Mini Cooper S

The long list of cars built in Aus­tralia in­cludes the 1966 Bathurst-win­ning Mor­ris Cooper S model. The Aussie-pro­duced Cooper S – which was far more than a lo­cal as­sem­bly job – was made within a well-hit cover drive of the Syd­ney Cricket Ground.

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

The long list of cars built in Aus­tralia in­cludes the 1966 Bathurst-win­ning Mor­ris Cooper S model. The Aussie-pro­duced Cooper S – which was far more than a lo­cal as­sem­bly job – was made within a well-hit cover drive of the Syd­ney Cricket Ground.

The count­down is on to the fi­nal hur­rah of Aus­tralia’s car man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try. One of only 13 coun­tries able to build cars from ground up, our cen­tury-old mo­tor in­dus­try has seen many well-known car man­u­fac­tur­ers come and go. One of the most cher­ished was the Bri­tish Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion (BMC)-Ley­land, whose Vic­to­ria Park plant in the in­ner Syd­ney sub­urb Zet­land (now Water­loo) em­ployed a united na­tions of work­ers dur­ing the post-war boom and up un­til its un­for­tu­nate clo­sure in 1974, when 6800 em­ploy­ees lost their jobs.

The star car for BMC lo­cally, as it was glob­ally, was un­doubt­edly the Mini and the ‘rock­star’ of the range was the Cooper S. The Cooper S ruled both the race­track, win­ning the 1966 Gal­la­her 500 at Bathurst, and the road, where it was pop­u­lar on both sides of the law. Fifty years ago, at the dawn of the mus­cle car era, there was no faster car point-to-point.

What rel­a­tively few Aussie car en­thu­si­asts to­day re­alise is that more than 7000 Cooper S were ac­tu­ally built here in Aus­tralia, in the afore­men­tioned Vic­to­ria Park fac­tory, lo­cated half­way be­tween Syd­ney’s CBD and Mas­cot air­port. These ve­hi­cles were far from mere CKD (com­pletely knocked down) kit cars as­sem­bled in Oz, as they had lo­cally-pressed bod­ies, plus lo­cal trim and glass.

So don’t let any­one tell you that an im­ported Pommy car con­quered Bathurst in 1966, as the trio of works-en­tered Mi­nis rolled off a Syd­ney pro­duc­tion line, be­fore they were fet­tled by the in-house com­pe­ti­tion de­part­ment at Zet­land.

To cel­e­brate the 50th an­niver­sary of the mighty Mini’s most fa­mous vic­tory down un­der, we put the spot­light on Aus­tralian-built Cooper S mod­els, In do­ing so, we aim to cor­rect the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that the tiny rock­et­ships were es­pe­cially im­ported from the Old Dart for their ap­point­ment with the Moun­tain.


born in 1959, the orig­i­nal Mini is the au­to­mo­tive poster child of the swing­ing six­ties. A game-changer in ev­ery sense, it rewrote the tem­plate for the small car class. While its east-west en­gine and front-wheel drive were not new, its brick-like shape and wheel-a-teach-corner de­sign al­lowed class-lead­ing in­te­rior di­men­sions. It eas­ily sat four adults de­spite its small over­all size. The Mini was also a class­less car. In its birth coun­try, it was at home in the fash­ion­able streets of Lon­don as it was in the home coun­ties or the in­dus­trial north.

The Mor­ris Mini Mi­nor (also sold as the Austin Seven – soon changed to Austin Mini) was de­vel­oped by Alec Is­sigo­nis. He in­ge­niously placed the gear­box in the sump of BMC’s A-Se­ries en­gine to save space. Unique rub­ber cone sus­pen­sion, de­vel­oped by fel­low de­signer Alex Moul­ton im­bued the Mini with ra­zor sharp han­dling and a bil­ly­cart ride that was un­like any of its class com­peti­tors. In­deed it han­dled more like a rac­ing car and it wasn’t long be­fore the Mini was seen track­side.

