Doug Drives: The Mini Cooper S

9w ago


One of the things I've often found very curious about what people on BBC Four would call "the human condition" is our extraordinary ability in the field of contradiction.

I'll give you an example. At the moment I have two favourite places in the entire world; The first is the rooftop terrace at the Restaurante Es Grop on Ibiza's northern shore. Here you can sit in the evening sun and watch as the little fishing boats bob around in the bay where the light sparkles on the clear Mediterranean as though the whole sea was a blanket of sapphires. The food is superb, so is the wine, the waitress has the biggest smile of anyone I have ever met and the only thing you can hear is the waves washing up on the warm sand below.

Compare that to my other favourite place, London's Oxford Street on a bright, crisp morning. I love the buzz of it all. Thousands of people, rushing here, there and everywhere. Got to keep moving, no time to stop, got to get things done. It's the racing, pulsating, adrenaline-fuelled heart of the greatest city in the world.

"i was never the biggest fan of the old mini..."

This bizarre love of opposites even extends to the world of cars. If you were to ask me to choose the two cars that I currently most desire they'd be the new Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII and the 1989 Honda CR-X VTEC.

Is that weird? A £360,000 V12 luxury land yacht that would make Buckingham Palace look like a cave, and a microscopic 80's two-seater with an engine that spins like a motorised pencil sharpener and which corners like a dragonfly on acid. It seems like an odd combination for a fantasy two car garage and it's about to get even stranger, because now there is a third contender. The 1971 Mini Cooper S.

Mini-nerds will note this is a Mk3 model. With such luxuries as wind-up windows and a heater!

Now I should make it plain from the outset that I was never the biggest fan of the old Mini. I'm not trying to be controversial. I know the original Issigonis concept was very, very clever. I know about the Italian Job and the Monte Carlo rally and all of that, but the Mini and I have never really got along together.

"They're bouncy, they're uncomfortable, they leak..."

They're bouncy, they're uncomfortable, they leak, they overheat (it'll be the bypass hose), and they rust away so quickly that by the time the rear of the car had made it off the production line, the front end was already starting to look a bit ropey.

My previous experience with Mini's has been comprehensive and for the most part, unpleasant. The last time I was in one, a Vogue Italia model was at the wheel and it was one of the most terrifying journeys of my life. But I had never really driven a very early Mini, from before the BL colossus ruined everything, and I had never experienced a Cooper S.

A sports car on ten inch wheels. Who'd have thought it?

The Cooper S was then, as it is now, the sportiest version of the Mini available. It first appeared way back in 1964, and by the time this car hit the road in 1970 the engine had grown from 970 to an enormous 1275cc. '70 was the last year for the original Cooper before it was supplanted by the square-jawed 1275GT.

I don't know why, but the earlier the Mini, the smaller it seems to be. I know it isn't really, perhaps its all in my head, or perhaps I'm just getting old and fat. Probably the latter.

Either way, once I had greased myself up (hello, ladies) and squeezed inside, I actually found things to be more comfortable than I remember. Even though to reach the pedals you have to sit with your legs apart in manner that means wearing a short skirt is probably a no-no, and the steering column sticks out from the dashboard like it was installed by a drunk. Although this was BL in the 70's, so it probably was.

Basic interior more comfy than it looks. Steering wheel appears to have been taken from a combine harvester.

If you've never had the pleasure of a driving a car with the legendary A-Series lump in rude health, then I suggest you change that ASAP. This truly is up there with the Ford 302 and the Colombo V12 in the pantheon of engines that shaped the modern age. Austin tried several times over the course of the Mini's long life to come up with a better power unit, but nothing they did could match the A-Series winning combo of power, economy and a genuinely startling amount of torque.

"the gearbox whines like a vegan at a hot-dog eating contest..."

More to the point, it makes such a fantastic, rorty noise when you pin the tiny throttle pedal. Yes, the gearbox whines like a vegan at a hot-dog eating contest, but in Cooper 'S' guise that gutsy little engine more than makes up for it.

Because the Mini is so tiny compared to the behemoths we drive today, when you're out on the road it's as though you're piloting an attack wasp, buzzing around the enormous rumps of Nissan horses and VW cows. The steering wheel is too big, many owners swap to a smaller one, but the handling prowess of this little old car has rarely been surpassed by any small car since. This car turns like a mouse running from a hungry python.

It's hard to describe, because by the standards of today, the grip isn't all that good, the 10.9 second 0-60 time is a bit wet and above 70 mph you feel as though you're re-entering the Earth's atmosphere on a bicycle.

But the damn thing has so much personality, you just don't care. You don't care that a new Fiesta has more grip, because when the skinny ten-inch tyres let go it's hilariously good fun. You aren't bothered that a modern Clio is quicker off the line because you drive the Mini on the torque, enjoying an exhaust note that takes you back to Carnaby Street, 1969. And do you worry about the motorway refinement? Nope, because motorways are dull, and the Cooper S doesn't do dull. It is purely for fun and games.

In fact, it might just be the world's first and only therapy car. Because I'm not sure that anyone, no matter how depressed they are will be able to drive one of these and not get out grinning like they've just won the lottery. It's absolutely brilliant.


The Technical Bit - 1970 Austin Mini Cooper S

Engine: 1275cc Petrol, 4 cylinders. Transmission: 4-Speed Manual. Power: 76 BHP. Torque: 80 lbs/ft. Driven wheels: Front Wheel Drive. 0-62 MPH: 10.9 secs. Top Speed: 97 MPH Economy: Who cares? Price: £20,000 plus for a good one.

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Comments (16)
  • Well that was a fun read! And as a ‘69 Morris Minor owner I know exactly what you mean. Except the Morris has the handling of a pudding and the 0-60 mph time has yet to be established (the first car is still trying to get to 60 mph). But apart from that: very very similar experience.

    1 month ago
    1 Bump
  • This is fabulous,Doug!,I have always wanted one,because my late Dad purchased a 1973 MINi Cooper B in Orange,it’s was bright!,as she having driving lessons(she always wanted to drive,so she could drive a sports car,so cool)and I remember,my dad wanted to have a go,and asked if I wanted to go with him,I was worried that he hadn’t asked mum,and I had never been in a MINI before!,but as soon as I got in,and my Dad started the engine,and I noticed the leather upholstery!!!(never had seen that before!)O.M.G,I fell in love,it was just perfect,I have wanted one ever since,sadly my mum died before she could complete her lessons,but it always been a passion of mine,to learn to drive,and own one,one of these days,i need one in my life,just like Pat Pedrosa!😍♥️XX

    2 months ago


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