“New Leyland small car spied”, writes Archie Vicar, in the 1978 edition of Contemporary Driving News Magazine. This transcript of what appears to be a commentary on the much-discussed new ‘Mini’ shows Vicar’s analytical journalism at its best.
“Spy photographers have caught the replacement for the much-loved but geriatric, cramped and unreliable Mini on test. The planned car is an advance on the very modern ADO88 design which the engineers at Leyland have been working on since the early 70s. The wheelbase is now longer than ADO88 in response to developments in the market since the project’s inception just after the second World War.
The promised car will be bigger than similar ‘superminis’ such as the Volkswagen Polo and Renault 5 but will also be large inside to compensate. Sources are divided on the strategy taken with the car. Some say that much of the Mini’s renowned engineering will be carried over but improved. This means the same Hydragas suspension and pronounced gear-box whine.
Others say the new car features McPherson struts up front with torsion bars at the rear. There is a possibility of a return to rear-wheel drive using elements of the Triumph Dolomite which has so successfully added to BLs range of cars. One insider suggests that Leyland might license Citroen’s hydropneumatic suspension system while other reports hint at a simple leaf-spring rear axle to cut costs.
Sources close to Leyland aver that the new car will be made in small numbers so as to make fewer cars more profitably. There is also the chance that production of the Allegro and Mini will be scaled back to allow for more of the new car to be made. Another option is to scale back production of the Allegro and Mini which are losing money and also sell fewer of the new mini car, also at a loss. At the time of press one of these options is likely to be under consideration. Only time will tell.
The new Mini needs to be competitive in a number of areas. It will likely remain a saloon and will be sold under Rover, MG, Jaguar and Triumph badges to keep the dealer network happy. The new engines will not be those found in the Mini. They will have to be competitive 1.0, 1.2 and 1.4 litre petrol units. There is some talk of five speed gearboxes and the possibility of electronic fuel injection on the larger engine models. This has yet to be confirmed.
The car will be designed to appeal to people trading down from the Allegro and various Triumphs and Rovers and so will be fitted with SD1 switchgear and an optional sunroof and velour upholstery. Head restraints are on the drawing board for use on the Van den Plas editions and the American market.
There is no information on the placement of ashtrays but based on our experience of Leyland cars, one will be fitted somewhere on the dashboard and perhaps one on the transmission tunnel of rear-drive cars.
The heavily disguised vehicle shows a very boxy shape but the planned production car will not be anything as square-rigged. Rather it will continue the rounded shapes of the existing mini but will be more modern and sporty, with a sloped windscreen, a sharply pointed nose with pop-up lamps and dramatically shaped panels. The general view is that boxy, simple cars are no longer acceptable in these increasingly competitive times.
The expected launch date is 1984, to allow for strikes and a complete redesign of the car and a reduction of the wheelbase to 87 inches.”
Photography: Jack Donning.