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

Rutherglen Reformer - - Drivetime - Ian Johnson

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.

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