|THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.1|
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This article is from a mid 60’s edition of “Torque”, the magazine produced by the Austin Apprentices.A ROUGH POT-HOLED road of the pre-war pattern led to the main hangers of the old aerodrome at Wythall. On each side stood scores of 1800’s and 1100’s – and this was before Wythall became national news. Water lay in the numerous ruts and crevices. Grass grew where it pleased. The structure of the hanger itself looked gaunt yet impressive against the background of new cars. We parked the A40 (Mk1) by the side of the hanger and walked in silence through the big sliding doors. Stacked in racks were spare body sections for much of BMC’s Commercial vehicle range. Our attention was suddenly diverted. One object alone stood out amongst the immobile mass.
On the road In a Works Rally Cooper S.
For those who followed the 1965 Monte there is no point in elaborating on the details of BMC’s second successive win in that rally. Suffice to say that out of 237 starters only one car reached Monaco without losing a single road mark. In some of the toughest winter conditions ever for the Monte only thirty-five cars survived, and even these owed much of their success to the use of studded tyres.
And here among those unglamorous body panels and shiny new cars stood the car that Makinen and Easter had driven to such a convincing outright win.
Somehow the car exuded power. Admittedly the red and white paintwork did not sparkle, and the cockpit looked distinctly tatty. But one does not expect a Monte winner to look like a showroom model. Perhaps it was that reassuring grin of those chunky SP3’s that betrayed the real worth of the car. Or else that hefty sump guard which must have taken such a pounding on those snow-bound roads of Monaco. Or was it that array of lights, which made the front of the car look like the illuminations on a Christmas tree? What-ever the underlying factor, AJB 44B certainly looked something special.
Underneath the light alloy bonnet rested a 1275cc S unit. Or rather basically a 1275 unit, for on a rolling road dynamometer 75bhp was being given at the wheels. Prepared by BMC Competitions Department to Appendix J Group III specification, AJB 44B in fact owed its Group III rating rather more to its bodywork than to its engine (in comparison the Group II Mini with which Aaltonen won the ’65 R.A.C. was giving 84bhp at the wheels). However, a certain number of mods had been carried out.
Peak revs at 7,400.
Twin HS4 carburetters with air trumpets allowed the specially polished combustion chambers and gas flowed head to breath more efficiently. Compression ratio was raised to 11.1:1. Manifolding was standard for both inlet and exhaust though both were polished to improve the gas flow. A competition camshaft was fitted giving high lift and transferring all the torque to the top end.
But perhaps the one factor allowing this engine to rev to 7,4 so easily and to be able to maintain these revs for so long was the attention given to detail and balancing during assembly. Obviously Vandervell and Castrol deserves much credit for letting everything rotate at this speed without ventilating the crankcase too much.
And now, thanks very much to BMC Publicity torque was to have the opportunity of putting power to the road for a few days. We very much doubted our ability to use all the horses at full gallop, but were determined to get some sort of idea as to how a Works Competition car went. Somewhat apprehensively we pushed the car out of the hanger. A quick toss of the coin found me having first go. The cockpit seemed a mass of instruments, and obviously not in the running for the Concours d’Elegance.
Couldn’t give much credit to Vanden Plas for those seats either – I wonder what shape Makinen is? Let’s have a go at starting. Ignition on. Now where is the starter. Elimination of all other likely candidates left only the long stalk to the right of the steering wheel. A quick push and the engine started first time, ticking over at 1000 rpm. Although ticking is perhaps the wrong word, as everything sounded distinctly unhealthy. However, a quick blip on the throttle bought the engine on to the cam, and showed that the special exhaust system and silencer did not really do that much silencing. A full throated roar was obviously significant of the power available and no boy racer extra.
For the Monte car had been fitted with close ratio spur cut gears married to a 4.26;1 differential. This put the emphasis on acceleration and full use of the torque for the conditions likely to be encountered. Thus top speed was less than that of a standard S but, as we were to find, the acceleration was somewhat better!
The instrumentation was Treaty of Rome style, but fortunately we had slide rule with us. In top gear the road speed was 20 k.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., in third 15 k.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. and 12 k.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m. in second. Thus, at 7,000 in top the road speed was 87.5 m.p.h. and just over 90 m.p.h. in the ‘red’ of 7,2 (what a pity about Babara Castle).
Once on the road all apprehension was soon banished, as the handling was wonderfully precise. Although all the Works rally cars are now fitted with the Hydrolastic type of suspension, in 1965 there was no time to prepare six Hydrolastic vehicles so AJB 44B had the old type suspension.
