The Competition Legacy

This is # 4 in the top ten Performance Saloon cars of the 1963 – 1973 era. The Cooper S range of Minis opened a new world of performance for small saloon cars and set in motion a track  and rally heritage shattering previous convention.



1.Collage Mini Cooper Part 2

Doing a piece on the competition exploits of the Mini and trying to condense this into a 15 or 20  minute read is not realistic, so in this write up I have selected a few key aspects which cover the broader adventure that is the Mini Cooper ‘S’. I have also avoided making this a listing of all racing/rallying involvement….that would take a few volumes….but hopefully kept some significant nuggets of information that position the car as one of the most influential in our performance saloon car history.


The background to Minis in competition is an ongoing chapter in the history motor sport. What started virtually from the get-go in 1959 has never really stopped and there are many reasons for this. The first of these is the obvious one and that is that the car is, and always has been, a very raceable machine. More significantly, the production of the original Mini lasted right up to the year 2000, making it eligible for homologation in competition in various forms right through the years.

What was the impact?….one word…Huge.     Here a comment from Rob Goldings book… “Mini”

“In 1959, when racing cars were racing cars, the start of the saloon car race was the signal for the initiated racegoer to make for the beer tent. But the sight of Minis arriving at Silverstone’s Woodcote corner, all at once, and leaning on each other’s door-handles, was enough to empty the tent for the rest of the season and transform the attitude of spectators to saloons”….

2. Packed with Minis


….and it stayed that way. The 1960’s established saloon car racing as the eventual prime crowd puller and race crowds multiplied because of it. The man in the street could now identify with racing cars that not only looked and sounded the part but did so with far more personal attachment. Compared to blundering Austin Westministers, Ford  Zephyrs and Vauxhall Veloxes of old, sounding much like gurgling drainpipes, by 1962 the attack on racetracks by Minis, Anglias and Cortinas buzzing to heady Rpm changed the landscape and the headspace forever.

3. Lumbering Zephyr


We all know just how traditional the thinking could be back in the day and 1963 was to change the playing field still further with Cooper S Minis, Lotus Cortinas and the thundering Galaxies relegating the all-conquering Jaguar Mark 2’s to the history books…The newcomers were the products of  determined factory racing programmes, raising the stakes and enthusiast interest levels spectacularly.


The original Cooper S, built in the three engine formats of 970, 1071 and 1275 from 1963 through to 1971 excelled in this new environment. We will start with the 1071 because that is the first of the BMC ‘S’ competition Minis that was to raise eyebrows and do so in Rallying.


The Cooper S made its Monte winning debut in 1964 in 1071cc form driven by Brit Paddy Hopkirk. Given that the main competition that year turned out to be a Ford Falcon Sprint driven by Swede Bo Ljungfeldt, the victory really played out an unusual and somewhat flattering David vs Goliath type battle. The press loved it and BMC rode the moment to the full extent. In reality however, front wheel drive cars dominated the event during that time and from 1959 there was only one win for a front engined rear wheel drive car during the subsequent ten year period… in 1960 a Merc 220. Most surprising win of all goes to the 848cc Panhard PL 17 Tigre which finished first second and third in 1961. At 1071cc and eventually 1293cc (aka 1275) the Minis were perfectly positioned to be competitive, BMC set about doing this with real intent… producing some of the best prepared rally cars of the period.

5. Hopkirk Monte

HOPKIRK ‘One Up’ on a Special stage in the 1071 COOPER S    ON THE WAY TO THE 1964 MONTE WIN FOR MINI

Stuart Turner the new head of BMC motorsport (an ex motoring scribe and rally navigator) was one of those special people who pop out of the woodwork from time to time and in the process move the activity to a new level. Given that the Mini was well suited to rallying in the 60’s the task at hand was really about the preparation of the cars and the professionalism of the team, in that respect they were top of the class. I could, I suppose, copy and paste excerpts from the book “BMC Competition Department Secrets” written by Turner but that would not give the feel and detail of what really happened. I therefore suggest that anyone with a real hankering to know the what and how … read this account…it is a fascinating tale. The Monte really belonged to Minis during the mid 60’s and whilst the cars were entered in numbers from as early as 1960, the first competitive works entries happened in 1963 with a 998cc Mini driven by Aaltonen finishing 3rd overall… giving just a taste of what was to come with the ‘S’ versions in the following years.

