The classic Mini always saw itself as more than just a practical small car for the people. Hence the arrival of pick-up and estate versions for trades and businesses, plus luxury variants for the more discerning. The customer simply established what they wanted from their Mini and before long they would be stepping out in a suitable one for the job at hand. Just as its creator Sir Alec Issigonis intended.
Given the world into which the Mini was born, a small footprint was essential – in terms of both fuel used and area occupied on the road. And it also needed to be safe. Front-wheel drive maxed out interior room and the gearbox enjoyed a space-saving position under the engine. There was a wheel at each corner, furnished with rubber springs and a design as brilliant as the rest of the car. A certain firmness to proceedings was all part of the Mini experience and allowed it to run rings around most other road dwellers at the time.
Estate, Van, Pick-up – you decide.
The estate versions of the classic Mini could be loaded with ease through their split rear doors. Their wheelbase was ten centimetres longer, with every one of the 25 centimetres added to the standard car’s platform benefitting interior space. Shorn of rear seats and side/rear windows, the Van’s simplicity made it every inch the commercial vehicle, while the open-bay Pick-up was keen to get its hands dirty. The Austin Seven Countryman and Morris Mini Traveller – almost identical in construction – were equally adept in their chosen role: that of pampering their occupants. Wood additions could be specified as an option; the self-supporting metal body may have stripped these of any functional value, but that didn’t stop them making the Mini look achingly British.
Powering the Mini: one for all.
In the early days, all classic Minis had the same engine – a 848 cc four-cylinder affair with 34 hp. Granted, that was not a huge amount of muscle, but for work and leisure alike it was never found wanting. Those who fancied a bit more oomph anyway had their wish granted by the arrival of the Mini Cooper in 1961 and the Mini Cooper S two years later. The beefed-up duo wasted little time in putting the cat among the pigeons on the motor sport scene.
Other early expanders on the Mini theme included the luxurious Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet variants, easily recognised by their booted rear ends. With extra lashings of chrome, luxury and boot space, these were the Minis for landowners and country squires. Ploughing an altogether different furrow was the open-to-the-elements Moke. Its lack of inches put it out of the picture militarily, but that only meant more fun and joie de vivre for the flower power generation.
So all in all, the classic Mini was a far more serious proposition than its size suggested. It could graft with the best of them, whisk families wherever they wanted to go and even do its thing on the social circuit – all, needless to say, with a twinkle in its eye. A car of many talents indeed.