Phoenix

The Numbers Game

73 different registration numbers were used on Works Minis in the UK. But with some cars written off in crashes, others simply worn out or broken through use in rough conditions and others retired as obsolete, there were far more cars than registration numbers. It has been suggested that most Works registration numbers ended up on at least two Minis, with detailed evidence to show that some appeared on up to four or five.

Former manager of BMC’s Competition Department, Stuart Turner, explained to me some years ago that because cars were entered into rallies weeks or months in advance, it was often easier to change the registration number onto a new car, than to change the details of the entry in the rally.

“Added to that, we had what is called a carnet, which was a document an inch thick with a bloody silly number of questions for Customs”, Stuart continued. “Now, we get a call that this particular car’s been crashed, so we’ve got to switch it to another car, but it’s booked out on a boat tomorrow night; do you think we’re going to change all the documents. So the plates from that car, went onto the other car.”

Basil Wales, manager of British Leyland Special Tuning, 1970-’74, said; “The Comps department changed identities on the cars so often, you could never really know which one was on any particular rally. The car that had registration XYZ today, might have had a different number tomorrow and XYZ could be on another car entirely.”

However, according to former Works assistant manager, Leyland ST manager and BMC Works authority Bill Price; “The saga about all the number plate changes relating to Abingdon cars is exaggerated. Yes, of course it happened but it was mainly done for convenience, for example to ease the car build programme, bearing in mind that to build a new car does not happen overnight, to allow a successful car to go on show, or fit in with entries in events organisers made months in advance when one had to submit car details, etc.”

“A car which was ready to go, could have it’s registration number changed to fit in with the programme, as already mentioned - this occurred to very few cars. Also, the ‘whole saga’ of cars being re-shelled but retaining their original identity, which occurred quite often. (I think it would have been far fewer if the Mini had 13-inch wheels and a greater ground clearance !!).”

The Works would often build a group of cars together, but alternate their entry in rallies, to ensure there were always cars ready for each rally.

So it was that four Minis were built together, registered LRX 827E to LRX 830E. 827E and 829E had their competition debuts in the Tulip Rally in April 1967 – with 827E, driven by Timo Makinen/Paul Easter, finishing second overall and first in class, while 829E, with Rauno Aaltonen/Henry Liddon, was just behind at third overall and second in class.

827E went on to be one of the most successful identities in the Works team, but most likely on a variety of cars, from Group 2 to Group 6 and in both rallying and racing.

829E competed in Group 2 guise in the Geneva Rally (though technically entered in the Criterium de Crans-sur-Sierre, as the Geneva Rally proper was only for cars in Groups 1 and 3) in June 1967, driven by Julien Vernaeve/Henry Liddon, finishing second outright behind 827E (Tony Fall/Mike Wood).

As far as LRX 829E is concerned, things then get a little complicated. The car was apparently converted to Group 6 spec (prototype cars) and ran in the Coupe des Alpes (Alpine Rally) in early September (Makinen/Easter) with the registration GRX311D. This is another registration that featured on a number of cars, including Group 2 in the 1966 Acropolis and as a de-seamed, de-guttered, 12”-wheeled Group 6 car in the 1969 Circuit of Ireland.

Order From Down Under

BMC Australia didn’t have the extensive resources of the Works team at Abingdon. As a result it had a much smaller Competition Department, with much fewer cars being built and often had to make do with repairing a car, even if badly damaged, rather than replacing it.

It made sense, as the cheapest and most efficient method of getting the latest from the UK, to buy cars ready to rally directly from the Competition Department at Abingdon.

There is no doubt that Evan Green, head of the Australian Competition Department, would have put his order in for two cars to compete in the 1967 Southern Cross Rally with plenty of time to spare. With the rally taking place on 4-8 October and with a six-week sea voyage, the cars would need to have left England by late August. As it was, they arrived only just in time to have NSW number plates fitted and a quick look over before the rally.

The two cars that came to Australia were LRX 828E and LRX 829E.

As 828E had last competed in the Danube Rally, retiring when Rauno Aaltonen was refused entry to Hungary because of problems with his Visa, and was in a new bodyshell since crashing in the Acropolis, it is likely that it was the same car that came to Australia, possibly just given a going-over at Abingdon before shipment.

However, It would appear that 829E was another car refurbished, but not the car that competed in the Tulip or Geneva Rallies as 829E.

That car received the GRX311D plates, possibly partly because 829E had been allocated to the car destined for Australia and partly because 311D may have already been allocated to whichever car was entered in the Alpine Rally, with all the appropriate paperwork, carnet, etc already filled out and submitted.

Two From One

However it worked out, there were now two cars that had worn the LRX 829E plates: one that had competed fairly successfully in three rallies, in both Group 2 and Group 6 guises; the other a rebuilt car sold to BMC Australia. It is at this point that the histories of these two cars diverge and need to be looked at individually.

There are many arguments about the “originality” or “genuineness” of Works cars, of any brand or model, precisely because of this habit of swapping identities around in the various Competition Departments; and most did it as a matter of course.

While we are not going to delve into this conundrum at this time – though a more detailed look at the whole argument might follow in an upcoming issue – suffice to say for now that there are two cars that can legitimately claim provenance to the LRX 829E registration.

 To read the rest of this story, grab a copy of the printed magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia), a digital copy from Pocketmags.com, or subscribe today here.


The BMC Experience Issue 19. Oct-Dec 2016 Magazine

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