That 1964 win was the first of four in a row, Cooper S Minis taking the ’65,’66 and ‘67 events handsomely (I am ignoring the ridiculous headlamp globe issue which excluded the works cars which came first second and third in the 1966 event) and, along with track racing successes happening concurrently…BMC were on a roll. British Motor sport at the time had the quaint tradition of identifying race and rally saloon cars by their road registration numbers and so ‘33 EJB’ as the first winner in 1964 and ‘LBL 6D’ the last winner in 1967 are the numbers etched in history as the Minis that won the Monte Carlo rally. ‘33 EJB’ has been restored and lives at the Gaydon Museum of the British Motor Industry and ‘LBL 6D’ whilst destroyed in an accident has been reborn with an exact replica now competing in classic events in the UK.


In the period 1964 thru 1967, Cooper S Minis won 26 international rallies and managed a further win on the 1972 Rally New Zealand, completing a rally career in that timespan only beaten by Ford Escorts in the 70’s. (interestingly also managed by Turner  who moved to Ford after the BMC works operation)

Give some thought to how the Rallying success of the Cooper S Minis affected the mindset of not only enthusiasts but people in general. For those of us witnessing the consistent successes of this little car, one thing was being subliminally etched into our minds and that is the issue of reliability. In reality, the Mini was not exactly the most reliable vehicle on the planet…but this was a marketing tour de force. One can only admire the BMC engineers for providing the tough as nails S engine and give credit to the Abingdon BMC motorsport team for the almost fanatical attention to detail in preparation of the Rally cars…


Homologation of the S engines commenced in May 1963 with the 1071, in Jan ’64 for the 970 and in April ’64 for the 1275. The 1275 became the immediate favourite for the racing fraternity and running in competition form with a 0.020” (0.5mm) overbore on piston size, the magic number associated with racing Minis became the 1293. Whilst the other two engines were no slouches, there is no doubt that the arrival of a big engined Mini was exactly what racers were looking for and this changed the game overnight …and kept things on the boil for a record period of time. 1275 Cooper S Minis were built in low volume for just on Seven years with production ending in 1971 making the cars eligible in competition right up to 1976, at which point the five year post-production rule terminated homologation. That theoretically gave the car a twelve-year period in which to race in international competition…but we will see that Minis were to break that stereotype handsomely. The Mini soon went to the top of the class, taking the honours on most continents from the UK to Europe, South Africa and Australia. In that period around 1964 thru ‘66, 1293cc Minis were virtually unbeatable and to put it bluntly shook the world of small class saloon car racing to its core.

The Cars also managed a stellar reputation for winning endurance races in Australia where, over a 12-year period, starting in 1963 thru to 1975, bagged 30 first place class wins in long distance events. Most emphatic was the 1966 Gallaher 500 (Bathurst) in which the cars finished in the first nine places overall.


In 1964 Warwick Banks won the European Touring Car title for the first time for the Mini in a 999cc (aka970) Cooper S, making an emphatic opening statement for the newly launched S range.

The opposition was not sleeping though and whilst things in Australia were dominant, new players arrived on the scene making life in both the 1000 & 1300 classes difficult for the Minis. In the UK it was the Broadspeed Escorts and in South Africa the incredible Gordinis, moving the Minis down the order. Smaller category Imps, Anglias and Abarths arrived in numbers. Those are what we can call the middle years and whilst always competitive & winning fairly often, the new competitors dented the Mini dominance. The group 5 regulations in the latter part of the 60’s , however, allowed the use of the 8 port cylinder heads and the Minis recovered, Alec Poole winning the British saloon car championship in 1969 and John Rhodes the European Touring car Title also in 1969…both using the newly homologated Arden heads on the 1293 engines.


The Homologation process of registering a car with the FIA back in the day (a subject I will cover in future posts) normally happened soon after the launch of the product and the validity was kept alive for as long as the cars were in production. The end of production (the last car offline) became the date on which that five year post-production allowance by the FIA was given to continue in officially sanctioned FIA events. This covered national, regional and even certain club racing affiliated to regional championships. The Mini is a unique case in point. Most vehicles have a lifespan of around 5 to 7 years meaning that racing the vehicles could happen for around ten to twelve years. In the real world, however and in a Corporate marketing sense for factory sponsored cars, this lasts naturally for a lot shorter period (normally just the period in which the cars were produced) simply because no company is likely to sponsor and support an old model in preference to the new, so a five to seven year racing envelope for most cars would be the norm.

