When the Mini was launched in 1959, nobody expected it to last for over 40 years and total a production run of over five million.
Realising the true potential of Alec Issigoni’s definitive design, Mini Sports chairman and founder Brian Harper took delivery of his first Mini in 1960 in the form of one of the first 850s to roll off BMCís production line at Longbridge. Little did Brian and his wife Heather know the effect this landmark purchase would have on their lives.
Brian and Heathers 850 did everything, from everyday tasks like shopping to events such as auto tests, sprints, hill climbs and even circuit racing. The car was forging its own unique relationship with the Harper family, leading to the purchase of a Downton-tuned 997cc Cooper in spring 1964 which soon found its way into rallying piloted by both Brian and his wife. The competition bug had bitten.
Anyone involved with motor sport will tell you, competing means spare parts are a must, and soon second-hand Mini components were not only filling the Harper garage but also the family home. Something had to be done, and it was the overwhelming response to Brian’s first advert in the Motoring News that drew his attention to the burgeoning market for everything Mini.
Inspired by this realisation and his own unending passion for the marque, Mini Sport was established in 1967.
Since then the Mini Sport story really has been a case of, from small acorns do giant oak trees grow. The firm’s first pioneering modification for the Mini was born out of the car’s throttle linkage, which was poorly designed and prone to sticking. Applying common sense, logic and a canny sense of engineering, Brian developed a rigid throttle linkage, which was easy to fit and endowed the car with smoother, more progressive acceleration. It was an instant bestseller.
Armed with their new innovation the knock-on effect for Brian and Heather’s small business was breathtaking. As the number of stock lines grew and clients responded well to the couple’s friendly, hands-on approach, April 1969 saw Mini Sport move into its first dedicated premises at 15 Church St. Padiham. It’s been based in the town ever since.
Yet the competition side of the business was still paramount, and throughout the next two decades Mini Sport cars were a dominant force in road rallies throughout the country. One of the reasons for this was Brian’s keen sense of engineering excellence, and soon he had developed powerful 1400cc engines for his competitive clients. Mini Sport cars were the envy of the rallying scene.
Soon fellow competitors were flocking to Padiham, intrigued by not only the ingenuity of Mini Sport’s conversions, but also their incredible reliability in competition. With innovations coming thick and fast demand soon meant that complete Mini Sport tuning catalogues were a necessity, as was yet more space for the firm’s ever growing stock lines. With another premises acquired at 7 Church St. Padiham, Mini Sport’s customers could now take full advantage of Brian and Heather’s expertise, and with the extra space now available performance accessories, wheels and seats were brought in, making Mini Sport the one-stop shop for the Mini connoisseur.
Mini Sport’s first seven years in business were an instant success, which meant Brian and Heather’s love of competing behind the wheel was put on hold. But motor sport is in our blood at Mini Sport, and come 1975 Brian won the SD34 Shellsport Rally Championship in his 1340cc Cooper S.
Two years later and triumphs such as this meant Mini Sport was still growing rapidly. With yet more space required in order to expand the Engineering Department, build dedicated fitting bays and display the myriad products the firm now stocked, the whole operation was moved to its current base at Thompson St. Padiham.
This meant 20,000 square feet of unadulterated Mini magic, making it a veritable Mecca for the marques enthusiasts around the globe.
In fact Mini Sport’s products were now being dispatched worldwide, and the new mail order packing bays were a hive of activity. Right from the start, Brian and Heather had decided that quality, value and reliability should be the key company values, core attributes Mini Sport is still proud to hold dear today. Indeed, to tens of thousands of Mini enthusiasts worldwide, the Mini Sport brand is recognised as the number one supplier of just about everything for this remarkable car.
Come 1984 and Chris Harper, the first of Brian and Heather’s three sons joined the team, immediately settling in to run the firm’s Sales Department. With his seemingly unending passion both for Mini’s and Mini Sport, he soon established distributors throughout Europe, America, Japan and Australia. Mini Sport had gone truly global.
And with sales booming Daniel Harper soon followed suit. His engineering abilities, like those of his father, had shone through at an early age, turning out precision-made crankshafts at the tender age of thirteen! Now tasked with spearheading Mini Sport’s exciting Engineering Department, he puts all his innovations to the test while upholding the family tradition of successfully competing in both road and stage rallies.With Mini Sport’s sales and engineering divisions expanding rapidly, it was the turn of Chris and Daniel’s younger brother Jonathan to make an impact on the firm. After growing up surrounded by the Mini Sport legend, his passion for marketing and promoting the brand was unparalleled, and now his ability to keep Mini Sport in the media spotlight means the magic is being felt by a whole new audience.
Which isn’t surprising when you consider the company‚s achievements over the last decade. For example, the introduction of single point fuel injection in the ‚90s saw Daniel building his own competition variant, which went on to regularly win its class during the British Rally Championship. With the 1995 Group A 1300 British Rally Championship award safely under its tyres, and a class award in the 1997 Network Q RAC Rally, Mini Sport is proud to have built a Mini that was the first to take a class victory on a World Rally Championship event.
And with success on the world rally stage came yet more landmark engineering achievements. As well as being the first to unveil its single point injection tuning kit, Mini Sport also introduced class-leading solid billet alloy brake callipers and road-spec helical five-speed gearboxes to the market. Another world first were adjustable rear camber and track brackets, and Mini Sport also re-developed the lower suspension arms and tie-rods for‚ 90s Mini’s. Add in the genius of Adjusta-Ride suspension, uprated alloy brake drums and roller-tip rockers, and you can see why Mini Sport is still number one.
In fact the last few years have been just as exciting for the Lancashire firm. With its Thompson St. base improved via a brand new 2,000 square foot Fitting and Service Centre complete with a state-of-the-art Rolling Road, and the Engineering Centre now boasting cutting edge Engine Balancing equipment, Mini Sport’s reputation for being at the forefront of automotive technology continues to grow.Which is why the firm’s developments for New Mini have been such a soaring success. Using those same core brand values that have ensured Mini Sport has been the world’s leading authority on all things Mini for nearly four decades, the team has already stamped its mark on the new car.
With almost bullet-proof engine and transmission conversions, the very latest in braking technology and a range of accessories and modifications that is simply unmatched in the marketplace, the new era for Mini fans is already up and running in Lancashire. And with motor sport still a family priority, Mini Sport’s policy of testing all of its parts to the very limit on special stages throughout the UK is more important than ever hence the firm’s commitment to producing the world’s first bespoke New Mini rally car, to highest standards that Mini Sport is world renowned.
So whatever your requirements, it’s clear that for the Harpers and Mini Sport success is paramount, not only where innovation, design and development are concerned but also in their shared love of Mini’s and the people who drive them. Understandably Brian and Heather are proud to have built the Mini Sport brand around a family that has breathed its own kind of magic into the marque since 1967, and will do so for years to come.