The much-loved Mini has its own sub-genre – the Mini ‘special’. We run down the best and the strangest of the breed
Officially launched at the January 1966 Racing Car Show, and still available via Marcos Heritage, the Mini Marcos has survived the vagaries of fashion by never being in fashion. Derived from the one-off DART (Dizzy Addicott Racing Team), and comprising a glassfibre monocoque, there was nothing particularly sophisticated about this misshapen tiddler. Company principal Jem March claimed you could build one in around 15-20 hours, which was a little optimistic. Nor was it strictly symmetrical. Nonetheless, with a launch price of just £199 it proved an immediate hit and subsequent developments such as a hatchback further aided practicality.
AutoFact: One privateer Mini Marcos was the first British car home in the 1966 Le Mans 24 Hour race.
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Conceived by Rootes engineer Ernie Unger, and designed largely by Val Dare-Bryan, this delightful sports car was originally christened Hunter GT. The name change occurred after Tim Powell of Universal Power Drives, manufacturers of forklifts, came on-board as a backer. Officially unveiled at the 1966 Racing Car Show, the car suffered teething troubles, not least with the serpentine linkages for the right-hand side sill-mounted gear lever. UPD pulled out in November 1968 by which time 60 cars had been made, a further 15 being built to the end in ’69 under new custodian Piers Weld-Forrester.
AutoFact: A near-identical car was marketed in Italy as the USAP Minimach.
Closely related to the Mini Marcos by dint of shared DART ancestry, the first Jems were completed in the summer of ’66 but the model was officially introduced in January of the following year. The car’s instigator, Jeremy Delmar-Morgan, maintained the project until selling it on to Robin Stratham in 1967, Stratham initiating what passed for a development programme. The revised Mk2 went on stream at the ’69 Racing Car Show, changes amounting to a raked-back windscreen, a raised roofline and no exterior door handles. Stratham’s Fellpoint Ltd went into liquidation in July 1971 although the Jem lived on to ’74 under different owners.
AutoFact: An early adopter was TV personality Noel Edmonds.
The mighty Fang (also known as the Type IV) was the work of Guy Buckingham and his son Chris. Buckingham Sr had been an active 750 Motor Club member in the early ’50s, competing in various specials, before heading to Australia where the Nota marque found great success trackside. Going on sale in 1968, the Fang featured a spaceframe chassis with a mid-mounted A-series engine, a 1293cc Cooper-powered car reputedly being capable of 115mph outright. The car was successful in its homeland to ’75, with production reaching triple figures. A Lancia-engined variant followed later.
AutoFact: Plans to also produce the car in the UK came to naught after a bull mistook the demonstrator for a mate and sat on it.
One of the best Mini-based kit cars ever made, the Midas was conceived by Harold Dermott who had acquired the rights to the Mini Marcos in mid-1975. He would continue to market it until ’81 by which time the Midas was already on-line. The intention had been to merely tidy up the Mini Marcos’s styling, but art boy Richard Oakes felt that was impossible so Dermott initiated an all-new design instead. The first Midas was delivered in August ’79, the punchy advertising campaign trumpeting: ‘An imaginative concept for imaginative people. You can get something from Stuttgart, or Maranello, or even Newport Pagnell, but the best concepts come from Corby’.
AutoFact: Some 350 were made to ’88, production being curtailed by a catastrophic factory fire.
Zagato Mini Gatto
One of the more intriguing Mini specials, the Gatto (Italian for Cat) was built by the Milanese coachbuilder for scooter magnate Vincenze Piatti. Based on a Mini Van floorpan, and clothed in an aluminium skin styled by Ercole Spada, it was powered by a hotted-up twin-carb Cooper ‘four’. Though initially intended to be a one-off project, response to the car was such that a production run was mooted. Following a successful showing at Earls Court in November 1961, plans called for a new concern, Zagato London, to produce the car locally. The Gatto would be made in limited numbers for £1200.
AutoFact: BMC refused to supply parts so the Gatto remained unique.
Deep Sanderson 105
There was no shortage of twin-engined Minis in the 1960s. However, the Deep Sanderson 105 was something else entirely. Designed by the brilliantly left-field Chris Lawrence, it was built for racing cyclist Reg Harris, and featured transversely mounted Downton-tuned 1071cc Mini engines at either end with a single-seater body made by Williams & Pritchard. Harris withdrew from the project before the car was completed so Lawrence campaigned the car himself, racing it for the first time at the 1963 Boxing Day at Brands Hatch meeting (pictured). It later disappeared for three decades before being unearthed in 2007.
AutoFact: The 105 also proved competitive in early British drag race meetings.
Introduced in December 1961, the SX1000 retained the donor car’s floorpan, inner wings and running gear, but the rest was largely bespoke. However, BMC’s ambivalent attitude towards small-scale marques hobbled progress after it refused to deal with the Hertfordshire concern. Instead, customers were obliged to supply a brand new Mini along with a cheque for £550. In return they received a luxuriously-equipped GT in miniature. Some 69 cars were made to late ’63 as marque instigator David Ogle was tragically killed the previous year after colliding with a lorry while en route to Brands Hatch aboard his Alexander-tuned example.
AutoFact: The car briefly lived on as the restyled Fletcher GT but just four were made to ’67.
The original Grand Touring Mini was conjured by Jack Hosker in 1966, and was known under various aliases. The car found success under Howard Heerey from 1968 with around 170 cars being made to 1971 by which time a light restyle had been initiated. However, production rights were acquired by a Hartlepool-based firm a year later and over the next four years it didn’t produce a single car. Subsequent keepers also kept under the radar and it was only in 1980 that the GTM was given a new lease of life when it was revived by Paddy Fitch and Peter Beck. Around 500 cars were made to 1995.
AutoFact: The model has since been revived by Hambly Sportscars.
Owen Greenwood Mini ‘Sidecar'
One of the strangest Mini specials was Owen Greenwood’s ‘trike’. You could just as easily substitute the word ‘controversial’ – this 1071cc device being classed as a sidecar racer when it made it trackside debut in March 1965. It annihilated the lap record but was obliged to start at the back of the grid for each race thereafter. Greenwood’s lateral thinking and engineering nous circumnavigated regulations intended to rule out vehicles having more than three wheels. The rules stated that if two rear wheels were spaced less than 8cm apart, they would be considered a single wheel and he designed the vehicle accordingly.
AutoFact: Greenwood’s success was fleeting as his device was later outlawed
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive