Strike a Pose

Getting the Mini message across – 1970’s style.

Image: the author

You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Edith Head

The Mini received its third and most significant technical and bodyshell-related change in the Autumn of 1969. The Mark III Mini – and it was now simply that (with no marque-related branding whatsoever), lost the hydrolastic suspension fitted to it as a running revision in 1964, not to mention its more upmarket variants, in an effort to reduce costs (the Clubman was a separate model), but gained internal door hinges and winding windows, much to the disgust of the car’s now sidelined spiritus rector.

It would also be its last. All subsequent changes to the Mini (1980 A+ revisions notwithstanding), would be of the purely cosmetic variety. Such as in 1977, BL’s annus horriblis, and the year in which the Mini gained a matt black grille, larger rear lamp units, which included reversing lights, and cheerful striped fabric upholstery – on the Mini 1000 model at least. Stripes too were applied below the side windows. 850 versions however remained somewhat more austere, although the subsequent 1979 Mini City 850 would get a set of stripes all of its own.

The period print ads shown above and below illustrate the manner in which the Mini was promoted during this period. On one hand, a rather generic studio shot of the car accompanied by quite dense copy outlining the changes, while underlining the Mini’s perennial virtues. On the other (as seen in the headline image) a simple, striking image, targeted precisely at the readership (both taken from period Vogue magazines), whose readership – as ladies (and gentlemen) about town – were in the main, target Mini customers.

Image – the author

The Mini remained a strong seller in the UK at this time – when it was available at least – and in 1977 this was far from certain owing to BL’s catastrophic labour relations and descent into financial meltdown. It was even said to have been just about profitable by then, but in this, as much else, accounts vary. Certainly, it was one of the few BL products which sold consistently throughout the 1970s, being well placed to weather the volatile economic and political conditions that characterised the decade, and despite its often marginal profitability, really deserved a bit more development money thrown its way. Those 1980 revisions came awfully late in the day.

The best loved car in Britain today” is how BL’s ad-agency copywriters described the Mini, and whether this was actually the case, it was a great line, since not only was it impossible to refute, it was entirely plausible. Minis were everywhere and despite their whining drivetrains, leaking engines, mildewed weld seams and frangible floorpans, they had become such an durable part of the fabric of UK streetscapes that it was almost unthinkable to envisage a land without them.

But BL’s rivals had better, and far more stylish cars to offer by then, and certainly by the late ’70s, the more fashion-conscious customer (and no doubt, Vogue reader) probably had their eye on something called a superMini – possibly something Italian or French – something BL couldn’t really seem to bring themselves to build – in a timely fashion at least.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

20 thoughts on “Strike a Pose”

  1. Good morning Eóin. I suspect that the Mini will always be remembered as Britain’s best loved car, even by those who heartily disliked it in its day. It’s a British thing, this fondness for the quirky, the under-funded, under-developed, under-dog that nevertheless manages to be a trend-setter. It goes with our love of irony and self-mocking comedy.
    But the BL advertisement claim to the title was, at the time, somewhat presumptuous – the accolade had already been awarded to that earlier Issigonis creation, the Morris Minor (specially in its Traveller form).

  2. “…a vanity mirror and ticket pocket on the sun visors.” Be still, my beating heart!

    Seriously, it must have been very hard work for advertising copy writers to find new things to say about cars like the Mini that had been around for ever without meaningful updates.

    That said, I hadn’t realised until I looked at the Mini Wikipedia page this morning that the Mini mark numbers ran right up to the 1996 Mk VII, which is described as follows:

    “This was the final version, twin point injection with front-mounted radiator. Full-width dashboard replaces the original shelf, internal bonnet release. Introduction of airbag on driver’s side.”

    It is strange that, just like the Ital, which finally got proper front suspension in its last year of production, the Mini had this flourish when it was in its death throes and had become something of a caricature of itself.

    Incidentally, were these final Minis any better rust-proofed and are they collectible?

    1. Good morning Daniel. I never knew they fitted an airbag to the original Mini. It’s interesting to speculate if anyone ever benefitted from it, given the car’s 1950s’ levels of crashworthiness.

    2. Hi John. Yes, it does sound like a rather ineffectual change. Here’s the interior of a Mk7 Mini with an airbag steering wheel:

      I’m sure Issigonis would have hated the walnut dashboard blocking off the open parcel shelf, the lack of door bins and those thickly upholstered seats.

    3. The rust is a considerably smaller problem. The last Series of the Mini had already a build in Immobilisers ( I think, it was mandatory from the mid 90s on).
      A failure of this immobilizer makes repairing, hm, let’s say, complicated (to avoid the word “impossible”) – a weak point in the spare parts supply.
      I know three owners of the last series who had a vehicle that didn’t drive for months because of this defect.

      Also, the best Mini – as I said earlier – was the Innocenti 90, anyway. A top-class collector’s car if you want to experience real nightmares of spare parts supply (compared with that, the spare parts situation for an Alfasud Sprint is almost a supply heaven, and this is already a nightmare light)

    4. The MkVIIs not only had an airbag but also side impact bars in the doors which must have been just as useless.

  3. When the first fuel injected Minis with transverse radiator came out in the BMW era CAR commented that for the first time in its existence proper development money had been spent on the Mini.

    1. Dave – thanks for saving me from sounding the note of discord. “All subsequent changes to the Mini (1980 A+ revisions notwithstanding), would be of the purely cosmetic variety” neglects these 1996 End of Days improvements, and 1989 Cooper revival.

      The 1996 changes brought much higher gearing – also to comply with drive-by noise regulations – a more vertical MGF-sourced steering wheel with a windbag and collapsible steering column, and 13″ road wheels.

      By then the Mini was a living fossil, with production of around 15,000 a year. Achieving the necessary compliances was a heroic feat, in particular the design of the two-point fuel injection system. The sales – mostly export, the majority to Japan – would not have justified the investment, but continuity was all-important to BMW’s grand plan.

      I’ll conclude with a curious fact. Japanese export Minis were supplied with the side-mounted radiator and engine driven fan until the end, as they did not need to comply with EU noise regulations.

    2. In the engine bay you get a front mounted radiator with electric fan, distritutor-less static ignition, a relocated oil filter and the MPi system. There also were innumerable improvements to the gearbox, mostly to reduce noise. The only thing that remained as it was was the dog bone top engine mount which was short lived as ever but cheap and simple to replace.
      There was a new steering column with windbag steering wheel, side protection bars in the doors and 13″ wheels with bigger brakes.
      BMW also considerably improved paint quality and made sure body seams were properly sealed for water tightness.
      BMW needed the Mini to be remembered fondly as a base for their marketing strategy for the new Mini.
      In the end, having poured 8bn Deutschmarks into Rover the cost for the Mini can’t have been the most critical consideration.

    3. BMW management at the time appreciated the fact that continuity matters – hence too, one can assume, the willingness to continue components supply to RR/Bentley after Crewe had been annexed by VAG until Phantom was to be unveiled.

      Even the most regular customers inevitably start looking elsewhere if ‘their’ model isn’t available anymore: See Jaguar X308-X350 or Alfa 159-Giulia for reference. By contrast, BMW’s product planning and nurturing of brands were exemplary and helped lending substance to what might otherwise easily have been perceived as sterile in-vitro clones of much-loved marques (certain die-hard enthusiasts obviously weren’t ‘fooled’, but that phenomenon inevitably comes with the territory).

      Today, Rolls-Royce R&R has been absorbed by BMW’s large vehicles department (as developing a The 7 and a Phantom are apparently considered the same thing) and Mini languishes without any future vision for the brand. Nothing lasts forever.

  4. I often wonder if BL could have refreshed the platform before the delayed Metro came out by building licencing the Autobianchi A112 – (same platform but with tailgate and fresher styling). Seems like a no-brainer, legal ramifications aside.

    1. Never mind the legal ramifications -the very idea would have given Greek Al apoplexy!

    2. I’m sorry but here you obviously confuse A112 and Innocenti Mini ‘Bertone’

      The A112 is pure Fiat with no BL relation whatsoever and the Inno is pure Mini in an Italian dress.

    3. Curious Project Ant aka Barrel Car appears to have some shades of the A112 with a later version probably drawing more inspiration from the A112 had it been chosen (just need to find larger version of second image), though the Bertone bodied Innocenti Mini has its appeal (that would have been further enhanced had it instead clothed Project Ant).

      The Ant just needed a bit more work beginning with a shade more de-seaming, a hatchback (either classic Radford hatchback or Clubman hatchback prototype style), R6-type hydragas suspension, 2-inch increase in width (for potential end-on gearbox conversion as done on the Minki II prototype) and possibly additional tumblehome to satisfy German regulations on shoulder room that together with Project Ant’s brief of being cheaper and much less labour intensive to build (such as making a one-piece floor pressing instead the existing 6 pressings, etc).

  5. I see this item has been developing nicely while I’ve been persuading an engine and gearbox back into a Triumph Vitesse. That walnut dash in the Mk7 reminds me of the sort of thing Radford’s were doing to Minis in the ’60s for the likes of Peter Sellers, but the steering wheel ought to be wood-rimmed with drilled alloy spokes. Those seats look almost civilised – I think I can just detect the distant whirring sound of Uncle Alec spinning in his grave….

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