In its orig­i­nal 850 (848cc) 24kW guise, the Mini could barely pull the skin off a rice pud­ding, but rac­ing car builder John Cooper could see the po­ten­tial. Cooper Cars were rid­ing high with Aussie Jack Brab­ham win­ning back-to-back For­mula 1 World Cham­pi­onships in 1959 and 1960, as well as per­form­ing well in the mi­nor for­mu­las where they used op­ti­mised ver­sions of the A-Se­ries en­gine. Cooper saw the po­ten­tial for a faster more pow­er­ful Mini and set about de­vel­op­ing such a car, ini­tially against Is­sigo­nis’s wishes. How­ever BMC boss Ge­orge Har­ri­man drove the su­per Mini and was im­pressed. A 10-year deal was sealed with a hand­shake and Cooper re­ceived a £2 roy­alty on ev­ery Mini Cooper pro­duced.

The Austin/Mor­ris Cooper was in­tro­duced in 1961 with a 997cc en­gine fed by twin SU 1¼” car­bu­ret­tors pro­duc­ing 41kW and Lock­heed 7” front disc brakes, a first for the Mini. Ex­ter­nally there were new front and rear bumpers with dis­tinc­tive ‘hockey sticks’ over­rid­ers. Here at last was a Mini that was just as at home on the race­track as on a wind­ing back­road.

In 1961 the Mini was in­tro­duced in Aus­tralia as the Mor­ris 850 (there was no Austin ver­sion). It was ini­tially man­u­fac­tured from im­ported parts, but from 1964 with lo­cally-pressed bod­ies and as­sem­bled en­gines, plus lo­cal trim and glass.

An Aus­tralian-only 850 Sport model, es­sen­tially a twin-carburettor 848cc, was pro­duced in small num­bers in late 1961 as a pre­lude to the 997 Cooper that was as­sem­bled from CKD kits in 1963. The fol­low­ing year a 998cc en­gine was fit­ted to the Cooper, which now had lo­cally-pressed pan­els.

While power in­creased marginally, the 998 fea­tured a new cylin­der block with siamesed bores that al­lowed for ca­pac­ity in­creases to 1071cc and even­tu­ally 1275cc.

The 997 and 998 Coop­ers sold moder­ately, but it was the in­tro­duc­tion in early 1965 of the 998cc Mini De Luxe, the 850’s re­place­ment as the bread and but­ter model, that set the foun­da­tions for the 1275 Cooper S to fol­low. The De Luxe fea­tured an Aus­tralian-as­sem­bled 998cc en­gine and Hy­dro­las­tic sus­pen­sion, a sys­tem of in­ter­con­nected fluid dis­pensers.

The doors were de­signed for wind-up win­dows and open­ing quar­ter vent win­dows – a unique fea­ture of the Aus­tralian-built cars that didn’t ap­pear on English Mi­nis for sev­eral years. With these fea­tures the Mini edged closer to meet­ing the strin­gent 95 per cent Aus­tralian con­tent rules.

Roger Foy was BMC Aus­tralia’s road test­ing su­per­vi­sor within the Zet­land-based Ex­per­i­men­tal De­part­ment, re­spon­si­ble for the dura­bil­ity test­ing of all new BMC mod­els at the time. He says the Mini was ‘Aus­tralianised’ to ad­dress lower than ex­pected ini­tial sales in this coun­try.

“Af­ter the Mini was re­leased we did cus­tomer sur­veys to un­der­stand why peo­ple didn’t buy the car,” Foy says. “It came down to three things: lack of power; what was known as the ‘pud­ding stir­rer’ gear­stick; and poor ven­ti­la­tion. The 998cc en­gine sorted the first prob­lem. The Ri­ley Elf and Wolse­ley Hor­net (English badge-en­gi­neered de­riv­a­tives) had re­mote gearshifts so we got that, but Eng­land couldn’t help us with wind-up

win­dows with quar­ter vents. We thought we could do that ourselves. We never asked Eng­land; we just did it!” Foy ex­plains.

