Whether you associate it with The Italian Job, Mr Bean or the Swingin’ 60s – the Mini is undoubtedly a British icon. It’s a car that has stayed mostly unchanged for 40 years (much like the Land Rover Defender and its predecessors).
For fans of Motorsport the Mini, namely the 33EJB, holds a special place in our hearts. The Mini started off life as a compact, space-efficient family car to manoeuvre the bustling city streets of London with its frugal fuel economy. But the perception of the Mini changed in one of the greatest underdog stories in racing.
John Cooper joined forces with (the then owners) British Motor Company (BMC) to produce a new car based on the existing Mini platform to enter the Monte Carlo rally of 1964. It was named the Morris Cooper and it was to be driven by Patrick “Paddy” Hopkirk and co-driver Henry Liddon. Power output had been bumped up from a meager 34hp to a little less meager 90hp. It was not significant by any means, especially when compared to the competition. It was up against cars like the Ford Falcon which had twice the cylinder count and more than three times the horsepower, so It was never expected to garner any major success. Yet, it was almost as if it had won the Monte Carlo Rally by accident.
How did it achieve victory against the odds?
You would be forgiven for thinking that the Patrick Hopkirk drive the minuscule Morris Cooper mercilessly to victory while it fought tooth and nail to stay in one piece but, according to Paddy, that wasn’t the case. He claimed to have driven the Morris Cooper with the intention of just completing the race without breaking the car. So, what gave it the Mini the edge over its competitors? The Mini, although lacking in power, was able to build up and maintain its speed through narrow straights and tight corners thanks to its low weight and compact size. It also had more tricks up its sleeve: being front-wheel drive and having the wheels close to the corners of the car made driving the Mini much more forgiving in the corners as it reduced oversteer and handled much like a go-kart. Competing cars, like the Ford Falcon, was much wider and heavier and instead had to break speed sooner and for longer in the narrow straights and tight turns costing them precious time that the Mini would pick up.
This unexpected victory brought the attention of LIFE magazine, (the then) British Prime Minister and The Beatles who congratulated Hopkirk on the victory. This story is a refreshing reminder of the ‘Less is more’ philosophy in the age of horsepower pissing matches.