This blog, in addition to the usual maintenance details for classic mini cars, an attempt is made to explain the "whys" and "wherefores" of the various jobs.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Getting to know your car

When the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor were introduced in 1959, after eight years of design and development, they caused a sensation in the motoring world for the new B.M.C. Minis bristled with unconventional ideas, but were nevertheless essentially practical in conception. Soon the original Austin and Morris Minis were joined by the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf, together with the redoubtable Cooper and Cooper "S" versions which immediately established themselves as giant-killers in the racing and competition worlds.

In October 1967 came the Mini "1000" Mark II models, with 998 c.c. engines, and in October 1969, ten years and two million Minis after the introduction of the original cars, the more refined and comfortable Club­man and 1275 GT models. These were followed, in November 1969, by two new "basic" Minis—the 850 and the 1000—which retained the old bodyshell but incorporated the wind-up windows, concealed hinges and the negative-earth electric system of the Clubman.

The Mini 850, 1000, Clubman, Clubman Estate, 1275 GT and the Cooper "S" therefore comprised the complete Mini range, the Austin, Morris, Wolseley and Riley variants being discontinued and the cars being known simply as Minis in their own right.

To what do the Minis owe their astonishing success? It was their designer, Alec Issigonis, who best summed it up when he remarked, in effect, "We have deliberately made the cars very small outside, because we have found new ways of making them very large inside."

How was this done, and how does it affect the owner who proposes to carry out as much maintenance as possible in the home garage? First, there is the arrangement of the combined engine and transmission unit transversely across the front of the car. Besides saving a great deal of space, this has rendered all the usual items that require attention (except possibly the ignition distributor) unusually accessible; the owner should have no difficulty in carrying out normal adjustments and all work short of a major overhaul (which calls for removal of the engine).

Admittedly the ignition equipment, being mounted at the front of the engine without protection from a radiator, is liable, on earlier models, to be swamped by a bow wave if a water-splash is negotiated too enthusi­astically, and cutting-out of the ignition can also occur when driving in heavy rain. Simple methods of waterproofing the ignition system are, however, discussed in Chapter 7. The engine and transmission assembly share a common supply of oil. Instead of having to check and top-up three oil levels, the work is confined to checking the level on the usual engine dipstick and adding fresh oil through the filler on the valve cover. A similar saving in time and trouble applies, of course, when it is necessary to drain the oil.

Notice, also, that air is forced through the side-mounted radiator from the engine side, emerging by way of the nearside wheel arch, which means that the engine is not surrounded by preheated air .The technically-minded reader will appreciate that this might lead to carburettor icing in cold weather but will note that this can be taken care of, on most models, by positioning the inlet to the air cleaner close to the exhaust manifold. A pre-heated air intake does, of course, result in the loss of a small amount of power under full-throttle conditions, but this is more than compensated for by improved flexibility and better fuel consumption over a wide range of running conditions and in hot weather the intake can be swung away from the manifold.

Again there is evidence of the combination of technical and practical considerations in the use of hollow rubber cones as suspension units instead of steel coil or leaf springs. Rubber springs not only have excellent self-damping properties, giving a particularly good "ride," but require no lubrication and cannot develop squeaks or broken leaves! The Hydro-lastic suspension fitted to later cars, which is described in Chapter 9, takes the principle a stage further by interconnecting the front and rear suspension units, giving a level, pitch-free ride that is outstanding for such a small vehicle.

One could continue to point out examples of the way in which technical advantages have been combined with practical features throughout the car. It is necessary, however, to turn now to a brief description of the functioning of the various instruments and controls, followed by notes on the handling characteristics of the various models. The information is intended mainly for the benefit of an owner who is anxious to get the best from his car; it does not come into the category of elementary driving instruction, as this is a subject which is obviously the province of a fully-qualified instructor.