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A Brief History of the Mini Van
The standard saloon version of the Mini was first demonstrated to the press in April 1959 and then rolled off of the production line on the 26th of August 1959. Then, these little workhorses entered the mix with the first being supplied in mid June 1960. These would replace the Austin A34 van on the Longbridge production line.
The Mini and Mini Van brands did not appear immediately and instead, within the first two-three years of production, they were named the “Austin Se7en” and the “Austin Se7en Light Panel Van” or the “Morris Mini-Minor” and “Morris-Mini Minor Light Panel Van”, in tribute to the infamous Austin 7 of the 1920s and 1930s and the Morris Minor of the 50’s and 60’s. The reknown brand names of just “Mini” and “Mini Van” were then coined in 1962 and the “Mini Van” was later re-branded the “Mini 95” in 1978, the “95” representing it’s gross weight of 0.95 tonnes. That being said, they will always be popularly known as the Mini Van. As hinted at, the Mini Van was marketed under two of BMC's brand names, 'Austin' and ‘Morris’, albeit there was essentially no notable difference between the two. This is an “Austin Se7en Light Panel Van”, the rarest combination of all of brand names and models.
At the time, there was two trim levels available; Basic and Deluxe. This is the Deluxe variant, which means that it had an interior heater and window washers.
The van variant was produced between 1960 and 1983 and in total 521,494 were built. Today, no more than 297 are registered on British roads in total, 121 under the Austin brand name and 181 under the Morris brand name. There was a significant increase in registered examples during the pandemic as many were restored, but such figure is likely to begin dropping again due to the lack of barn finds now available and the fact that the majority are headed for the United States (figures from the website howmanyleft).
British businesses loved the Mini Van for its load height, being just 17.5 inches above the ground, for its load platform of 55 inches and its classification as a quarter ton commercial vehicle, with a payload of 254kg. These all proved very handy for British businesses and they were used for any and all purposes from policing the streets (Police), delivering the mail (Royal Mail) and attending to breakdowns with the AA and RAC, the RAF used them, the army and every business in between. In 1967 the AA announced that it would abandon its motorcycles, in favour of the Mini Van.
The other huge selling point to the Mini Van was the purchase price, being priced at a mere £360 with no purchase tax on top due to being a commercial vehicle, unlike the standard Mini. The price of £360 would be equivalent to £11,078 in todays money and by way of comparison, the Mini Saloon cost £497 at the time, the big difference being that purchase tax. Again, equivalent to £15,294 in todays money. Naturally, BMC clocked on to this and marketed a conversion kit (for the princely sum of £15) to turn the van into a four seater, allowing buyers to avoid purchase tax and turn it into a cheap family vehicle.
Mini Van’s essentially used a standard Mini front end and Mini floor plan, but such was extended by four inches and the overall length grew by 9.5 inches. At the same time they were a similar weight to the Mini saloon at 622kg, partly due to a stripped out interior and a trim kept to a bare minimum. Initially a front passenger seat was an optional extra and even a windscreen washer was optional until 1962. Promising 40mpg (they measured MPG slightly differently back then) and a top speed of 75mph, again very handy. Despite being a van, it’s generally accepted that the handling is as good as the saloon.
Despite being produced from 1960 to 1983, they always remained firmly rooted in the past, resisting the ever more sophisticated specifications of the standard Mini, remaining very classical in their design with sliding windows, exterior door catches and the early rear lights. Mechanically they utilised an 850cc engine up until in 1967 when a 1000cc was offered, both having the single carburettor. They all had rubber sprung suspensions, opposed to the more complex hydrolastic systems, but had stiffer rear suspension and longer turrets at the rear to cope with extra weight.
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