Test Bed

This Mini Traveller was brought to Australia for evaluation and became a test-bed for new features for many years.

As soon as the Mini was launched in the UK in 1959, attention turned to the design of three longer wheelbase versions – Van and Pick-up commercials and an estate, or station wagon, version.

The Mini Van was the first to be released, in May 1960, while the estate versions – like the sedans being available in the UK as both Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Seven Countryman – arrived in September 1960. The Pick-up would not be available until March 1961. 

Interestingly, all Mini estates – Austin, Morris and later Leyland – were assembled at Longbridge.

The first Mini sedans arrived in Australia for evaluation in early 1960, with the production version Morris 850 being released in March 1961. While the sales team at BMC Australia had been concerned about the Mini, and had insisted on the continuance of the Morris Minor, its success saw the Minor out of production within the year.

Australia had produced the handy little Minor van and utility versions as well and, with nothing else comparable available, shifted assembly of these to Pressed Metal Corporation. PMC continued turning these out for another year or so.

The Morris Minor Traveller had also been popular, within a niche market, but were imported completely built up – although there is some suggestion, not confirmed, that a small number were assembled here.

By 1962 BMC had no small commercial or station wagon type of vehicle available, so a production Morris Mini Van and Morris Mini Traveller were imported for evaluation. It appears that from the beginning it was not considered viable to sell the Pick-up in Australia.

The Van and Traveller were tested at length and modified by the Experimental Department at Zetland and both passed all expectations. 

History shows that the Mini Van was accepted for local production, released in April 1964, and sold well enough to remain alongside the Mini sedan right up until almost the end of production in 1978. What became of the test mule Mini Van, though, is a complete mystery.

The Traveller was an entirely different story. While production would have been feasible, being built on the same floorpan as the Van, Sales felt that its likely market was the same as the Mini sedan’s. In other words, the only people likely to buy the Traveller were the same people already buying the sedan, so the Traveller would only rob sales from the sedan, at increased production costs, rather than draw new customers away from other competitors.

BMC, rightly, felt there was no point in this sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul, if it did not increase overall sales numbers. The Mini Traveller was therefore not accepted for local production, or even sales on an imported basis.

The Survivor

Unlike the test Mini Van, the imported Traveller (Experimental car #97 - hence the number plates) did survive and is the car featured on these pages. The keen-eyed Mini-spotters will immediately notice a few things different from the usual UK estates and it is these differences that make this car unique and provide the basis for a very interesting history.

The first obvious difference is the lack of timber. This is how the car was made, being an all-steel Traveller: released in 1961 for export only and becoming available for the UK market in October 1962.

A little less obvious to the uninitiated are the doors with wind-up windows and quarter-lights. All British Minis of this period had sliding windows, only receiving wind-up windows with the release of the Clubman Estate in October 1969.

When the Experimental Department at Zetland no longer had use for the Traveller it was offered for sale. Duncan Todd, who was working in the dynamometer engine testing facility, snapped it up on 24 August 1964 for £500. The car was in very good condition, as Duncan explained. “I don’t think any serious road proving was done on it, because it had all been done on the sedans.”

He still owns the car today, and still has the original receipt from the factory. Working in Experimental provided a few advantages, as he explained about the doors. “They were the hand-made prototypes made in Experimental, where the panels were hand beaten. And that was the first set of doors with wind-up windows and swivelling quarter-lights.”

“These doors were previously fitted to a Mini sedan in Experimental Department and, in 1965, when the first production doors came off the tooling and had been through the trim shop, they decided they would fit production doors to the same car and take the hand-made ones off. I said, ‘oh, can I have the doors that come off it?’ Reg Redfern…was in charge of the whole machine shop and he said, ‘we’ll fit them for you’. ” 

“When it came to close the door, there was a difference in the striker plate area, between the Australian-made car and my Pommy Traveller, and I remember him getting stuck into it with a great big lump hammer and a block of wood, up against the striker plate on the B-pillar, and he was going thump, thump. He must have moved it about quarter of an inch back, then after that it fitted alright and it’s been like that ever since.”

If you would like to read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today to the magazine at http://bmcexperience.com.au/subscribe-now.html or to the digital version at http://pocketmags.com/viewmagazine.aspx?titleid=2423&title=BMC+Experience

The BMC Experience Issue 13. Apr-Jun 2015 Magazine


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