Mini De Luxe
Sitting behind the wheel of Susan Medlen’s Mini De Luxe was like taking a trip back in time, to when life was a lot simpler and the roads a lot more carefree.
The joy of Susan’s Mini is that it is so basic, so much like it would have been when new, fifty years ago.
Restored for her by her husband Rob, the only changes from standard specification are a few well-chosen upgrades in the interest of comfort and safety.
These include a Cooper S heater, because the original under-bonnet heater, though efficient, was just a pain when you had to do anything to the engine; electric windscreen washers; high-level brake light; modern seatbelts; and a set of Cooper wheel trims for a little touch of style.
Rob also replaced the ageing rubber floor mat with carpet. “The old floor mat was falling apart and the only part I could salvage was the Morris motif, which I have had framed for posterity.”
One thing I particularly liked about this car was that it is still the standard 998cc, but has been very carefully put together and runs very sweetly – just as it would have in 1965.
Being used to driving modified 1098cc Minis for so many years, it was nice to get to grips with something that hadn’t been played around with too much and yet was so competent for getting about town. It is easy to see why the Mini De Luxe was so popular.
For a start, it was a vast improvement on the earlier version, the Morris 850. In fact, according to company advertising literature, the were no fewer than 21 new or improved features on the De Luxe over the Morris 850.
With the 998cc engine from the Cooper, albeit de-tuned and with a single 1¼” carburettor, and the remote gear change, it was a spirited performer and easy to move through the gears. While maximum power was only up by 4 bhp on the 850, at 38 bhp, torque was significantly better, with 52 lb.ft as opposed to 44 lb.ft. This was compared to the 998cc Cooper with 55 bhp and 57 lb.ft .
The first time I came to a stop gave me a quick reminder about non-synchro first gear and the need to be completely stopped before changing down. But once remembered it is easily mastered, particularly as the car pulls away well from almost a standstill in second gear, so first is really only needed if you do have to come to a complete stop.
Although it has drum brakes all round, with twin leading shoes at the front these were still a vast improvement on the 850’s single-leading-shoe design, and when well maintained are more than adequate.
With the Morris Cooper stainless steel grille the Mini De Luxe also looked a lot smarter than the 850.
Carpets weren’t fitted to the De Luxe but even the new style colour-coded rubber mats were an improvement over the austere 850 type. There was also the luxury of a key start ignition switch on the dash, rather than the 850’s floor-mounted push button starter.
By today’s standards, safety on the Mini De Luxe was pretty basic, but it was quite advanced for a small car of its time. The De Luxe benefited from front lap/sash seatbelts, padded and swivelling sunvisors, a zone toughened windscreen, Lucas sealed beam headlamps, and the previously mentioned twin leading-shoe brakes.
The Mini De Luxe was the first Mini in Australia to use Hydrolastic suspension, which gave a more comfortable and smoother ride over all but the roughest of roads, yet without sacrificing the incredible handling of the car.
It was also the first Mini anywhere in the world with factory-fitted wind-up windows – more than a year before any English version, first appearing in the MkIII Hornet/Elf twins. However, unlike the English version, the Aussie doors included swivelling quarter-vent windows. This system certainly suited Australian conditions far better than the previous models’ sliding windows.
This decision may well have been prompted by aftermarket wind-up conversions that were appearing. Most notable of these was Sydney-based Cheapa Glass Company’s at £30 ($60) per door (actually not cheap for the day). By late 1964 Cheapa had reportedly converted 160 Minis, many for government agencies.
The new doors were designed by engineer Chris Rogers, with draughtsman Frank Lesha, who spent eighteen months on developing the system to suit the Mini. It was based on that in the Morris 1100, but retained the handy, though somewhat reduced, Mini door pocket.
The Mini De Luxe introduced an all-Australian built body, which made it easier to incorporate the new doors. It would be followed by the Cooper S in August – as detailed last issue it used the body and trim from the De Luxe, with the powertrain, brakes, instruments, twin tanks, oil cooler, some exterior trim and a few other goodies from the British Cooper S. The new doors were also used on the 850, relaunched as the Morris Mini Minor in February 1966. To round out the range, an automatic version of the De Luxe, named Mini Matic, was released in September 1967.
The De Luxe was developed locally with a budget of around £50,000 ($100,000). It carried a £54 ($108) price increase over the Morris 850, bringing it up to £833 ($1666) including sales tax, as opposed to £779 ($1558). But the number of improvements justified the price increase.
A Big Launch
Building the Mini De Luxe was one thing, but proving it was better than the previous model and launching it to the public called for some creative thinking in the promotions department.
On the day of the car’s official release, 29 March 1965, two set off on a four-day, 1,524 mile (2,452 km) Mini Mobil Performance Test. Optimising fuel economy was the aim of the test, rather than outright performance, and selecting suitably experienced drivers was essential.
One car was piloted by Eric Lane, from the Vaughan & Lane BMC dealership in Sydney, with Owen Bourke. The pair had won three previous annual Mobil Economy Runs, so knew how to stretch the economy of a car.
The other Mini was driven by Lyn Keefe & Carol Shaw who had achieved 54.58 mpg (5.15 lt/100km) in a Morris 850 in Mobil’s 1964 Economy Run. Each car also carried an independent observer.
The challenging route travelled from Australia’s tallest peak, Mount Kosciusko in southern NSW, to Surfers Paradise in Queensland. Considering the varying road conditions and gradients, the Lane/Bourke car achieved an amazing 52.42 mpg (5.38 lt/100km) and the ladies 51.06 mpg (5.52).
Of even greater publicity benefit was the inaugural Mini Monte Rally (Issue 9), which took place just two weeks after the economy run, over the Easter long weekend in April.
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The BMC Experience Issue 15. Oct-Dec 2015 Magazine
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