Aussie Estates

Some time in 1962 two fairly unassuming vehicles arrived at BMC Australia in Zetland, Sydney, to be evaluated for production.

One was a Mini Van, the result of which was a very successful production life in Australia as we detailed in Issue 21.

The other was an all-steel Morris Mini-Traveller, which was no less successful in its appraisal, but did not result in production.

Incredibly that vehicle still exists and is undergoing a restoration. That means we have been unable to photograph it in detail for this magazine, but we will be doing a more comprehensive feature on it when the restoration is complete.

Current owner Duncan Todd bought the car from BMC’s Experimental Department, where he worked as an engine dynamometer operator and senior engineer, in 1964.

It was decided not to go ahead with the local production of the Traveller, for fairly sound economic reasons, as Duncan explains. “Management came to the conclusion that if they marketed the Traveller in Australia, the people who would buy it were the same people who would otherwise buy the Mini sedan. In other words, you would have car that would take away from the Mini sedan market, and just have another variant that took up the production line.”

“Whereas, with the Van it was a whole new market and it exceeded all their greatest expectations. Not only was it an ideal around the suburbs courier, but they found a lot of young people were using them for the beach and other things. So, it was the right decision.”

No more thought appears to have been given to assembling or importing the Mini estates again until the late 1970s, when Mini production had moved to Leyland’s Enfield factory.

However, as described in Issue 21, there were numerous after-market conversions available locally for Vans, which proved at least some people wanted the estate.

Peter Davis, former second-in-charge at Engineering Services in Moorebank, recalls two Mini Vans were converted to Estate specification in 1978. Peter was in charge of arranging the Knock Down Allocation Schedules (KDAS), for parts imported from the UK and other countries.

Two sets of parts unique to the estate were brought from the UK, which included the wheel well rear floor section, the side window frames and surrounds, rear door shut panel, rear seat supports, rear storage bins and various smaller brackets, etc.

These were fitted into the Vans, probably at Moorebank, as Peter explains. “It was only a small workshop, compared with what we had in the Experimental Department at Zetland, but they were able to do all sorts of work there. Don’t forget, they built the Perentie Land Rovers and the four-wheel-drive Moke.”

Certainly, the facilities would not have been available at Enfield, where the emphasis was on production, to do these one-off vehicles.

Remarkably, one of these cars also still exists (we would love to hear from anyone with the other) and it reveals a lot of the story.

Currently painted in Mazda British Racing Green, original paint showing through in areas suggests it was originally NV Green, which is consistent with Peter’s recollection of at least one of the cars being light green. The chassis number on the car clearly shows it as a Mini Van and, although difficult to tell exactly without production records, appears to have been built around mid-1975.

Also, going by the chassis number – which matches the original purchase dockets – the Van was originally fitted with a 998cc engine.

It would appear, and Peter agrees it is likely, that the Vans in question were already sitting around the factory or Moorebank, possibly having been used for some sort of evaluation or other work, and were no longer required.

These were then converted, rather than trying to fit the unique estate parts to a Van on the production line, which would have created a number of logistical problems.

The Vans were converted by enlarging the rear window apertures, then fitting the estate windows, and cutting out the rear load bay floor to take the estate floor with the wheel well.

The rear seat supports, storage bins and other components were installed, before the remainder of the car was fitted out with then current ADR-compliant Mini parts.

This included the 1978-spec dashboard and padded dash rails, incorporating the brake fail and handbrake warning lights. As the estate was to be a premium model, the three gauge instruments of the S/LS was fitted, as well as a radio.

ADRs called for three-point seatbelts for all occupants, and this obviously caused a bit of concern. The eventual solution does not look too confidence inspiring these days, but must have met the requirements for the time. A steel bar with a loop was welded to the roof and rear seat support at each side, through which passed the seatbelt before being bolted to the rear door frame.

A full-length Australian-spec headlining was fitted, as well as numerous trim panels that would not normally have been on the Van.

Mini S wheel arch extensions were also added, in keeping with the higher spec, but the Contesta wheels were fitted later.

The red grille badge, as found on higher level Minis, was also fitted. While this is something easily changed (the base models and vans came with the same badge in blue) the condition of the badge is in keeping with the age of the car.

High-back, black Mini S front seats, with black dot pattern inserts, were fitted, and a rear seat custom-made to match. Peter had wanted a split rear seat, but was told that testing showed it would not meet ADRs. The solution was simply to attach a steel bar across the top of the two seat backs, so they folded down as one, while the seat bases stayed separate.

 

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 24 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>41</plumshop> <plumshop>44</plumshop>

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