Mini van with big heart
One of the reasons this little van was so popular was the fact that it was so enjoyable to drive
THE BMC Mini was one of the most influential cars of its day, but what is often forgotten is that the little van version of this iconic car gave a newage boost to the rather conservative world of the light commercial.
With its squat proportions and front-wheel-drive, the Mini became a cult car in record time after its introduction in 1959.
The van version followed a year later and was manufactured until 1983.
Built on the longer Traveller chassis but without side windows, the van proved popular in 1960s Britain as a cheaper alternative to the car as it was classed as a commercial vehicle and as such carried no sales tax. A set of simple stamped steel slots served in place of the more costly chrome grille.
It was basic in the extreme with sliding windows, exterior hinges on the driver and passenger doors as well as on the twin rear doors.
It became an instant hit with small businesses and even the police and the AA. But the Mini Van created a whole new slant on its market sector by appealing to the private buyer who wanted a cheap runabout.
The Mini Van was rated at three quarters of a ton load capacity which was impressive for its size.
It was renamed as the Mini 95 in 1978, the number representing the gross vehicle weight of 0.95 tons. A total of 521,494 were built.
I remember the launch of this vehicle because it made most other small vans look positively dowdy. It was light years ahead of the previous light van favourite, the old Austin A35 van which was tottering towards the history book.
One of the reasons it was so popular, apart from low price was the fact that it was enjoyable to drive.
The original power unit, a transversely mounted BMC A-Series engine of 848cc was mated to a four-speed manual transmission and the driving experience was a very firm ride and zippy acceleration, marred to some extent by a long and ponderous gear lever.
As we are often reminded, the Ford Transit made the most significant change to the UK light commercial market, but I am of the opinion that the massively under-rated Mini Van drove in with advances which were just as important.