But…the Mini never got old… and continued in its basic styling format from 1959 to the year 2000. The variations in styling never got to the point from a marketing perspective that one could consider the original Mini, by this time having reached an unprecedented level of iconic status, to be out of production… until that very final date. What a stunning freebie for the Mini… because during the interim, FIA homologation documents continued to be updated with the perennial 1275 as the Core engine variant. At the same time saloon car racing regulations changed, often in favour of the package as years went by, making the use of specialist components not covered by homologation usable in competition. Minis continued to be raced competitively in what amounted to Cooper S specifications from introduction through to the 70’s and the early part of the 80’s….we then get to the cars becoming classics…and the  story starts all over again. So, whilst this post is about the Cooper S variants built from 1963 to 1971, we cannot disassociate ourselves from what happened after that, the Cooper S legacy rolled on….and the traditional competition were forced to disappear….

10. Original Cooper S

’64 Original Cooper S

11. 1275 GT

70’s  1275 GT Clubman

The second recovery happened in the late 70’s both in the UK and SA with Richard Longman winning the British Saloon Car Championship two years in a row driving a 1293 Clubman …1978 and 1979. In South Africa where the Bullnose 1275 S remained eligible for racing, Ron Samuel driving the Jimmy Burt prepared 1293 regularly won the 1300 class and set record Mini lap times, essentially matching the all-conquering times put up by the Gordinis before their departure.

The story of the Cooper S is as much about the overall prowess in racing as it is in the ingenuity of race engineers. When one considers that the homologation documents approved for competition in 1964 and updated in 1966/7 were essentially the same basic production spec which was applied through to the early 80’s, the continuous improvement in race-pace is truly staggering. Let me give some numbers using the old Kyalami as an example of quick lap times evolving through the years:

1966            1:56.6     George Armstrong

1971            1:48.4     Giv Gioviannoni

1978/79     1:43.4    Ron Samuel (Car built by Mini ‘Superboffin’ Jimmy Burt)

What is significant here is the cars were built from the original homologation specification but developments in Engine tuning, Tyres – including wheel sizes, Brakes and obviously preparation resulted in the improvement…the engine base being the same 1275 S spec engine from 1964.


When we talk about tuning production car engines of the 60’s and I have mentioned this often before, three machines jump out of the woodwork…Ford Kent (Aka.. Cosworth), Chevy smallblock and the BMC ‘A’ S-range. These three pieces of magic came about in three different ways:

The four cylinder Cosworth Fords covered new tech ground and needed the in-house TLC of the Cosworth engineers to provide hardware to the masses. Tuning firms soon caught-on but the thrust of the endeavour remained with Cosworth. Ongoing tuning of the base-version pushrod Kent engine also remains a brilliant engineering achievement, with top engines eventually matching the best Twin Cam power outputs achieved in the 60’s

The small block Chevy is in my opinion at No1 and resulted from an amazing alliance between the factory boffins like Zora Duntov and Vince Piggins along with the burgeoning aftermarket tuners like Smokey Yunick who absolutely loved the machine. This loosely linked team went on to produce the widest range of specialist parts for an individual engine design in history and more race applications than any other.

The BMC ‘A’ series was unique in that given that the engine was basically an old fashioned, long stroke/small bore relic, the work done by BMC engineers making the package strong enough to handle the rigours of competition allowed aftermarket tuners to get involved and to achieve incredible power outputs in myriads of applications. Similar to the Chevy, the availability of both Factory and aftermarket specialist components is unmatched by any other four cylinder machine in history. Alternative cylinder heads, valve train components, carburetion, internal engine parts, gearbox and final drive ratios, suspension components and a host of other applications provide what amounts to a Supermarket of available bits. Prospective Mini racers were/are spoilt for choice and the difficulty is not the availability… but making the right choices.

Let’s talk magic numbers again.

In the 60’s and 70’s the number that all tuners running pushrod two valve engines aspired to, was the magic 100Bhp/litre. We were all mesmerized by the ‘new world’ Cosworth four valvers at 130 Bhp/Litre with their 10 000Rpm capability but while this was going on, BMC based tuners were hard at work extracting power from their rather ancient piece of cast iron. I’ve said it before and say it again…astonishing.

There were two clear schools of development brought about by the rigours of competition. The first, those who relentlessly stuck to the original cast iron five port Cylinder head configuration and those who moved to take advantage of cylinder heads like the Arden Aluminium and Weslake Cast Iron Eight Port Cross Flow units.

Race spec 5 port and Arden 8 port

Typical 8 port X-flow Weber installation.

