Why take an underpowered but beautifully balanced car such as our 1961 Austin Mini Seven on the world famous Rallye Monte Carlo Historique? Although the 1300cc Cooper S has done well over the last 15 years in this rally no one has triumphed in a humble Mini rather than a Cooper or Cooper S. So the challenge of taking so small a car on ‘the Monte’ is one to relish.

Clearly some modifications will be needed to make our Mini competitive so we consulted experts from the early days of Mini competition to find out what was done back then. Firstly the late John Aley, Mini racer and founder of Aleybars rollcage manufacturers from his MiniWorld interview in 2004: ‘ Daniel Richmond of Downton Engineering had a most creative attitude towards the regulations. For instance he would re-forge the Mini’s inlet valves using the original metal, but spreading the valve head to achieve a larger diameter. He therefore gained airflow when the inlet port was opened out to match it. He also reprofiled the 850’s camshaft to the shape of the much hotter 948 (coded) camshaft.’

Clearly the early competition Minis were not exactly standard then! Next we spoke with David Hiam the ex-competitions manager of Dunlop Tyres also interviewed in 2004. David gave us copies of the build sheet and Competition Report for his 850 Mini registered 16BOJ from the 1961 Liege Rome Liege Rally. These fascinating period documents from BMC’s Competitions Department revealed that preparation was pretty basic but significant. 16 BOJ which ran in the Group 3 GT class was fitted with a ‘hotter camshaft that didn’t give much torque below 3000rpm’ and ‘disc brakes which were disappointing. The linings appeared to be at fault in that the pedal never felt the same twice. However it was pleasant not to be adjusting the brakes all the time.’

After consultation with Colin Taylor at SMMC, Mini mechanical guru and preparer of my rally cars since 1996 we decided on the following:

A tuned engine using a reworked cylinder head, the original block but overbored to the class limit giving us 950cc, and a warmer camshaft along the lines of the 948 coded shaft used by the early Mini racers and rally drivers. Twin carburettors would also be used as twin SU HS2 carbs were used by the works prepared cars where they were entered in Group 3.

Disc brakes at the front replacing the inadequate drum units. These were used in the period in selected competitions and so can be used in historic rallies today where the event regulations permit. We have fitted Paddy Hopkirk branded Discs and Brake Callipers with Mintex pads for the best braking capability.

The use of Perspex in side and rear windows to save weight was also allowed in Group 3 as was the replacement of steel body panels with aluminium ones so long as the panels were not structural. We don’t have access to aluminium panels but Perspex side and rear windows were fitted to the car for its entry in the 2004 Liege Rome Liege rally. Luckily our car is an early Mini with a lightweight bodyshell so some weight saving has already been achieved over a later bodyshell.

Wheels and particularly tyres are always a problem for Monte Carlo. We have to use the original 3.5Jx10” steel wheels as no other wheels were homologated for the 850 Mini. However tyres are free. We will probably use the trusted Maxsport Hakka pattern as it takes studs and copes reasonably well with snow.

There are plenty of detail modifications needed including an uprated heater (the 1961 vintage recirculatory heater is useless), a hot air venting system to keep the windscreen free of ice, improved seats and seatbelts (no belts were fitted to 1961 Minis) a couple of extra period driving lamps and a host of instrumentation for driver and navigator including the valuable Halda Twinmaster trip instrument. Our Mini has already been fitted with mudflaps at the rear and a vintage Aleybars rollcage for last summer’s Alpine Rally so we are some of the way there.

We will be carrying out the necessary modifications over the next couple of months so we will keep you updated on our car’s progress.

Peter Barker