On the 1969 October long weekend, Mrs Laura Wallace of Maclean (a little above Grafton in northern NSW) visited the local BMC Dealer, E.W. Collins in River St, and placed an order for an Automatic Mini.
Apparently, Mrs Wallace predominately wore black and white clothing, and the Mini was ordered in Crystal White with black interior.
The proprietor, Dale Collins, ordered the car from BMC’s Head Office at Zetland, in Sydney, and some weeks later the Mini was brought back to Maclean, on the back of a fisherman's truck that was returning from taking a load of fish to the Sydney markets. It may not have been the most conventional method of delivery, but it beat having to travel to Sydney and drive the car back – which in those days was the usual thing to do.
The advantage was that the car was delivered to Mrs Wallace, on 31 October 1969, without the usual 350 or so “delivery miles” on the clock.
Even then, her trips were restricted to fine days and only to the back of the main street from her home – a distance of about 500 yards (roughly half a kilometre) – to take care of her weekly shopping. Apparently she considered Maclean's main street to be too busy.
Between these trips, the Mini was stored in her shed at home, covered with blankets. Every second week, at Mrs Wallace’s request, Dale Collins took the Mini for maintenance checks and topped up the fuel. On most occasions a top-up amounted to about 40 cents.
When Mrs Wallace reached her 80s, Dale would take her and her beloved Mini-Matic, which she called "Minnie", on short drives around town, but never too far. She absolutely adored the car, and when she passed away a few years later, while the bulk of her estate was donated to the local hospital, she left the Mini to Dale, because she knew it would be well cared for. For the best part of 25 years the Mini remained covered with blankets in Dale's shed, still with Mrs Wallace's white umbrella in the passenger’s side door pocket.
In early 2014, Dale, now aging himself and knowing he was not going to be able to keep the Mini, decided to sell it. Long-time Mini enthusiast John Alterator from Newcastle saw it advertised and bought the Mini. “The car was too good to drive around”, John said, “ and I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. I didn’t really have the space to keep it at home, so I looked around for somewhere to put it. I spoke to a number of motor museums about loaning it to them, but they all either weren’t interested or didn’t have the space for it. Then I heard about the National Transport Museum which was being built at Inverell.”
“They were very interested in the car, so after only having it for about a month or two I dropped it off to them"…
To this day, the Mini has only 7,965 miles on the clock and Mrs Wallace’s umbrella remains in the door pocket. It still wears its original set of Dunlop RS4 Crossply tyres, which are showing signs of age, and remains completely as bought in 1969.
The official launch of the automatic Mini was at the Earls Court Motor Show in October 1965, and Autocar got an early example to test. In their 29 October edition they claimed; “for sheer versatility it could scarcely be bettered.”
According to Chris Rees, in his book The Complete Mini, the automatic option was available on all models, except Cooper, with the very first production automatic Mini being a Super De Luxe, chassis number MA2S4S 361001.
He also points out that it took almost a year to reach proper production. Upon release the automatic cost £92 over the £554 for the Manual Mini De Luxe.
Heading Down Under
It was only a few months after production was in full swing in the UK, that a test vehicle was ready in Australia.
Former head of vehicle testing at Zetland, Roger Foy, remembers the car well from a later trip. “We started the test programme in mid-1967. It wasn’t originally contemplated that we would have it here, but BMC didn’t want to have it in the UK and miss out on having it here. We had a prototype car built with an imported engine assembly.”
“We did a lot of testing”, he continued. “We did all the usual things to try to bust something, get the fuel economy, and see what would go wrong. We didn’t have much go wrong with it. It would just go and go and go. We took it out to Charleville (Qld) on at least one trip, with an 1800 I think, and it went very well. The main trouble we had was keeping the kick-down in alignment. I don’t recall what caused it, but I do recall a couple of times having to adjust it.”
The result of the testing showed that few changes were needed from the Mini De Luxe – being a thicker brake pedal, longer accelerator pedal foot pad, and Hardy-Spicer steel universal joints (as per the Cooper S).
As all Australian Minis previously had better cooling systems than their UK cousins, this change was implemented for the automatic as well, with the addition of the locally-designed fresh-air heater being a standard item – to assist engine cooling.
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The BMC Experience Issue 20. Jan-Mar 2017 Magazine
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