My favourite?….the original Five Port…Why?…because of the work done, the ingenuity, the continuous dogged unrelenting quest to get this package to produce power. In the end, Downton Engineering and people like Richard Longman, David Vizard and countless others have come up with answers to improbable questions. Power outputs exceeding that 100Bhp/litre magic number have these days been achieved quite regularly on the big 1275 base.  David talks of 109 Bhp/Litre for a Five Port ‘A’ if you do it properly. ..That’s 150 Bhp from a 1380cc version of an A engine…Stunning. But at the end of the day it is not just about maximum power, it is about power delivery throughout the rev range. This long stroke masterpiece in competition form is perfectly suited to the rough and tumble of saloon car racing, with available power at virtually any Rpm.

Longman Race-spec 5 Port – Note the oval inlets

Typical Split Weber Intake on the 5 Port Head

The Longman successes in the late 70’s are a result of years of work and the culmination of what is the ultimate in ‘A’  engine (5 Port) development for the era. Originally an employee at Downton Engineering, Longman further developed the 5 Port arrangement with his ‘angle valve’ package…a development followed by local tuner Jimmy Burt and others.



Let’s Face it…having 150 Bhp in a 600Kg shoebox with ideal gearing*, first-class handling and braking makes for the type of racing we see Minis involved in at Goodwood and the classic Mini vs Mustang dices we see in Australia. No wonder folks love driving these machines.

*There were/are 6 different final drive (aka diff) ratios and two close ratio gearbox specifications homologated for the ‘S’ range of Minis. When one considers that the cars were also able to use 10,12 and 13” wheels in racing, the ability to gear cars to the exact racing specs required for individual tracks was the best in the business.

But let’s talk briefly also about that lesser known S engine, the 970S. I say lesser known because fewer than a 1000 of these machines were built and sold. Launched by BMC as a homologation special to tackle racing in the 1000cc class, this is the only really short-stroke ‘A’ engine in history**. It is my personal favourite in the range simply because I like engines that ‘buzz’, an affliction created by my association early in the day with the Opel Kadett OHV which is thebuzzer of buzzers’. Initially the 970S did very well and to a large degree dominated the one litre class in ’64 and ‘65…that is before the arrival of the Coventry Climax engined Hillman Imps, the outrageous 1000cc Broadspeed Anglias and in Europe the 1000TC Fiat Abarths. The reason I mention this is to look at just how competitive the 1 Litre class was in the mid 60’s. 970S engines were producing upward of 105 Bhp with max Rpm in the 8500 bracket. It is reputed that figures of 110 Bhp were seen with the five port head but the downside, unusually for a BMC ‘A’, was soft midrange torque.

**The 1071 is also technically a short stroke engine with the configuration being 70,6 x 68.3 but having an almost ‘Square’ Bore/stroke ratio, retained most of the midrange punch associated with the ‘A’

The three last mentioned opposition makes were seriously committed factory supported endeavours and very focused attempts. All three engines produced in the region of 115 bhp with the fuel injected version of the Ford at over 125 Bhp at 9300Rpm. As a result the 999cc race version of the ‘S’ engine was not dominant in the mid 60’s mainly I think because BMC and race teams were heavily focused on the 1293 version. By 1968 however in the Group 5 era where the 8 Port heads were homologated, these engines produced upward of 115Bhp with max outputs reputed to be at 120 Bhp north of 9000Rpm and again became competitive, often relegating the Imps to 2nd spot.

Typical Power Outputs for S Competition engines:

5 Port Mid
60’s Race
8 Port X flow
later 60’s Race
Rally spec
Mid 60’s
Modern ‘Vizard’ T type
5 port
999 (970)105  105 Bhp 115 Bhp N/A N/A
1099 (1071) 106 Bhp N/A 80 Bhp N/A
1293 (1275) 115 Bhp 130 Bhp 95 Bhp 140 Bhp


Much of my writing is motivated by my personal involvement in things, be that peripheral or detailed and without question Minis have been a consistent interest of mine…mainly because as an engineer one is impressed by exceptional achievement in things technical….so I have my own system of measuring achievement.  This has nothing to do with winning races or being the top dog in anything but looks at the real degree of difficulty involved and the comparative result.

From our PE days I have often mentioned the Kingsley Wood 998 Cooper of late 60’s and early 70’s. That car eventually graduated to a full 1293cc in the hands of Barry Kapelus and during its time as a racer provided a consistency of tenure in our racing that typifies the history of these little cars. Kingsley moved up one gear when racing returned to PE at Aldo Scribante in 1974 and his historic 1293/1440 Lightweight Cooper S achieved remarkable success in the Eastern Cape under our unique racing rules. Running 13” wheels long before it became popular to do so, the lightened bodyshell was supported by a space frame like front end holding the Power train with a front mounted radiator. The result was a car that could lap the new circuit a good three seconds quicker than a conventional top end 1293 S racer of the period. This was an exceptional achievement and deserves further detailed reporting on the development and history.

