Silverstone still resembled a World War II RAF operational training unit base, which it was, before the annual rebuilding started and the magnificent circuit was ruined.

I have to confess that I am not a fan of the British Racing Drivers Club the owners of Silverstone, an organisation of millionaires who expect a state handout to retain the British Grand Prix and the government to treat them as a special case when banning tobacco advertising,whilst charging ever higher admission charges. Indeed the overcharging started at the 1983 British Grand Prix when visitors found they had to dig deeper into their pockets to gain access to areas that previously been included in the basic admission charge. And if one did pay for a paddock pass the punter found a huge fence had been erected to separate the F1 teams from us proles. And what did all the extra takings pay for. Bit by bit the airfield perimeter track that was the original circuit was neutered and overtaking was eliminated.

Progress? I think not.

Indeed, when I got to Silverstone from my Norfolk home I found concrete was everywhere and the old airfield was gone. But I am not just writing to rant against the BRDC, but to describe some of the interesting things I saw because I did see some rare cars.

“Doris” the V8 powered Mini – here is one Mini that I would like to take for a quick spin. I wonder if Issigonis would have approved, even if it is front wheel drive.

And the rarest of them all is the Mini Cooper S hatchback which BMC built for one time transport minister Ernest Marples. This car has featured in all the Mini books and indeed is featured on this very website. Well, here it is in 2004 and its for sale. Unfortunately I mislaid the phone number, but the owners would like a mere £20,000 and I think its worth every penny.

Also there was Mike Scarfe’s prototype GRP Mini designed to be manufactured in Chile. The bodyshell was rescued from either Cowley or Longbridge and now has Cooper S mechanicals.

In 1986 Austin Rover re-branded itself the Rover Group and every model was “Roverised”. For traditional Rover fans it must have been galling to see their favourite marque applied to low budget cars such as the Metro and Mini. To them a real Rover was an executive car of at least 2-litres, and I subscribe to that view. The Mini may have been a hugely innovative car, but in no way was it a Rover!

When I was learning to drive, a Rover meant one thing, SD1, a magnificent looking beast. So this brings me to “Doris” a real Rover Mini. I first encountered Doris at the international Mini meeting in Norwich but had no pictures. This is now rectified. To recap “Doris” is a Mini Clubman with a 200bhp Range Rover/SD1 V8 on top of an ADO71 Princess gearbox. The radiator is in the boot.The owner is a character called Spag.

Check out his website for more details

Although there were lots of Mini’s at the show, for me the above three were the outstanding cars. I wonder if the Marples Mini will stay in this country?

The remarkable glass fibre Mini from Chile.

Thanks to Ian Nicholls for the pictures

Keith Adams

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