“The De Luxe also had a com­pletely dif­fer­ent floor­pan to the English cars,” Foy ex­plains. “This in­cor­po­rated two chan­nels in the floors to hide brake lines and hy­dro­las­tic lines with cover strips over the chan­nels. It made the bod­ies stiffer and more durable in the bush and in ral­lies.”

It was the De Luxe bodyshell that al­lowed the Cooper S to be built in Aus­tralia from Au­gust

1965 with the 1275cc en­gine. This 56kW en­gine, with its spe­cial EN40B ni­trided steel crank­shaft (cross-drilled from 1966) and twin 1¼” SU HS2 car­bu­ret­tors, was al­ways im­ported as a fully as­sem­bled ‘crate’ en­gine but re­sprayed metal­lic green. Other ma­jor changes from the Cooper were larger brake calipers with 7.5” discs and 4.5” wide, 10” di­am­e­ter wheels with 145 se­ries tyres. Sig­nif­i­cantly, a seven-row oil cooler and (sec­ond) right-hand fuel tank that were op­tional on Bri­tish cars were stan­dard fea­tures on ev­ery Aus­tralian Cooper S. The rea­son? A 500 mile race on a moun­tain west of Syd­ney…

The Cooper S was not sub­ject to dura­bil­ity test­ing, which was car­ried out on the De Luxe. How­ever, BMC Aus­tralia’s Ex­per­i­men­tal De­part­ment ran a 1275 en­gine on its dy­namome­ter for sev­eral months prior to re­lease. And there was al­ways a Cooper S on the test fleet. Roger Foy rue­fully re­calls what hap­pened to the first pro­to­type.

“The first pro­to­type was pranged within six miles of the fac­tory! The ex­per­i­men­tal en­gi­neer and the chief me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer were in it when some­one ran into them on El­iz­a­beth Street in the city (of Syd­ney). They came back look­ing very sheep­ish. They had to tell me they had pranged one of my cars! We sent a memo to pro­duc­tion to build an­other iden­ti­cal one, swapped the plates and didn’t tell the au­thor­i­ties…”

Pric­ing was a ma­jor fac­tor in the suc­cess of the Cooper S on the lo­cal mar­ket. The orig­i­nal Cooper sold for £950 in 1962 when an 850 cost £740. The 1071cc Cooper S which was an un­of­fi­cial pri­vate im­port (to cus­tomers with a CAMS li­cence) was a pricey £1366 in 1964. With­out the economies of scale of the £833 Mini De Luxe, the Aus­tralian-built Cooper S, priced at a com­pet­i­tive £1140, would not have been vi­able.

It is fair to say that the Mor­ris Cooper S sent shock­waves through the en­thu­si­ast mar­ket in 1965 and ‘66. Here was an in­nocu­ous-look­ing ‘brick’ that would out-per­form and out-han­dle pop­u­lar sports cars like the MGB and Austin Healey Sprite. So called hot sedans like the EH Holden S4 would not see which way a Cooper S In ad­di­tion to our pho­to­shoot at Zet­land, our fea­ture car also took part in the 50th cel­e­bra­tions at Mount Panorama over race week­end and the Mus­cle Car Masters. went. It would only be the ad­vent of V8 mus­cle cars such as the XR Fal­con GT and Euro­pean thor­ough­breds like the Alfa Romeo GTV in 1967 that could match the pace of a Cooper S on the road and track.

Wheels mag­a­zine, in its Fe­bru­ary 1966 road test ti­tled ‘Sooper Dooper Cooper’, said though top speed was barely 100mph (160km/h) “it is in­cred­i­bly fast point-to point. This is the car’s big­gest fea­ture – its a-il­ity to twitch and dodge and swerve and skip and change line and flick from one at­ti­tude to an­other at any speed right up to its max­i­mum.”

The mag­a­zine found that the Cooper S went 0-60mph in 10.6 sec­onds and the stand­ing quar­ter mile was reached in 17.6 sec­onds, a time that em­bar­rassed many so-called per­for­mance and sports cars. “Very rarely do you come across so much per­for­mance wrapped up in one small pack­age,” they con­cluded.

