CLAS­SIC TAILS

TIPS, TRICKS AND NOS­TAL­GIA FROM A LIFE­TIME IM­MERSED IN OLD CARS 1275GT – A MINI MARVAL

Classics Monthly - - Emerging Classic Mercedes-benz Slk - AN­DREW EVERETT

2019 WILL MARK 50-years since the Mini Club­man made its de­but. This was the one and only ef­fec­tive facelift on what was then a very fa­mil­iar ten-year old car that was due for re­place­ment – if Is­si­gio­nis had had his way, the orig­i­nal Mini would have been su­per­seded by then.

But the newly formed BLMC had big­ger fish to fry and the Mini was sell­ing strongly – 1972 would be its zenith year, with sales only re­ally start­ing to drop off in the late ‘Sev­en­ties.

Be­fore the 1275GT came the Mini Cooper and Cooper S. At that point, both had been re­mark­able com­pe­ti­tion cars – the S es­pe­cially – and there was a sound ar­gu­ment for keep­ing one or the other in pro­duc­tion. The S did in fact stay on the price lists un­til mid 1971, al­though the MkIII Cooper S launched in March 1970 was a pretty half hearted ef­fort.

COM­PE­TI­TION WIN­NER

The Cooper S, as well as be­ing a road car, had one main ob­jec­tive and that was to be a front line com­pe­ti­tion car for BMC. How­ever, the Es­cort ar­rived for 1968 along with a 115bhp Lo­tus pow­ered Twin Cam and from that mo­ment on, Mi­nis win­ning any­thing ma­jor was be­com­ing a fast re­ced­ing re­al­ity.

Once the RS1600 ar­rived in early 1970 with its 16 valve Cos­worth BDA en­gine ca­pa­ble of up to 200bhp on carbs (with more to come), the writ­ing was on the wall. So, the Cooper S was ob­so­lete as a front run­ning rally car, ex­pen­sive to make and not easy to sell. It was also highly nick­able, had a ter­ri­ble rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing driven by loons and as a re­sult it was very ex­pen­sive and of­ten im­pos­si­ble to in­sure. Re­ally then, its time was up and the Cooper S was con­sid­ered a good thing to axe as op­posed to a grad­ual de­cline.

SALES SUC­CESS

But it didn’t work out quite that way. Don­ald Stokes re­sented pay­ing John Cooper a healthy roy­alty on cars that bore his name, so he axed the 998 Cooper first, re­plac­ing it with the 1275GT. The Cooper out­sold the S buy a huge mar­gin, so the roy­alty sav­ings were right there. As a car, the Cooper was neat enough – it went quite well, han­dled as Mi­nis do (had crap brakes) but over­all the MkII Cooper was a very good pack­age for not a lot of money. Stokes though had his eye on the ‘Sev­en­ties and what Ford were do­ing – the Es­cort GT for ex­am­ple would be a ris­ing star.

The 1275GT was a clever pack­age and ex­u­ber­ated a lot of show­room ap­peal. The Club­man front isn’t liked by all but it’s a cheery look­ing thing that re­placed the ghastly Elf and Hornet in one swoop, giv­ing the Mini a fresh new look and im­prov­ing un­der bon­net ac­ces­si­bil­ity. The 998 Club­man on Hy­dro­las­tic re­ally drove well and far bet­ter than a reg­u­lar dry cone 1000 and the 1275GT was, by and large, a well thought out prod­uct.

But it wasn’t just an Austin 1300 en­gine dropped into a stan­dard Club­man. Oh no. Cooper S brakes and Hy­dro dis­plac­ers were used along with a servo, so it im­me­di­ately han­dled and stopped bet­ter than a 998 Cooper.

DE­CENT PER­FOR­MANCE

The en­gine was in­deed a stock 55-60bhp 1275 sin­gle carb unit but was mated to a Cooper S close ra­tio gear­box and a 3.65: fi­nal drive and that re­sulted in per­for­mance fig­ures that were way ahead of a Cooper and not very far away from a 1071 Cooper S from 1963.

In­side, the com­fier Club­man seats were given per­fo­rated cen­tres and a rev counter added with a sportier leather trimmed ver­sion of the Club­man’s three spoke Dumper Truck steer­ing wheel. At £834 all in, it was good value as well – not that it was per­fect. The 3.65: fi­nal drive might have seemed like a good idea but it spoiled what was ba­si­cally one of the best Mi­nis yet. The 14.7 sec­ond 0-60 time was due to a sec­ond to third gear change be­ing needed and the 1275 en­gine was not as sweet as the 998 at higher revo­lu­tions. In short, the GT was very noisy and tir­ing to drive on long trips. BLMC took heed and in 1971 and revised the car by re­plac­ing Hy­dro­las­tic with dry cones and fit­ting the stan­dard 3.44: Cooper S and Mini 1000/Club­man dif­fer­en­tial.

SEV­ERAL IM­PROVE­MENTS

The 1275GT re­mained in pro­duc­tion for eleven years, out­selling the Cooper and S combined. It had var­i­ous facelifts, such as the 12 inch wheels in 1974 and the stripy seats in 1977 but the recipe was al­ways the same…. the 1275GT was a Mini, but even more so.

What’s more, the sin­gle carb en­gine made the 1275GT in­sur­able for young driv­ers, al­though BL prob­a­bly missed a trick by not mak­ing a 75-80bhp GTS ver­sion. Not im­port­ing the stylish In­no­centi 1300 Cooper was an­other missed op­por­tu­nity, but BL had loads of those. This was prob­a­bly the best pro­duc­tion Mini ever made and much bet­ter over­all than the homegrown Cooper S.

It’s amus­ing that BMW have brought back the 1275GT in spirit with the lat­est 1499GT MINI. This is a lower pow­ered en­gine in a sporty look­ing body al­though at 17 grand, it’s hardly the bar­gain the 1275GT was. No, the orig­i­nal was best and as much as I like the orig­i­nal BMC era Coop­ers, a 1971 1275GT on cones with the 3.44: diff in Aqua, Sun­flower yel­low or Black Velvet (deep pur­ple) some­how has more ap­peal – and look­ing at GT prices, its time has most def­i­nitely come. At last!

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