The ride was generally remarkably smooth, and the handling characteristics were of much less understeer than on a standard cooking Mini. We found the car to be absolutely superb on corners, and never really became unstuck (admittedly we didn’t do in for any of the tail-twitching forestry commission techniques – well not intentionally).
It was sheer joy to be able to accelerate hard out of bends in top gear and still feel the instant response of the engine. In the lower gears, of course, one had to be careful to avoid wheel spin at take-off and gear changes, especially on wet roads. The temptation to stamp the right foot hard down and accelerate past all and sundry was soon resisted after being left grinning stupidly behind spinning wheels. But when grip was found the story was somewhat different!
The typical modern road test claim of the car suitable for both spinster aunt shopping and sexy apprentice sprinting could not very well apply here – it’s those seats again! With the cam being hit at around 4,2 and the engine revving to 7,4, it means that there is not a lot of flexibility in the gears. Luckily the gear change was as slick as we could possibility wish, and the clutch plate, which was the standard type, took up very gently and presented no problems. Obviously on gear changes the engine speed could not be allowed to drop below 4,2 if any sort of performance was wanted. But once in the effective rev range the tachometer needle was a mere blur as it raced up towards the ‘red’.
The ability of the engine to rev up quickly meant that top speed could be obtained very quickly on the shortest of straight. Because of this, we felt that we could not in any way really appreciate the potential of the car by driving on main roads even though overtaking was effortless and road holding so good. All the time we felt the need, whenever there was a clear road ahead, to drop the car into higher gear.
However, when we ventured onto some interesting roads that did not enable a high maximum speed to be obtained, and found such natural hazards as steep gradients and roads disappearing round sharp corners, the car was very much in its element.
These varying conditions meant that power and gear could be matched to give the required performance. Perhaps the ease with which hills could be climbed was the most astonishing attribute. The claim of wheel spin in top up Rose Hill may be taken with the contempt it deserves, but AJB 44B had the capacity to accelerate hard in top gear from 50 m.p.h. up such a slop. Time and time again we were amazed by the willingness of the little engine to pull right through its rev range with no apparent effort.
Top gear acceleration.
On the level the car’s performance was also most impressive. From 50 m.p.h to 90 m.p.h. took 13 seconds in top gear (consisting of 4, 4.2 and 4.8 seconds for each 1,000 rev increment from 4,000 r.p.m. up to 7,200 r.p.m.). As a matter of interest, 0-50 was accomplished in 6.2 seconds and 0-60 in 8.2 seconds.
Mentioned before has been the fact that AJB 44B owed its Group III specification more to bodywork than to engine modifications. To offset the additional weight of extra lights, full rally equipment and tools, plus eleven gallons of fuel, the doors, rear panels and bonnet were all made of light alloy. Both driver’s and passenger’s seats were specially built. Although initially they felt distinctly uncomfortable, after a few hours one became moulded to them and appreciated the support given in all the right places. In the navigators seat one could lay back and even attempt to sleep. The emphasis is definitely on attempt. The noise inside the car was incredible and never subsided. How a driver and navigator can virtually live in a car throughout an International Rally amidst the general hubbub defies belief.
Perspex was used for the side and rear windows. In its original form the car was fitted with a laminated heated windscreen but as with other such re-useable items as fire extinguisher, Halda speed pilot, clocks and carbon dioxide tyre pump, this had been removed.
Items inside the car which assisted our comfort and feeling of safety included a grab handle above the passenger door and padded door locks and floor pillars. The passenger also had the dubious advantage of a foot operated horn – used more to scare his own driver than ward other road users! A less obvious modification was the channelling of the battery leads and the fuel and brake pipes inside the body for protection. The floor itself was insulated from the exhaust with an asbestos blanket.
The lighting was absolutely superb. The head-lights were fitted with quartz iodine bulbs which dipped to small fog lights mounted on the bonnet. Add to this the two large fog lamps and the long range driving lamp (all quartz iodine) and it is evident that the only problem in night driving is the ability to locate the correct switch all the right time. To provide the power necessary for all the extra electrical equipment an alternator was fitted.
All too soon our two days with AJB 44B were over and reluctantly we had to return the car to Publicity. Certainly we had come to appreciate just how quick a Group III Works car is, and now all that remains is to be driven by a Works driver in a Works car. That would be really be something.