Five Classic Trials
We test the greatest drivers’ classic of all time
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.