Unique Cars - - BUYER GUIDE -

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.

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