Here, at AROnline, it’s no secret that we are fans of the late Dr Alex Moulton’s suspension systems, whether it be the Hydrolastic installation on the BMC ADO16 1100/1300 series or the later Hydragas system used on the R6 Rover Metro of the 1990s.
However, perhaps the least successful use of Dr Moulton’s suspension systems was on the original Mini. According to all the histories, Hydrolastic suspension was intended for the original ADO15, but because of the tight schedule stipulated by BMC Chairman Sir Leonard Lord, a system of rubber cones was substituted instead. It did give the Mini the cachet of having independent suspension at a time when such a thing was a novelty confined to upmarket cars, but it was far from satisfactory.
The rubber cones made by Dunlop gave a bumpy ride over uneven surfaces, but also endowed the Mini with excellent roadholding so beloved of the teenage boy racers who had their first motoring experiences in the BMC baby. Hydrolastic made its debut in the Morris 1100 of August 1962 and it impressed all and sundry. It eventually appeared as standard on the Mini in October 1964 with a £20 price increase. Did it work on the Mini?
Impressed with Hydrolastic? Nah…
My first car was a 1968 Morris Mini 1000 Mk2, and that had Hydrolastic, but I can’t say I was that impressed with it, but then that was three decades ago.
When British Leyland was formed, Ford imports like Finance Director John Barber were convinced the Mini had been a loss-maker for BMC, and so the Mk3 Mini was stripped of various fittings including Hydrolastic, while maintaining the relatively same retail price. By 1971 the Mini in all forms was back on rubber cones.
Over the years, various schemes were investigated such as softer rubber cones, but no radical changes were made to the Mini’s suspension system.
Fixing its ills…
After the Mini had ceased production, Dr Moulton got together with Minisport of Padiham to market his Smootha Ride kit, basically an adjustable suspension system with softer rubber cones. I had it fitted to my Mini Cooper and was impressed.
But there is an alternative, that of coil springs.
And this leads me to Boris the Morris.
My perfect Mini…
Boris started life in 1990, leaving Longbridge as a Mini Racing Flame Checkmate. In the next 19 years he had 18 owners!
I suspect that most of these 18 owners were trying to embrace the culture of 1990s Cool Britannia, when the Mini went from being an embarrassing relic of Britain’s failed motor industry to a national icon. Each owner of H549 SUM, no doubt when faced with a large bill to maintain the car on the road baulked at the prospect, and sold the car on. They wanted to look cool, but not if it costthem serious amounts of cash.
And so H549 SUM gradually decayed as it was passed from owner to owner. The same scenario is currently being played out with cheap convertible cars such as the Mazda MX-5 and MGF. They are bought cheap and then sold on when the maintenance bills become too much. Looking cool shouldn’t cost money!
The best modifications
Eventually I came across H549 SUM in Lowestoft in April 2009. By this stage it had been Cooper-rised, red with a white roof, white bonnet stripes and the interior from a 1989 Mini 30. It had been fitted very badly with a low-compression Metro 1275cc engine which had piston slap and rocked more than Status Quo!
It was a rust bucket, totally awful! I negotiated the right price and came away with a Mini that I soon christened the ‘Red Shed’, because it was a shed, the kind of neglected Mini that had bolstered the booming Mini scene in the late-1990s and early-2000s. Now that boom had gone bust and there were lots of rust ridden cars looking for new owners with deep pockets or the skills to save them from the scrapman.
The Red Shed was pressed into service as a temporary replacement for my Mini Cooper, which I had been stupid enough to crash and was having rebuilt. It dawned on me that, for all its many faults, I quite liked the Red Shed.
The Mini was reborn
So when the Mini Cooper was reborn, I then had the same restorer take on the Red Shed. The aim was to turn the Red Shed into a replica of my first Mini, the aforementioned Morris Mini 1000 Mk2. I managed to get hold of the long out of production badges, a Mk1/2 bootlid, big steering wheel, centre binnacle and the ultra rare Mk2 Morris grille. I decided to retain the 8.4 inch disc brakes, so needed 12 inch wheels. The wheels came from the late model Mini Seven.
Wheel arches were out of the question, the intention was to emulate the purity of the original Mini design.
The restorer, Robert Kitchen, now of Norfolk Classic and Sportscars at Fakenham, told me that the Red Shed lived up to its name, with layers of sills and botched repairs.
Finally, the Red Shed was returned to me in 2011 and I entrusted the maintenance to the capable hands of G&M Motors of Stalham. They sorted out the badly-fitted engine for me.
A new name…
With its transformed appearance I decided to re-christen the Red Shed as Boris the Morris.
In 2016 I decided to treat Boris to an engine rebuild at local firm TMW Engineering, because Trevor who runs it really knows his stuff. Once that was done Boris had a free-revving, torquey engine.
Then the Huddersfield Mini Spares coil spring kit was recommended to me and I decided to give it a go. In the summer of 2017 G&M Motors fitted the kit to Boris. There are three versions of the kit, soft, standard and hard, I opted for the standard.
Once fitted, I waited for the suspension to settle and then had it adjusted accordingly. So perhaps rather sacrilegiously I have deserted the Alex Moulton-designed suspension which was such an intrinsic part of the Issigonis front-wheel-drive range.
And the score is?
The verdict: I am very impressed. The ride is much better, the car absorbs bumps gently instead of a violent thud that permeates the bodyshell. Boris drives like a dream. So, should BMC have fitted coil springs in the first place?
Did BMC deceive itself and the media that rubber cones were superior? Certainly the rubber cones might have been cheaper, and maybe that was the factor, but were they better? Well, in fact, Boris is now the ultimate town car. The big steering wheel, narrow wheels, quick gearchange, free revving engine and compact dimensions all combine to make city driving easy.
You can stick your Renault Twingo, Smart Car and all that modern rubbish, the best car for urban driving is the BMC Mini – always has been and always will be and I’m not budging on that!