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Written by John Climo

The first minis imported in NZ were brought in by two Companies, the Morris was imported by  Dominion Motors and the Austin by Seabrook-Fowlds. The price of an Austin Cooper 997cc in 

1963 was 795NZ Pounds and a buyer would have to have 429NZ Pound in Sterling (overseas

funds). This changed after a few years when the local car industry open assembly plants

manufacturing cars but these then had to have a local content of NZ made parts ie upholstery,

carpets, and other minor parts.


The mini came into NZ as basically the Austin Mini, Morris Mini Minor all 848cc as base

models.There were variants like the Riley Elf with its walnut dash, extended boot and 998cc

 motor  which it shared with the Wolseley Hornet.


Later   models were the Mini “K” with its 1098cc and was Australian Assembled with the Mk1

Cooper grill. The early models had floor push button start and cable door “pullers” with sliding windows.


Later on came the Cooper S versions with the popular 1275cc motor, disc brakes,  hydrolastic

suspension, and twin tanks. Later on saw the Clubman GT 1275cc and the variants of the Mk2

through to the last of the Mk1 shape minis. The Cooper S’s were either English or Australian Assembled.             


Then came the Mark 3 minis followed by the  BMW models which mainly became known as Coopers as well. The size and popularity of the mini made it an ideal race car and the Kiwi Motorsport enthusiast nearly always followed the  English motorsport scene and formulas like Group 2 and 5 with many enthusiasts using English conversions on their cars. The names that come to mind are Alexander who made a crossflow head which had carbs in front of the engine and one had to modify the bonnet to clear the carbs. Another name was Speedwell who did conversions. This was a company owned by Graham Hill (World Champion 1962 & 1968) and Simon Taylor ran one of these quite successfully in NZ.

Later on in the Group 5 era there were other names like Arden and Broadspeed.   


The saloon car scene after the second world war saw many “hot rod” type saloons being born

with old Chev, Ford and Willys Coupes, Zephyrs, Renault Dauphines being fitted with Corvette

motors (283cu in )along with the Morris Minor on Ferrari Super Squallo Chassis racing the

Humber 80’s, Simca’s, Peugeot”s, and in the baby class the Austin A30, A35, A40 Farina  and

Ford 100E “s and 105E’S plus Morris Minors along  with the odd Fiat and Standard 8.


Then in 1961 along came the Mini and the rules in those day were anything goes.So most racers

took out heir, headlights, removed bumpers, grills, seats etc to get the cars as light as possible so

the cars were very stark. The mini was raced in everything from club trials, hillclimbs and

grasstrack racing. On the track the  first recorded event  I have in my history was that of a race

meeting at Ohakea  February 1961 where 2 mini minors driven by James Cowie and Graham

Cowie both cars 848cc.No record of  placings.

By 1962 there were 7 out of 15 starters in one race were minis so the mini thing had started .In the

Wills 6 hour Race for standard production saloons  the mini winning the baby class 0-1000cc in

1963 in an Austin Mini driven by Keith Yeats and Alwyn Marshall doing a distance on 326 miles

at average of 54 mph.


In 1962 Bruce McLaren brought out a 950cc Cooper ex Cooper Motor Racing Works and he raced

at Levin (1st and 4th) and Wigram (no recorded placings).


In 1963 he brought a Mini Cooper out from England (not sure if same car as previous year) and it had recorded history of being 997cc and 1098cc. He was placed 2nd at Pukekohe, Levin 1st and 2nd and Teretonga 1st. No record of placing at Wigram. This car was then raced by Brent Benzie who has recorded placings in South Island events.


 In 1965 the race was split into 2 classes – a 3 hour race for Group 2 saloons (ie Lotus Cortinas, Mini Coopers etc) and a 6 hour for NZ Assembled Production Saloons. In 1963 he brought a Mini Cooper out from England (not sure if same car as previous year) and it had recorded history of being 997cc and 1098cc. He was placed 2nd at Pukekohe, Levin 1st and 2nd and Teretonga 1st. No record of placing at Wigram.


In 1964  the Morris Cooper S 1275cc of Bryan Innes and Dennis Marwood won the Wills Class Trophy 1001-1300cc going 389.9 miles at average speed of 63.5 mph.


In 1965 the Gold Leaf Challenge (3 hour race) was won by Jim Mullins and Lin Neilsen in a Morris Cooper S going 205 miles at average of 68.1 mph. Second was Frank Hamlin and Murray Charles in their Morris Cooper S going 204 miles at average 68.0 mph. In the baby class  0-1000cc John Shephard and Hugh Kettlewell came first in an Austin Cooper S going 187 miles at 62.3 mph average. Mullins and Hamlin were later to become the leading “tuners” of minis and along with Innes and Neilsen, they had many battles in their cars. Hamlin built a very quick minisprint and later a Group 5 Cooper S.


