Archive : Getting the most out of the Mini in 1969

Here’s another in AROnline’s series of articles featuring archive images to mark the 60th birthday of the Mini.

The 1960s may have been The Beatles’ decade, but it was also the Mini decade and, to crown 10 years of unparalleled success for a British car, 1969 was the year the Mini became the first British car to sell 2 million examples, became a film star in ‘The Italian Job‘ and won the British Saloon Car Championship yet again.

That year, Alec Poole won the British Saloon Car Championship in a Mini Cooper 970S entered by Equipe Arden, run by Jim Whitehouse. The 970S was a homologation special, it used the same block and cylinder head as the 1071S and 1275S, but used a shorter stroke combined with bigger valves than those fitted to the 998cc Mini Cooper. This made it eligible for sub-1.0-litre competition categories. In this it was very effective. In 1969 Lord Stokes’ apparent antipathy to John Cooper led to the creator of the sporting Mini being cast aside as the official works team in the British Saloon Car Championship. Lord Stokes believed that British Leyland lost £20 on every Mini it sold and that John Cooper made more from the car than its manufacturer.

The British Leyland Competition Department at Abingdon, led by Peter Browning, was ordered to compete in the series with drivers John Rhodes and John Handley in 1275S Coopers. Undeterred, John Cooper teamed up with fellow BLMC rejects Downton Engineering and, with backing from Britax, ran two yellow and black 1275Ss for Steve Neal and Gordon Spice. The privateers’ colour scheme later became an official MINI offering…

However, the opposition had now caught up with the once mighty Mini. The Mini’s small 10in tyres wore out much quicker than the larger tyres on cars like the Ford Escort and even a move up to 12in wheels was not enough to stop the rot. Equipe Arden and Alec Poole played the class win game with the 970S and came through the internecine Mini battles to win the overall title.

The irony of this was that the 970S had ceased production four years before.

These colour images were first published in a November 1969 edition of the now defunct Motor magazine. Note the 12in wheels, not available on a production Mini until 1974, and only available on mainstream models a decade later. Also note the crossflow fuel-injected 8-port cylinder head that produced some 115bhp at a screaming 9500rpm! This was developed by team boss Jim Whitehouse himself and made its debut on the works rally cars intended for the aborted 1967 RAC Rally. They were employed by the Cooper Car Company in the 1968 season.

The rights to the design were purchased by the Minispares Centre in 1990 and the cylinder head is still available. This potent engine was mated to a transmission containing a five-speed Colotti gearbox cluster.

Although only a 1.0-litre car, the Equipe Arden Cooper 970S was a far cry from the kind of Mini that thousands of teenagers learned to drive on and had as their first car.

In late 1969, the car was sold to its new owner in New Zealand where it remains to this day.

In the 21st century, it is now possible to get a taste of what Alec Poole experienced with various proprietary kits to enable the installation of the 998 cc Yamaha R1 motorcycle engine complete with six-speed gearbox and between 145 to 164bhp to play with. One only has to look on YouTube to see how such a conversion performs. But these images show 1969’s top dog in glorious living colour.

Keith Adams

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