Sir Alec Issigonis, brilliant creator of the Mini and champion of practicality, would have baulked at any mention of a “cult factor” at work here. The knighted engineer wanted to build cars which, beyond all else, would be useful, frugal and cheap to maintain. His would be cars for everybody, cars which made life easier; shoddy status symbols were very far from his mind. Issigonis had already created the Morris Minor – the British “car of the people”, and a very successful one too – by the time he came up with the Mini in 1959. Here was a revolutionary concept that remains unsurpassed in the small car hall of fame to this day. The recipe of a wheel at each corner, engine planted crossways over the front axle, gearbox positioned below it to save space and, of course, front-wheel drive resulted in a huge amount of interior space given the minimal footprint on the road; it resulted in the Mini.
Business first, but in a pleasurable way.
Sure, the Mini was in time discovered by urbanites as a fun-to-drive answer to increasing parking problems in the cities, but it could never settle for a role as somebody’s cutesy second car. It wanted to get its hands dirty, to help out the small army of hard-working tradespeople struggling to make their means stretch to a full-on van. Reconfigured as a commercial vehicle with an extended wheelbase (+25 centimetres), the Mini offered an astonishing amount of room for transporting cargo. And in Pick-up form, it delighted in transporting even bulky and/or dirty items from one place to the next. 317 kilograms of gear could be carried in the 1.20-metre-long and 85-centimetre-wide load area, which wasn’t to be sniffed at. Plus, the tailgate folded down to create a level surface, making it easier to heave the requisite loads on board.
Joining the Pick-up variant and identifiable by its lack of rear side windows was the Van. Neither was lavished with an exclusive title (a bare description of their type was to suffice) and neither was touched by luxury. Instead, these were working-class heroes. They came with only what they needed to get the job done; anything more would have served merely as distraction. The basic version of the standard hatch was trimmed down once again to create these worker Minis, which caught the eye from the outside with their painted front grilles. Handily, the Van and Pick-up enjoyed tax breaks in their home country, a perk much appreciated by their customer base of enterprising small business owners.
Providing the shove for the diligent twosome was initially the seasoned four-cylinder engine used to power any Mini that didn’t wear a Cooper badge and have designs on a winner’s podium. 34 horsepower from 848 cubic centimetres was adequate, but no more. In 1967, however, those figures were raised to 998 cc and 38 hp, and there was also more torque to jolly things along. The Pick-up went on sale in September 1960 and was only removed from the line-up in 1981, at the same time as the Van. Some 58,000 units rolled off the assembly line, which amounted to just one per cent of all Minis produced. An intriguing option for the Pick-up was the tarpaulin and hoops, which protected on-board loads from the elements.
Today, the Pick-up is a rare sight at meetings and get-togethers. It is commonly mistaken for a home-made creation and many find it hard to imagine how serious a proposition it was at the time – as a loyal servant to all those faced with a solid day’s graft.
The Mini Pick-up was introduced in 1960 alongside the Van to give tradespeople and craftsmen a helping hand. A chrome grille was never part of the equation.
Luxury was a stranger to the Pick-up. The tailgate folded down to create a level loading surface and the body could be ordered with a tarpaulin and hoops as an option.
The 1.20-metre-long load bay was a useful thing, especially when the owner had bulky or dirty goods to move around. The Pick-up retained its external door hinges until the end of production in 1981.
The art of leaving things out. Any signs of luxury were shunned to keep costs low. Minis in such stripped-back form could only be ordered in Van or Pick-up guise and were designed to appeal primarily to tradespeople.
An early Pick-up at a photo shoot in 1961. All Minis were pretty much the same as far back as the B-pillar aft of the front seats. The only differences lay in details.
The Van version had no side windows or rear seats. There were tax breaks for commercial vehicles in Britain.