Mini LS

The Mini LS was a way of improving the sales and profitability of the ageing Mini, and proved to be excellent value. While most were painted blue, this Iridium green example is a rare beast.

Boosting Sales

With the closure of Leyland Australia’s plant at Waterloo, production of Mini and Moke moved to its Enfield factory, previously Pressed Metal Corporation (see next issue for details).

On 7 May 1976 the 10,000th Mini built at Enfield rolled off the end of the line, and around 280 Minis were being completed each week. However, by that time sales had begun to falter due to increasing competition from Japanese imports, and production started to out-run demand.

To help boost sales, Leyland management decided that a higher-specification Mini was needed. However, the costs involved to make any mechanical changes, with the associated need for ADR compliance, etc ruled out disc brakes or hot engines. The only changes that could be done cheaply and without requiring engineering changes were cosmetic.

“We tossed it around the plant a bit, to see if we could do anything to improve the Mini”, former Plant Manager at Enfield Ron Moss explained. “We did various things that we could do ourselves. We could buy different wheels, and we could get the steering wheel. Then we had a stripe guy come in and we asked if he could give us something that looks as if it’s got power going to the back wheels. This is why it’s got the turned-down effect there.”

When it came to giving the car a model designation, it was simply a case of having an abundance of S badges, as Moss revealed. “All we had were S badges, so we decided we’d make it an SS. We used two badges on the front grille and two on the boot lid. It doesn’t stand for anything in particular.”

“We couldn’t change anything that was for ADRs, or that hadn’t been tested. The wheels were already a tested unit. The ordinary Mini seats had head restraints, and we kept the head restraint underneath, with the padding and so-forth, and came up with a big piece of polyurethane that did the whole back section…so it pulled down over the whole lot in one piece. The frame was still all the same.”

“The engines came out from the UK in a dreadful black colour. Part of the building up of the engines, in putting on the ancillaries – the carburettors, air-cleaners and so-forth – was that the rocker covers were taken off and all the valve clearances were checked. We thought that was handy, so we re-routed the rocker cover through the small parts paint shop, and did them over in the wheel colour, which was the Silver Birch, I think. That made the S and the SS look a bit different, from the engine that was in the ordinary Leyland Mini.”

“The radio in the Mini S had a speaker right in the middle (in the console under the radio), and the SS had a cassette/radio, but there was nowhere to keep cassettes, so it was designed into that centre unit. We deleted the speaker and put speakers in each side (of the dash), and then put a cut-out in the console to take cassettes, and put the radio under that.”

“Another part was the vinyl roof, and a not-so-successful part was the plastic surround, which was a bit of the wheel arch moulding (in black plastic – Ed), which was put around the top (of the gutter). The main problem was the wheel-arch moulding was held on with pop-rivets, and you couldn’t do anything like that up the top. It was a bit affected by the heat, and what-have-you. They’d expand, and in winter they’d contract, so generally that wasn’t very successful, but it looked good (when it was new).”

A luxury Mini

“We had the supplier of the glass do tinted windows and a heated rear window”, Moss continued. “We wanted to make the front look different, and the only fog lights we could get, that would fit anywhere near it, were these Marchal ones, with the little cats on the front. They were rectangular and not deep, because they couldn’t go back into the engine compartment too far. They also meant we were able to cut out the grille centre without it all falling apart and making rough edges.”

In all, the Mini SS had nineteen changes from the Mini S. These included: metallic paintwork (in Omega Navy metallic or Nutmeg metallic); two-tone interior trim (Parchment and blue in the Omega cars and Parchment and brown in the Nutmeg cars); special side stripes; centre roof-mounted radio aerial; vinyl roof covering (Parchment on all cars); black plastic gutter trim; Radiomobile radio-cassette player with twin speakers; modified centre radio console; tinted side and rear glass; heated rear screen; quartz-halogen headlights; Marchal halogen fog lights; Formula sports steering wheel; five ROH alloy road wheels (with shallow offset to avoid the tyres protruding beyond the wheel arches); dual horns; internal bonnet release; a chrome exhaust extension; chrome wheel centre caps with Leyland spinning-wheel logo; and the SS badges on the front and rear.

The switch panel had two green rocker glow-switches, one operating the rear heated screen, the other for the fog lights. The fog lights were also wired up to only operate instead of the headlights, in accordance with registration requirements of the time. That is, that when the switch was on only the fog lights could be used, and with the switch off only the headlights could be used.

There were also extra warning lights fitted to the outer top corners of the dash instrument panel, for oil pressure and low charge warning. Otherwise, the instrument cluster and panel were the same as for the Mini S, with the same tacho – red-lined at 5,500rpm.

While the vinyl roof did look quite good when new, though very Seventies in style, it was notorious for letting moisture under the edges, which often lead to serious rust problems. This wasn’t restricted to the Minis, though, with similar vinyl roofs on Fords, Holdens, Valiants and others, giving similar problems. It’s not surprising that today so few cars of the period have a vinyl roof, even though it was a popular fixture in the period.

Mechanically, the Mini SS and later LS were identical to the standard Leyland Mini and the Mini S. Coming into effect in June 1976, ADR27A required reduced emissions as a percentage of the total exhaust volume. Leyland Australia’s answer was to fit an air pump to the engine, which simply pumped air into the exhaust to reduce the percentage of pollutants, while not actually affecting their volume.

This pump robbed about 3hp of the power from the 998cc engine, encouraging most owners to remove the pump and plug the holes in the cylinder head. Very few cars remain today with this air pump and its associated plumbing still intact.

Released in August 1976, with “over $800 of extras for only $355 over and above the cost of a Mini S”, at $3,895 plus on-roads, the Mini SS was an immediate success.

Only 500 had been planned and they sold like hot cakes, as Moss continued. “Well, the 500 came and went rapidly. The reasons for doing it were totally to do with getting our volumes up in our plant. But as it turned out, it was a sales boost for Mini overall and a marketing boost for the company, because the Mini had been pretty static for a long time.”

The Marketing Department was soon offering all the extra parts as options or after-sales extras for any Mini. You could effectively option up any Mini S into an SS – without the badges or the all-important compliance plate.

However, it is not known how many, if any, cars were ordered with the complete upgrade package on a Mini S – particularly as any such list would put the price of your new Mini well over $4,000.

Leyland Mini LS

With the Mini SS literally running out the door, Leyland executives could see the potential of continuing the car on as a normal production model, in small volume, to provide an up-market alternative to the base model Mini or Mini S.

The problem was, as Moss explained, the SS was always publicised as a limited edition. “When the 500 had gone, it was decided that perhaps this ought to be continued on as a model, not very high volume, I think probably only maximum of about four or five a day, but just to sort of have a premium model as such. We couldn’t use the SS again, so we designed the L badge, and it then became LS.”

Although many people have speculated over the years what the LS stands for, the fact is, like the SS, it doesn’t really stand for anything. Moss explained that because they couldn’t use the SS moniker again, they simply went through the alphabet until they found what sounded right. So, it’s not Luxury Saloon, Luxury Sports, or anything else like that – it’s just LS.

The Mini LS was lunched in March 1977 at the Melbourne Motor Show.

To read the rest of this story, grab your copy of the magazine from your local newsagent (in Australia) or subscribe today for either the digital copy or the printed version.

The BMC Experience Issue 17. Apr-Jun 2016 Magazine


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