Arguably there are roads that suit every classic car in the whole world, ones that really allow their drivers to appreciate every last handling characteristic. In our’s and this particular modified Morris Mini Cooper S’s case the road is the A686 in the North Pennines (UK). A piece of twisting black top enjoyed by 2, 3 and 4 wheels that bucks and weaves its way up to the infamous Hartside Café.
Never has a car suited a road better than this, they are quite literally made for each other. The perfectly matched ingredients in this particular Morris Mini Cooper S begin with the tuned 1430cc engine delivering better than average performance. Then there are the small proportions of an original Mini that allow the car to be placed left and right, whilst keeping within the confines of a single lane if needed in putting together quick corner combinations. Next up the retro-fitted Jack Knight five speed gearbox that offers the right ratio for every occasion, all of them tightly packed together. Then there is the icing on an already delicious cake, the genuine Morris Mini Cooper S disc brakes that ensure everything can be slowed back down safely, avoiding unnecessary heart stopping moments.
This ladies and gentleman proved to be one heck of a good trip out and well worth the five hour train journey to Cumbria, the home of Lakes and Dales Classic Car Hire. On a personal level, what makes it so very special is that I used to own a modified Morris Mini Cooper S (MKII) like this one and in less than twenty minutes I find myself transported back in time and a spotty youth all over again. I knew my original Morris Mini Cooper S bug hadn’t left me, I just wish now I hadn’t ignored it for this long.
In modified form a Morris Mini Cooper S from the 1960’s is a truly serious bit of kit to be let loose in. Its light weight body and small dimensions are totally transformed by the nicely spiced engine. What sits at the core though is still very pure and very much essence of Mini. Something your nasal senses alert you to from first getting on board. A unique sweet smelling interior scent that seems to be able to survive rebuilds and in some cases even complete re-shells. I remember welding my Mini and after a few hours the stench of molten metal had been replaced again by that same distinctive aroma. One that is very much apparent in this car, serving as yet another marvelous reminder.
The steering feel is akin to that of a go-kart, being extremely direct and the low mass means it is never hard work, even at low speeds. The same cannot be said of the noise inside the cabin, Mini gearboxes were never the quietest of things at the best of times. When Mr Knight takes all the remaining helical gears away and replaces them with straight cut versions that sing out loud in an extremely high shrill, your ears get exposed to a massive sensory overload. Something that limits the time spent driving between stops. Best planned in every hour or so, just to keep everything fresh.
Most impressive though is the T.A.R.D.I.S like interior appearing to be tiny from the outside and yet surprisingly large within. The most incredible thing of all is that there appears to be the same amount of space in the front of the car as there is in a BMW Mini Cooper. How this is possible when the latter looks like it could fit the former inside it with room to spare is not entirely clear. But I’m convinced the space inside when sat in the front of an original Morris Mini Cooper S is the same. Go figure, perhaps Mini and Morris Minor design guru Sir Alec Issigonis was a wizard after all, continuing the spirit of Merlin all the way back from the time of King Arthur whilst bumping into the Doctor along the way, who knows?
What really stands out though with this very British of icons is just how well it drives. The Morris Mini Cooper S is a little Terrier living without fear. Fall behind other performance cars down the straights and it can make it all back up in the bends. The lightweight shell, combined in this case with decent power, pack real punch even when confronted with modern high horsepower hatchbacks. The handling has to be experienced to be believed, I’m not sure the tyres squealed once during my run up the famous hill, quite amazing. As is the pace that can be achieved, how late you can leave the braking, how compromising the car is as you come across unexpected dips, turns and twists on unfamiliar territory. It just goes, slows, turns and accelerates without apparently putting a hair out of place. No wonder these cars were once banned from the Monte Carlo rally, they are just too good to be legal.
I love original Mini Coopers and this modified Morris Mini Cooper S (MKII) is no exception. It’s better than the one I owned, I suspect quicker as well, but that doesn’t matter because what this car did was take me back in time and flattered whilst I was behind the wheel on the A686. I’m not sure you can ask more of any car, classic or otherwise, can you?
Modified Morris Mini Cooper S (MKII) reminds us about what being a plucky Brit is all about, and yes you guessed correctly, it would appear that size doesn’t really matter after all.
How does this car make you feel?
In one word: Terrier
As a favourite meal: Pedigree Chum, no sorry wait, full English breakfast before setting off to climb more hills
Anything Else: Don’t leave it nearly thirty years in between drives
Key Ingredients: Compact size, modified motor, howling gearbox, go-kart handling and distinctive cabin aroma.
With thanks to Lakes and Dales Classic Car Hire
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