This single-owner Mini 850 that has spent most of its life in Tasmania, is expected to sell with ‘no reserve’ in the $15,000 - $20,000 range at Shannons 2020 Winter Timed Online Auction from 19-26 August.

This is the original Mini, from 1959. The Mini has always been held up as a great design triumph, fitting so much into so little. It was front wheel drive, unusual at the time, and the engine was transverse, or east-west as it was popularly known in 1960, and that was highly unusual at the time. I was of very modest age back then but even as a pre-pubescent and despite all the hoopla I thought the Mini sucked.

morris-minor-interiorIt was a very basic car. Note, for example, the side windows. They don’t roll down, they slide. That means you only ever get half the window open and security is a joke. Note also the tiny 10-inch wheels. These go around a lot more than larger wheels so tyres wear out faster. Note the external door hinges (an internal strap stopped them opening too far). The steering wheel was high and angled more like the wheel in a truck (there was an after-market kit to lower it a little and tilt the driver’s seat a little further back. It was called a relaxed driver kit). The rear seats were difficult to access for all but gymnasts and it helped not to have legs back there. The boot was staggeringly minimal.

Safety? Forget safety. I once spoke to a traffic cop in a regional city who told me he kept a file of photographs of crashed Minis to show anyone who was thinking of buying one and thought to ask. Having seen it, well, you wouldn’t buy one.

A mate of mine had one of these and I drove it. Only once. When I started it up I couldn’t believe the engine noise, it was like there was no sound-proofing in the firewall between engine and driver. Maybe there wasn’t. The speedo was mounted mid-dash with shallow shelves on each side, and made it hard to keep track of your speed. Come to think of it in the current mini the speedo is mounted mid-dash and is hard to keep track of but at least there’s a digital speedo available in front of the driver. Drum brakes, of course. The 25-litre fuel tank took a Mini about 350 kilometres.

The original was powered by an 850cc four-cylinder developing 24 kilowatts, but given that it weighed just 650 kilograms performance was, um, okay. Okay for the early 1960s anyway. It took nearly 30 seconds to reach 100 kmh and when you did it sounded like Armageddon and felt like it too. The specs were upgraded slightly for the Cooper S sports model and this did very well in rallying and even at Bathurst.

Mini Riley Elf adBut the worst thing about the Mini was that it was built by the British Motor Corporation and on through its various incarnations and the quality control was laughable. The bulk of Australian cars were assembled from CKD packs at BMC’s plant in Zetland, now an inner-suburb south of Sydney, and were marginally, but only marginally, better. The Australian model was called the Morris 850 but everyone called it the Mini.

It kept going with alternations to it specifications and minor changes to its appearance right up to 1978, and was still entirely recognisable from that 1959 original. Probably the weirdest looking Mini iteration was the Riley Elf, which attempted to take small cars upmarket. It even got tail fins. It was never sold in Australia so we never got to laugh at it.

Mini Riley ElfDespite all my misgivings this original Mini sold more than five million units.

The grey one pictured, by the way, has just been auctioned by Shannons and fetched $14,000, or roughly ten times what it cost new. I hope the buyer doesn’t crash it.

Posted August 2020.


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