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Written by John Climo

The Mini was always going to be a success in NZ Motorsport because of the numbers

imported and built up in NZ. As mentioned earlier the mini Cooper and Cooper S’s

were brought built up from UK and Australia in 970/1071/1275cc capacities. This

made the 970 a contender for 0-1000cc class and the 1275 for the 1001-1300 class.

Many were taken out to 998 and 1293 to get maximum power out of the much loved

“A” Series.


In Rallying there were the Golden Shell Rally of 1970 which was one of the

“inaugural” rallies which laid the foundation stone for the future Heatways and

Radio NZ International events. We have records of 4 minis being entered in this

event , one finishing as high as 8th. Prior to the rallying, car trialling was popular

until it became too political ,then that it was taken in popularity over by rallying

where you could legally extend your car without the fear of the law.


In 1971 was the first of “The Heatway International” rallies with overseas drivers and works teams participating. There were 6 minis entered but none finished in the top 20 placings. The BLMC Rally team from Australia brought out 2 Leyland Cooper S’s for Scot Andrew

Cowan (rego BLA532) and the second car for Evan Green, the

Australian motoring journalist (rego BLA523). Cowan won the prize

for the most special stage wins 13 out of 60. The 3rd car in the BLMC

team was an Austin Kimberley.


In 1972, The Rally of the Pines run by Hamilton Car Club saw Mini

Cooper S 4th, 5th and 6th.Later that year saw the Golden Shell Rally

run again with 7 minis recorded. One notable mini was the Clubman

of Angus Hyslop which was Rego GC4 which had a dnf due to valve

problems. This car had featured in the Heatway Rally when part of

the NZMC Team along with Andrew Cowan in another Clubman

(GC3). Cowan won the event and Hyslop came home 5th. There were

10 minis started and 10 finished which NZMC used in their advertising material to boost the image of the mini.


The cars were painted white and blue and sponsored by General Finance. Other Leyland cars in the NZMC team were the Marina Coupes of Jim Richards and Dauntsey Teagle which finished 61st and 52nd respectably.


In 1973, Andrew Cowan again drove GC3 to 26th placing. Reg Cook drove GC4 (Hyslop car) to 54th place. We have 20 minis on record as competing in this event. We competed in this event in an Aussie Morris Cooper S and it was the longest motorsport event ever held in NZ and was a once in a lifetime experience. Biggest downfall on the mini was the 10” wheels and ground clearance. A lot of the time your would be sliding on your sumpguard running in the ruts of the other 50-60 cars in front. We only missed 4 stages from memory as clipped a bank in the famous Motu stage.


In 1974 the International wasn’t run due to the fuel crisis. There were still club rallies and fewer minis were competing even though by this stage they were using 12” wheels giving extra ground

clearance. By 1975 Heatway there were only 2 recorded entries so the popular little car was

being outclassed by the Escorts and Japanese invasion of high performance twin cam coupes

like the Toyota Levins and the very fast Datsun 1600’s amongst others.


Many of the above, like their racing counter parts have been restored to better than new and

appear at Historic events to show their pedigree and important history.


Another sphere briefly mentioned was the car trialling era and the Mobil Economy runs

where in a mini getting an average of 50 mpg was achieved.


In Speedway, the mini was ideal being front wheel drive it would pull the car through the



One experience we had was with the cars Dave Gilbertson ( Feilding then later Levin) built.

He built several Minis which one ended up in a mates hands and it was built with a 1293

Cooper S motor and was quick enough to win races as well as Championships. Dave was a

student of the “Speedway rule book” and wanted to stick it to the V8’s that slid around the

tracks on opposite lock making lots of noise (which we all love). So he sat down and studied the

rule book and designed a mini that he thought would do the trick. The basic rule for Speedway cars of the era were basic body profile and no 1 Spark plug in the position that the manufacture put it from the showroom floor. He was looking for horsepower, needed a 4 cylinder front wheel drive power unit so decided on a 1800 BLMC motor and put a turbo on it. He had to lay the motor back to get number one in position and then had to perfect the turbo and get it so it gave power at the right time. In the end he had a winner and won the NZ Championship and really upset the big boys as he could turn into a corner right on the pole line , hit the turbo and blow the V8’s away under acceleration while the V8s were spinning their wheels with all the horsepower and no traction. He used old Formula Pacific tyres on the front which made the car look like a giant roller skate.From memory he made 2 of these 1800 minis and once proved his point walked away from Speedway and went sailing.


Other mini not mentioned in these articles where the Vans, Estates and Utes which were used in motorsport events with all size engines.

One of Dave Gilbertson 1st Speedway Mini's driven by Dennis Plimmer at Palmerson North Speedway

NZMC Publicity Poster after winning the Heatway Rally

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