THE MINI GETS AN AUSSIE MAKEOVER.
In the mid-1960s, Australia had well and truly fallen in love with the Mini.
Production had changed from assembling knock-down kits shipped from England to Mini’s Australian home - a plant at Zetland in Sydney.
Except there was one small problem.
The Mini’s windows – didn’t actually let much air in, and were no match for the hot Australian summer.
Frank Lesha was working as a draftsman at the Zetland plant’s drawing office in the early
Frank, then 20 years old, said the Mini’s door design – famously engineered to be able to fit a bottle of gin in it - presented an issue.
“Eventually we got the concept complete- it wasn’t a particularly good design, but it fit the
“There was a big steel pocket - which made it particularly tricky.”
After coming up with some admittedly “bizarre” designs, Frank and his
The company’s willingness to try their luck on a completely new design was something that embodied the Mini spirit, Frank says.
“I enjoyed my work immensely because you knew you were allowed to add your own creative touches to things – even if they weren’t always that good,” he says.
Working at the plant was another experience for a teenage Frank – who picked up an accent from his older colleagues, who had come to work for BMC from Birmingham.
“I knew that place like the back of my hand,” he says.
“We used to go into the development room and it was a secret part of the building, and every time we went in, we had to get a pass, and we had to take templates off the clay models, then bring them back and lay the coordinates out on the drawing table, then smooth them out.
“It’s definitely a lost art.”
One of the best examples of the first Mini to
David Peterson has one of the most original Mini de Luxe models in Australia, which he bought off a neighbour who had restored it.
“It has a lot of, I suppose you’d call them, Australianisms,” David says, referring to the windows, the boot lid and the distinctive grille that marked cars built in Australia.
“In 1965, they were way ahead of their competitors.”
As a teenager in the 1970s, David dreamed of one day owning a Mini– with its high-tech windows.
“They had a cult status then,” he recalls.
“They were fast for the time, especially in terms of their size, they handled really well, they won Bathurst in 1966 against much bigger, faster cars, so that created a love for them
“They were a tiny little hero car, that was beating all these bigger ones.
“They’re one of a small number of cars that changed motoring around the world.”
And it was Australia that changed the Mini – albeit in a small way.
David says despite the windows, the Mini de Luxe still isn’t “the type of car you’d take out on a hot day”.
“There’s no air conditioning, and it has vinyl seats,” he says.
“But I like it.”