Five Clas­sic Tri­als

We test the great­est driv­ers’ clas­sic of all time

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week - Words David simis­ter pho­tog­ra­phy richard Gunn

So, the car that democra­tised driv­ing fun is our clas­sic car cham­pion. It’s beaten ev­ery­thing Enzo Fer­rari had to of­fer to reach the top spot – and we sus­pect that he’d ap­prove, given that he was on record as be­ing a bit of a Mini fan.

You only have to perch your­self be­hind this 1966 Cooper’s tiny three-spoke steer­ing wheel to ap­pre­ci­ate why. It sits far more up­right than most of the cars in our big count­down and is canted for­ward at the sort of an­gle you’d ex­pect from a bus. But pair it with the three tiny ped­als and chunky gearshift and it pos­i­tively en­cour­ages go-faster driv­ing. The Mini’s form for inch-per­fect pack­ag­ing is well doc­u­mented, but it’s clear that Alec Is­sigo­nis knew a thing or two about mak­ing the driver feel in­volved too.

The way the body­work has al­most been shrink-wrapped around you, three pas­sen­gers and 998cc of trans­versely mounted A-se­ries works a treat too; the com­bi­na­tion of ex­cel­lent all-round vis­i­bil­ity and pert pro­por­tions means that you can po­si­tion the Mini per­fectly ev­ery time. So clever engi­neer­ing de­signed to ex­cel in a su­per­mar­ket car park can ace the tight, slip­pery turns of the Monte Carlo rally or em­bar­rass a Ford Fal­con at Good­wood’s St Mary’s Tro­phy race.

Or nail a British B-road, for that mat­ter: there may be only 55bhp un­der your right foot but it al­ways feels im­me­di­ate, and the won­der­ful thing is that you can use vir­tu­ally all of it, all of the time. Flick your way up through the four-speed box – which has a de­light­fully short, snappy throw – and there’s a healthy buzz from the en­gine. On paper it’s hardly the last word in straight-line oomph, but you re­alise how the Mini earned its gi­antkiller rep­u­ta­tion all those years ago as soon as you ap­proach a tight bend.

Turn-in is in­stant. There’s no fuss and no drama – it bites into bends with the ap­petite of a rav­en­ous an­i­mal, re­fus­ing to re­lin­quish its grip on the apex. The im­me­di­ate rush of feed­back to your fin­ger­tips is un­sul­lied by any­thing as un­seemly as body roll – just point the stubby nose where you want it to go, and it just goes there.

Pile on too much speed and it’ll even­tu­ally suc­cumb to un­der­steer as the ten-inch wheels – in this case, shod with sticky Yoko­hama tyres – fi­nally lose the bat­tle for grip, but whether you back off, change course or ac­cel­er­ate mid­corner is en­tirely your call – the light­ningquick re­sponses mean that you won’t be un­duly pun­ished what­ever you do, and the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is all the more re­ward­ing for it. The sus­pen­sion is a lit­tle bouncy as a re­sult, but that’s a price worth pay­ing in re­turn for this much fun.

Whether you’re in an Austin Se7en or Mor­ris Mini Mi­nor from the early days, a £4k May­fair from the mid-’80s, or a fully loaded Cooper Sport 500 from the end of pro­duc­tion, the ba­sic premise of cram­ming the most fun into the small­est pos­si­ble pack­age makes the Mini a de­serv­ing win­ner. We’ll hap­pily take any ex­am­ple out for a drive, but the thrills are just that bit more im­me­di­ate and fo­cused in a prop­erly sorted 1960s Cooper like this one.

If it was good enough for Enzo back in the day, it’s good enough for us now.

Non-stan­dard dash­board, steer­ing wheel and aux­il­iary di­als can’t dis­guise the Mini’s in­her­ent pack­ag­ing bril­liance. Gi­ant af­ter­mar­ket re­vers­ing light adds to the cooper’s ral­lyin­spired pe­riod charm.

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