BMC Mini Cooper S #52 – Spark

Cooper S
1965 BMC Mini Cooper S #52
Pilots: T. Mäkinen / P. Easter
Team: British Motor Corporation
Race: 1st in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1965
Spark - S1193 (resin)

Published 06/02/23

British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) Mini has a rich history. And it started because of the fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. That being so, BMC tasked designer Alec Issigonis to create a small family car. In July 1957, his small team had the first prototype ready, called ADO15. The ADO15 used a BMC A-Series inline-4 water-cooled engine, displacing 948 cm³. However, that engine was too powerful for the intended project, so BMC swapped it for a smaller 848 cm³ unit. Unorthodoxly, the suspension system used compact rubber cones, giving the car a go kart-like handling. It also was very small – 2032 mm of wheelbase and just 1422 mm wide. Furthermore, the 10” wheels on each corner, and the low kerb weight (initially 580 kg) all contributed to that responsiveness. The production version, called Mini, was presented to the press in April 1959, and public sales began in August.

Cooper S
Though both part of BMC, in the beginning your Mini could be a Morris or an Austin – yes, quite confusing.

BMC marketed the Mini under BMC’s two main brand names, Austin and Morris. Initially, the cars (“Austin Mini” or “Morris Mini-Minor”) came with the 848 cm³ inline-4 that delivered 33 hp. That allowed a top speed of 121 km/h –  not much, yet better than most economy cars. The Mini wasn’t fast, however it was agile and nimble. And that caught the attention of one John Cooper, designer and builder of F1 cars. He was a friend to Issigonis, and convinced his friend that the Mini had competition potential. If so, the first order of business was getting a tougher engine. They swapped the original for a race-tuned 997 cm³ with SU carburetors that delivered 55 hp. It also received front disk brakes, a closer-ratio gearbox and a hydrolastic suspension system. Together the duo also convinced BMC, and in September 1961 the Austin Mini Cooper / Morris Mini Cooper debuted.

Cheap, light and nimble – the Mini Cooper was PERFECT for rally racing.

With 1000 units built, the car received homologation for Group 2 rally racing. Almost concurrently with the release of the Mini Cooper, Cooper and Issigonis also developed the Cooper “S”. The S version, released in 1963, used a beefed-up 1071 cm³ engine and larger servo-assisted disc brakes. As a second option to customers, in 1964 BMC further offered a 1275 cm³ version of the car. Always red with a white roof, as a rally car BMC’s Cooper and later the Cooper S became a hit. The first success came on January 25th 1962, with Pat Moss winning Monte Carlo Rally’s Coupe des Dames award. And on June 10th he won the 1962 Tulip Rally. However, true rally recognition would only come with a first place at Monte Carlo. That came in 1964, when Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon came in first overall in the 33e édition du Rallye de Monte-Carlo.

The 1965 Monte Carlo Rally started in Stockholm, Sweden.

After that, the Mini Cooper became synonymous with rally racing. So in 1965, BMC was back for the 34th edition of the Monte, with a 3-cars works team. Other than the BMC factory cars, there were also five other Cooper S (privateers and even Austin works cars). And also seven regular Coopers, though all DNF. BMC’s car #52, piloted by Timo Mäkinen and with Paul Easter as navigator, came in first place overall. No small feat, since that year 237 cars started the race though only 35 (!) crossed the finish line. With that, the Mini Cooper would forever be associated with the Monte Carlo Rally. And to further enforce its reputation, it won again in 1966 and 1967. Yet, they lost their 1966 title due to a technicality, though that’s a story for another time. All in all, between 1960 and 1979, the Mini won 36 international rally races

In scale it’s an awesome model – Spark nailed it.

I’m a HUGE fan of the Mini, and in my eyes the old rally cars are the best. To the point that I would bend the Only Le Mans Rule for one. And for someone with a huge interest in a car’s history, it was fantastic to do the research. In fact, I found so much info that it was hard to make a decent resume. Unfortunately, I’m more used to having a hard time digging stuff up. The prime example of that was my Porsche 993 BiTurbo – I found almost nothing on it…😣 But, back to the Cooper S. Last year, to my delight, Spark finally released a few versions of the rally Coopers. So as soon as I could I ordered one, and of course a Monte winner. As expected, it’s a delightful little car in scale, something really special. A true gem on my display shelf.

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