*This was originally a 1293 but for some reason seem to remember a 1440 in there somewhere…we can clear that up with Kingsley if we get to write some detail on the car.


I was recently at the 60th anniversary of the Mini at Aldo Scribante in PE. Having attended with that stalwart of SA racing Maurice Rosenberg. We wondered around the pit area soaking in the atmosphere of what looked like a 60’s race day. It is in such environments that one becomes aware of just how fortunate we are to have been part of this era. Most of the twenty odd race cars were at different spec levels , the majority running 5 port arrangements with  various single sidedraught Weber intakes. Engine sizes varied from 1080cc to 1380cc… some running split Webers …and one really nice package sporting an Arden 8 port with ‘bike carbs.

Also one Turbo version.

The evolution in classic engine tuning has afforded modern day enthusiasts the advantage not only of specialist part availability but endless published information on how to go about the application and building of race engines. There is an information overload which could confuse the less knowledgeable tuner but my favourite author on these things has to be David Vizard. Here is a person who does not do this stuff only by the tried and tested ‘seat of the pants’ method most of us do…but is scientific in his approach, driven by a detailed understanding of engine operation. He is meticulous, outspoken and opinionated on the subject (something that has tended to annoy others in the game) but … when testing his theories, is known to have done not hundreds but thousands of Dyno ‘pulls’ to arrive at best solutions.

Because of this, his ‘scatter cam’ work done on the BMC ‘A ’engines is the best in the business and addresses the issue of uneven valve timing events created by siamesed inlet port design. His work has resulted in gains in not only max power generation but mid-range engine response. It is worth mentioning that our own Basil van Rooyen experimented with this concept in the 60’s, highlighting again the depth of talent we were privileged to witness right here in SA back in the day.


Clever stuff like separate coolers for ‘head cooling, straight cut gears, close ratio gearboxes, high ratio needle roller rockers and… very apparent…the comradery with everyone helping those with troublesome steeds. Maurice going from car to car offering his eagle-eyed spark plug reading made the day all the more realistic of the 60’s-&70’s.

MAURICE THE MASTER AT WORK – Providing one stop mixture and timing advice

Something I learnt and should really have known, was the story behind a crankshaft developed by local BMC/Leyland engineers. Termed the “unbreakable local 1100 crank” by many, this referred to a steel crankshaft having stroke of around 69mm in use by those running 1100cc engines on a 70.6mm bore. So durable is this part that it is sought-after by Mini buffs in the UK…and as things happen in the classic game… becoming a “hen’s teeth” item.

Two cars impressed me on the day. First the 1080cc Colin Ritchie car. Neatly prepared and loosely representative of a 1071 Cooper S. Running a Five Port split Weber set up and despite being the smallest engined race car there, ran consistently in the top three. This car gets to be my # 1 for the event. The next machine was the big engined 1380 ‘S’ well driven by Trevor Tuck . Running in five port configuration, this was without question amongst the most powerful there apart from the turbo ‘A’. I spent a fair amount of time listening to the various cars down the straight and this was the one machine that continued to pick up rpm rapidly in 4th up to the brake marker as well as visually opening the gap on others in the short blast after ‘Hanger’ down to the hairpin. Somebody did a masterful job on that engine.

There is talk of making this an annual event and some comment as to putting together some rules on the cars and their specifications. The annual event is a great idea but disagree on putting in any rules…why do that? The cars represented exactly what Minis in racing are all about…a real life snapshot in time of what folks can and want to do with their cars. Don’t try to put in rules or limitations… lets see this as an annual celebration of just that individuality. After all its not only about winning races, it is about the need to display the diversity of the classic Mini.

A final note

We are often privileged to be part of happenings without knowing the full import of what is going on at the time. This is not only one of those happenings… but we have witnessed an occurrance over the last 60 years that is absolutely unique in so many ways. If we dissect the individual brilliance of many aspects, be that the phenomenal development of the A engine, the iconic status of the car, the length of time the vehicle ended up in production, we end up with more Minis on racetracks than any other single saloon car in history. It is also a story of happenstance…

Sir Alec Issigonis the creator of the original Mini, was a cousin to Bernd Pischetsrieder (of BMW at the time) who it is said motivated the purchase of MG in the 90’s so as to claim ownership of the Mini brand…keeping it in the family as it were. It takes special people to understand the value of things that could otherwise have been consigned to the waste bin of history… and so we have the new Cooper S…and a new legacy.