This car was charming, but mediocre
To be honest, not much really. Other than rust developing along the bottom of both doors, it was always a reliable little runner.
My mother bought this car in the autumn of 1985. I strongly urged her to buy a Ford Fiesta, but the Mini was familiar to her, and so that is what we ended up with. On the plus side, it had an appealing appearance, silver grey with blue velour seats, and it actually had tinted windows. This gave the car a cozy and slightly upmarket feeling, slightly enhanced by everything smelling new. Its cheeky familiar front end was quite endearing, which probably explains why Austin Rover did so much better out of this model than what they maybe deserved to.
The beauty was however, only skin-deep. Protection from rust was poor, and within five years, rust was starting to ripple along the bottom edge of the doors. The driver’s seat, I kid you not, felt like it had a block of wood placed at an angle just below the backrest. I could feel something jabbing into me slightly, which was all the more tedious on long journeys. On this issue, when we did two journeys a week apart, one from Bedford to Abergele, and one from Bedford to Glasgow, I made sure we went in my 1978 Escort with its significantly superior comfort. Despite the fact it had a sunroof, the Mini was not an option.
As far as I can remember, reliability was good. It never broke down as such. One poor design feature it had was that the bonnet release was on the front of the grille. This meant that anybody could come along and help himself to anything from the engine bay, which he may desire. The dashboard had a very kit-car look about it, in that everything appeared to be bolted on. There was a clash in appearance between the 1960s style of front shelf and the very 80s speedometer and other dials. Sadly there was no rev-counter, and the entire dashboard had something of an amateur’s kit car appearance about it. The car had flared black plastic wheel-arches, which stuck out from the sides of the car further than the wheels. I imagine provision of these was to give the car the appearance of a rally Cooper, but they merely resembled an after thought, with all the sophistication of fixtures on a child’s go-kart.
Because of its small wheels, the car also had bumpers and headlights, lower than those of other cars, making it all the more vulnerable in an accident.
I guess this little car had something of a personality with its cheeky looks, which is possibly why British Leyland, Austin Rover and the Rover Group kept on milking this design in its various guises such as Mayfair, City and Park Lane. It is seemed slightly desperate that the names of such fashionable parts of London should be applied to what was basically an austerity car. In my view, it was in the same league as an early Fiat 500, Trabant or 2CV. The Mini was often seen as a 60s icon, but it was actually introduced in the 50s remember, and boy did it feel it!
Even when my mother bought it, our Mini seemed to be hopelessly outclassed. A friend of mine had a Cooper version. It hadn’t even got a fifth gear. This would have made cruising a more rewarding and quiet affair. It was as though Austin Rover was completely unaware of there being any competition out there.
However, whenever I borrowed the Mini, I felt quite proud driving a long in it. It was quite well liked by my friends, and was quite respectable in its modesty and frugality. This was a car for young people who maybe didn’t mind its ‘pea on a drum ride’, or for older people who refused to believe there was anything better out there, and would rather drive a British car, no matter how insufferable, than buy Japanese.
Long may existing examples live on though, if only to remind future generations what motoring was like in the Dark Ages! It’s always quite amusing to see one, and yet quite sad in that maybe they still represent a more innocent attitude to motoring, free of any need for status or a need to be keeping up with the neighbours next door.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 19th May, 2012