MORRIS COOPER S
IN 1965 MOTORING AS WE KNOW IT CHANGED WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE MORRIS COOPER S
TThe BMC Mini changed motoring as we know it. Millions were built and even today, no company has created a car that utilises its space more effectively. Joining forces with racing car-maker Cooper in 1961, BMC produced a Mini Cooper (badged in the UK as an Austin) and in 1963 the 1071cc Cooper S.
Australian production of the Cooper S began in 1965, using the larger 1275cc power unit that developed 56kW. Given the distances between fuel stations in those days and the average speeds that could be legally maintained even by 1.3-litre Mini, twin fuel tanks were fitted for a total capacity of 45 litres.
As with all early Minis the Cooper S interior was extremely basic. Seats in locally-built cars were trimmed in durable vinyl, there was no dash just a parcel shelf with a rudimentary heater hung below it. Although seat belts weren’t compulsory in Australian cars until 1967, the Cooper S included them as standard. Typically Mini was the central instrument binnacle with no room for a tachometer and huge plastic steering wheel which most owners replaced.
Another feature almost unknown in light, low-cost Australian cars was radial-ply tyres, fitted as standard to wider than stock wheels with holes to enhance brake cooling. In common with overseas versions of the Mini Cooper, local ‘S’ versions included disc front brakes in a very enticing $2280 package.
Australia had already seen a few Minis specially imported for competition as Touring Cars or in the Improved Production category. What we didn’t expect was a stock standard Cooper S that could totally dominate the 1966 Bathurst 500 Production Car race. To be fair, Ford had retired its Cortina GT from competition by then and the Minis’ only serious rivals were a couple of V8 Valiants and an X2-engined Holden.
The Mini then became a contender for class honours; winning the ‘tiddler’ category in 1968-69 then returning in 1974 when the regulations changed and it was no longer obliged to compete against five-speed Datsuns and Mazda 1200s.
For 1969 and in response to official complaints regarding Cooper S wheels extending past the body extremities, a Mark 2 version was released. These had some detail changes to the interior and the same power as the Mark 1 but are generally regarded as slightly slower.
They also had fibreglass wheel-arch extensions ensuring the chunky wheels were fully covered and the local police with their books of defect stickers could be kept at bay. Ironically, some of the biggest purchasers of Cooper-enhanced Minis were Australia police forces.
Locating a genuine Cooper S is becoming more difficult as values have risen sharply since 2016. These cars were once seen by the dozen at car club sporting events and amateur motor sport meetings, however some owners feel their Coopers are a little too ancient and valuable to be brushing the Armco. Auction values for excellent and substantially authentic cars have topped $50,000 with some retail prices closer to $80,000. Joining a Mini club for a first pick of cars that become available is a good strategy for anyone wanting the world’s most famous front-wheel drive.