Early Minis sold in the US and Canada, prior to the 1965 Auto Pact, differed little from the UK versions.
Although the US market quickly adopted a sensible one-make policy, it seems that the Canadians had the choice of Austin or Morris Minis, with Morris taking the lion’s share of the market, for a few years longer – possibly until around 1969 when Mini became a brand name in its own right.
Reporting on the Canadian scene in his book, Pressnell says; “The car certainly got off to a good start. In December 1960 BMC World reported that 6000 Minis had been sold in less than 12 months.”
“Largely bought as a second car, the heaviest sales were in country districts. City buyers, meanwhile, could in 1961 purchase a Mini ‘over the counter’ at the Messier department store in Montreal, at £3 down, with three years to pay – and ‘no part-exchanges, no discounts, no gimmicks’. In seven months the store sold 1200 Minis”, Pressnell says.
The fallout from the Auto Pact in 1965 was probably not immediately felt, as UK-spec Minis still met US/Canadian requirements.
It has been regularly reported that the Mini was discontinued in the US because it failed to meet safety and emissions legislation.But there is no doubt that the Mini could be made to comply with US emissions laws.
A special version of ADO 16 (the Austin/Morris 1100) for the US market was released in 1968 – called the Austin America. This used the 1275cc A-series engine, but from 1970 was fitted with an exhaust air-pump and (in California at least) a charcoal canister to absorb petrol and oil vapours.
The Austin America sold quite successfully in the US until 1972 – with around 59,500 built, small numbers of which were also sold in Canada and Switzerland.
Another US/Canadian requirement from 1968 was the fitting of side running-lights. Canadian Minis from 1970-onwards had these running lights fitted, as well as larger front indicators.
Running lights were a relatively easy, and cheap, modification because all BMC cars still sold in the US, including the Austin America, MG B and MG Midget, had the same requirement.
The Export, or Californian, Moke developed in Australia in 1971 was intended for the Virgin Islands, which was under US, or more precisely Californian, control. As a result, it had running-lights, the charcoal canister and air-pump from the Austin America, and a rear-mounted fuel tank. Although never sold in the US, it met the requirements, proving that the Mini could have done so as well.
It may be that some safety rules could not be met, without substantial changes to the Mini. However, the apparent willingness of Canadian authorities to be less strict, kept the Mini viable in that market for a little longer.
BMC felt the Canadian market important enough to promote the Mini by entering a Works Mk2 Cooper S for Paddy Hopkirk in the 1968 Shell 4000 rally. An Austin 1800 was also entered, driven by Tony Fall.
This was no cheap excercise, with the cars and drivers having to travel over from the UK – although the navigators were locals.
This was quite a successful promotion, with the Cooper S leading the rally for three days, although it was later disqualified after an external water cooler was fitted to cure overheating problems.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 22 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>37</plumshop> <plumshop>38</plumshop>