In 1966 Mullins won the Group 2 championship from Innes 57 points to 50 after a 8 round series.

At the 1965 Wills meeting part of the crowd entertainment was the “mini spinning” done on a wet

track by Paddy Hopkirk (Winner Monte Carlo 1964) and Timo Makinen (winner 1965).


 In 1966 the formula was still with Group 2 and in the 3 Hour Wills Race saw Kerry Grant and

Bryan Innes  come 2nd going 202 miles at 62.3 mph average nearly pipping a Mustang for outright honours. The 1000cc class was won again by an Austin Cooper S of Richard Sisler and Barry



In 1967  it was the first year of Group 5 saloon racing  and in Wills Meeting in a field of  20 cars

entered in 0-1000 class and  15 were mini variants. In the 1001-1300 there were  10 entries all

minis apart from 4 Anglias. In the Six Hour race there were  2 entered in Standard Production

class. In the Overall Group 2 Championship for 1967 the winner was Barry Phillips in a Lotus

Cortina (who later came 3rd in 1969 Group 5 Championship in Morris Cooper S), and second was

Angus Hyslop in Mini Cooper S (he later rallied Clubman GT in Heatway Rally), and third was

Bryan Innes in a Cooper S. Hyslop won the 0-1300cc class.


The Group 5 scene carried on for several years and one driver who stood out racing a Austin

Cooper S was Roger Anderson won in 1968 won the 0-1000cc class with 60 points. He had  7 out of 8 wins that years and the next year he went up a class to 1001-1300  and he won that with 54 points  9 rounds - 6 firsts 2 dnfs and a 2nd. The next year he moved up a class again and won this in a BMW Alpina 2002 as the class had been changed  to 1001-4200cc which put minis out of the running .The small class 0-1000cc was won by Barry Phillips using the 1969 Alec Poole British Saloon Car Championship winning engine. Another competitor was Mary Donald in a fuel injected Arden Mini Cooper S of 999cc and she had a win at Pukekohe winning the 2 heat aggregate victory thus becoming the first woman to win a saloon car championship. Phillips was declared the overall Saloon Car Champion. The Easter meeting at Bay Park saw 3 Australian visitors driving minis. Car no 3 was Don Holland in a Mini S of 1310cc, car no 7 was John Leffler driving a Morris 850 of 1370cc and car no 91 a Mini Mk2 driven by Lyn Brown also with 1310cc. This was a very wet meeting and these cars were super lightweight as were like Sports Sedans compaired to the local cars that were fully trimmed and were Group 5 versions. Results show that the Aussie cars were well placed behind the Mustangs  gaining 3@ 3rds and 4 @4ths between them.

They appeared at Pukekohe the weekend later again a wet meet and they got 2@ 2nds, a 3rd and 4th again behind the bigger cars.                                           


In the 1970 series the 0-1000cc class was won by Rod Collingwood with 32 points ahead of Barry Phillips. Collingwoods car was the most immaculate race car sponsored by Dulux Paints. The car was painted jet black with multi coloured stripes on side with bright orange vinyl covered flares, bonnet, boot and roof with the same orange inside on the seats, door trims etc. Too good to race. Also in 1969  three Australian visitors came to Bay Park, one being Norm Beechey in his Chevy Nova and the other two being Brian Foley and John French in their Mini Cooper S ‘s. French scored a 5th in Allcomers Feature and a 1st in 1001-1300cc race. Foley did not feature in the results. The following weekend at Pukekohe for the NZIGP both cars fronted , Foley in a brand new hydrolastic 1293S  and they finished  1st and 2nd but didn’t qualify for Gold Star points. In the Air NZ Open Capacity they came 2nd and 3rd in the same finishing order. Foley then travelled to Wigram gaining a 2nd in the Group 5 race.


The minis continued to dominate the two Group 5 classes 0-1000 and 1001-1300 for a few more years until the Datsun 1200s  started to dominate the larger class. This left a lot of mini owners out in the cold and it was realized there was a gap in the smaller class when in 1971/72 the Mini Seven rules and regulations become accepted as a National Formula. Since then there have been many variations of the formula and there have been fields of up to 30 cars  which have entertained the motor sport public with their antics.


Several drivers have gone onto bigger things namely Kane Scott and the late Jason Richards who both drove in V8 Supercars. The later Clubmans appeared in Castrol GTX Standard Production racing and in the South Island OSCA series when a 1450cc Clubman driven by Grant Aitken proved very quick. Several other non Leyland powered Minis received power plants like Lotus Twin Cam motors and one rear wheel drive Mazda rotary.


We will continue this article further when we look at the Mini in Speedway, Rallycross and Rallying in New Zealand.


*Images show the two different marketing stratergies of Austin & Morris in New Zealand.

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