Mod­ern Mo­tor’s Jan­uary 1966 edi­tion went even fur­ther in its praise. “I think the Mor­ris Cooper S makes the av­er­age sportscar ob­so­lete. It does ev­ery­thing as well as some road­sters sell­ing for hun­dreds (of pounds) more and has the ad­van­tages of be­ing a four-seater sedan.”

The MkI Cooper S con­tin­ued with a num­ber of mi­nor run­ning changes un­til the MkII was re­leased in June 1969 to co­in­cide with the in­tro­duc­tion of the (1100cc) Mini K. Aus­tralia didn’t move to the Bri­tish MkII bodyshell (in­tro­duced in 1967), which had a larger rear win­dow and dif­fer­ent front grille aper­ture but still slid­ing win­dows! Thus, apart from dif­fer­ent badg­ing, the ma­jor ex­ter­nal change of the Aus­tralian MkII were the plas­tic wheel-arch flares to cover the of­ten-pro­trud­ing tyres, some­thing that some State road au­thor­i­ties were clamp­ing down on. The only me­chan­i­cal change was a new fully syn­chro­nised four-speed gear­box. De­spite protes­ta­tions, a tachome­ter was still not a stan­dard fit­ment. The last 112 MkII Cooper S built in 1971 fea­tured flush fit­ting ex­te­rior door han­dles and burst-proof locks to com­ply with ADR 2.

These 1971 cars were the end of the line as the Li­cence Agree­ment with John Cooper had ex­pired and was not re­newed. In all, 4986 MkIs and 2919 MkIIs Cooper S were made in Aus­tralia be­tween 1965 and 1971.

In Au­gust 1971 the Mini Club­man re­placed the Mini K. Based on the English Club­man re­leased two years ear­lier, the Aus­tralian fac­tory grafted the Club­man front onto the ex­ist­ing (Mk1) bodyshell com­plete with the ex­ter­nal hinged doors that still com­plied with ADRs! There were larger tail­lights and at last a mod­ern dash­board. At the same the Cooper S was re­placed by the Club­man GT car­ry­ing over the ex­ist­ing 1275 en­gine. Other changes in­cluded the Club­man dash­board... with fi­nally a tachome­ter! There were sporty Rostyle wheels and op­tional stripes. How­ever, the GT was over 60kg heav­ier than the Cooper S which blunted per­for­mance and the Club­man nose was not uni­ver­sally liked. The GT re­mained in pro­duc­tion un­til Jan­uary 1973 with around 1200 built, in­clud­ing

200 ex­ported

across the ditch to New Zealand. As an aside, the Kiwi Cooper S were badged ei­ther as an Austin or Mor­ris and were as­sem­bled from CKD kits at BMC’s as­sem­bly plant in Pe­tone near Welling­ton.

There would not be an­other 1275-en­gined Mini un­til the LS1275 of 1978. By this time the Zet­land fac­tory had closed and Mini pro­duc­tion had moved to the smaller En­field fac­tory in Syd­ney’s west. The 1275LS was the first Aus­tralian Mini to have 12” wheels (eight years af­ter they were in­tro­duced in Eng­land) but the 1275 en­gine in emis­sion guise with a sin­gle SU carburettor put out an un­der­whelm­ing 41kW. Wheels De­cem­ber 1978 road-test saw 0-110km/h in a glacial 20.3 sec­onds and the stand­ing 400 me­tres cov­ered in 19.8. Whilst the 1275LS may have been a fit­ting fi­nale for Mini pro­duc­tion in Aus­tralia, it cer­tainly wasn’t a rein­car­na­tion of the beloved Cooper S, which to­day is a rare and de­sir­able mini-mus­cle car.

Things have changed at Zet­land, in in­ner Syd­ney, since the BMC/Ley­land fac­tory closed in 1974. We took a Zet­land-built Cooper S back to where it was born for a quick whip around the new Vic­to­ria Park ur­ban precinct.

Roger Foy BMC’s Vic­to­ria Park fac­tory, Syd­ney

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