This week I had a story about a Mini 850 rally car sent to me by an occasional reader of this site, Mark Holloway. I found the story to be interesting and a great follow-up to my recent post about the Works Minis At Abingdon. The story is quite a bit longer than I normally post, but I decided to post it fully just the way I got it from Mark. The following is Mark’s story:
My history with Mini’s goes back a long way. My Grandfather bought a brand-new Morris Mini-Minor at the start of 1965. Being so early in the year, I’m guessing it was probably built right at the end of 1964. Unfortunately, later in ‘65 he passed away and the car became my Father’s. My Grandfather, and my parents were active members of the Northampton and District Car Club. We have a photo of my Grandfather marshaling on the 1965 Cotswold Rally with that car.
My parents went on to road rally with it, and quite successfully judging by the trophies in the dresser at home. Eventually the rallying had to stop because I came along and ruined their social life. When that time arrived, my Father bought that same Mini to take my Mother and I home from the hospital, so my very first car ride was in a Morris Mini. Much later I went on to own two Minis. My first, a 1976 Mini 1000, followed by a 1980 Mini 1000, as well as a 1970 Cox GTM (Mini based sports car). The later Mini 1000 went through a couple of dramatic upgrades to eventually become a 1380cc hillclimb/road rally car. Following in the family footsteps, I too joined the Northampton and District Car Club, and a friend and I enjoyed several club events in it.
I’d visited my Uncle in California several times while I’d owned a Mini in the UK and I’d always thought it would be fun to own one here, especially in the twisty mountain roads up in the Santa Cruz mountains. I finally emigrated to Southern California eighteen years ago. After taking a while to settle, I briefly entertained the idea of buying a Mini, but I was loathed to spend $5000 at the time, considering my last point of reference was the 1980 car which cost me £800 (roughly $1100). However, when my wife and I moved to the Bay Area, the Mini bug got me again. Prices were increasing rapidly and I thought we’d better buy one while they were still affordable. We looked at several cars locally, but found so many which were in really bad shape. That was after weeding out all the re-VINs, which is probably about 2/3 of the cars listed locally. When we did find a good one the prices were ridiculous. We started to look further afield and considered buying a car abroad and importing it. We looked all over Europe at potential rust-free countries. I must to be honest, Finland wasn’t on that list, but when we saw this car there was just something about it. It was a little bit different, and there was enough documentation and photos to reassure me that it was the real deal. We negotiated a reasonable price – even when considering import costs and set about getting it shipped.
So, here’s the interesting stuff. The car is a 1964 Morris Mini-Minor with the original, awe-inspiring, 850cc engine. All 35 horsepower of it. It’s a LHD, export model, built in the Cowley factory in December of ’64, then shipped off to Finland, where it stayed until we purchased it, then had it imported to the USA at the very end of last year.
At some point in its life, which we haven’t yet established, it became a rally car. We have FIA papers for the car from the mid 1990’s, so it’s certainly been at least twenty years. Those papers give a list of the owners from 1965 to 1976, along with a list of registration numbers for the car. There is a name on the FIA papers of the person who filed the paperwork. Presumably he either built the car, or at the very least owned it when it was registered as a historic rally car with the FIA. We’ve found his name linked to several events with a couple of Finnish motor clubs. They list him as competing in a Mini, but it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to tell whether it was this car or another.
The car appears to have been very well prepared. It looks as though the whole shell was taken back to the metal, and repainted in what we think is BMC BU-15, Smoke Grey. According to the Heritage certificate, it left the factory finished in Maroon, with satin beige interior. Of course, the original interior has been stripped out. It has fairly standard rally prep, with all the lines run through the car, bulkheads sealed, a sump guard, and six-point cage. Every mounting point for the cage, the seats, and harnesses are all doubled up with strengthening plates. The entire electrical system has been rewired in a very professional looking manner, and all the relays, fuses, and kill switch are placed on the dashboard in front of the navigator for easy access. As the shell is entirely painted body color, with no underseal or other nastiness, it’s immediately apparent that it’s very sound. A few chips and dings underneath, but nothing of any consequence.
Admittedly, it was a bit of a bold move to buy a 52-year-old car over the internet, sight-unseen, and have it shipped directly to California. However, due to the way it was prepared, the plethora of photos provided by the seller, including at my request close-ups of all those sneaky rust traps peculiar to Minis, combined the honesty of his communication in general, we felt it was a worthwhile gamble. As it turns out, this was a good decision. When we went down to the port just before Christmas of last year, we found the car easily met our expectations.
I’m really happy to have a car which could well have rolled down the Cowley production line a few cars away from my Grandfather’s Mini. When my parents visited us in January I took my father out in it and let him have a drive. Admittedly the steering wheel was on the ‘wrong’ side, but he said the feel, the sound, and the smells were instantly familiar. It was amazing how driving it bought back forty-plus year-old memories of the old car like it was yesterday. Isn’t it wonderful how visceral memories of a car can bring things back like that.
Hold on, I think I have something in my eye . . .
Moving on, I’d really like to try to find out more about its competition history, but that may prove to be very difficult. I mean, the fact that the events were probably with a fairly obscure local car club, in Finland, and in the relatively early days of the internet. Hmm well, I’ll see what I can dig up.
I’ve been doing a little digging on the history of my car and have found some of the Finnish events in which it competed. I even found some video of the final event listed – not very flattering, and possibly running into the snow bank / tree was the reason for the ‘Mechanical’. No major harm done by the look of it though.
8th January 2000 – XV OP- Ralli – Teppo Lindberg / Eino Romppanen – Morris Mini-Minor, Car #3 45th Overall, 5th Class
29th January 2000 – Prisma Ralli – Teppo Lindberg / Eino Romppanen – Morris Mini-Minor, Car #4 42nd Overall, 6th Class
11th March 2000 – IX Kangasniemi Ralli – Teppo Lindberg / Ari Pekka Nieminen – Morris Mini-Minor, Car #7 57th Overall, 6th Class
26th August 2000 – Sparco Ralli – Teppo Lindberg / Ari Pekka Nieminen – Morris Mini, Car #8 53rd Overall, 7th Class
27th January 2001 – Orimattila Ralli – Kim Forsman / Kai Forsman – Morris Mini-Minor, Car #5 60th Overall, 9th Class
25th May 2002 – XXXL Kaakkois Ralli – Kim Forsman / Kai Forsman – Morris Mini-Minor, Car #2 – 56th Overall, 6th in Class
4th January 2003 – IX Peurunkarally – Kim Forsman / Kai Forsman – Morris Mini-Minor, Car #6 – DNF – Mechanical (Made it to end of 3rd Stage)
Link to YouTube video here (first few seconds of the clip); https://youtu.be/-Fk9YtbzOAY
Six months after its last listed event, the car was sold to Markuu Juntunen. From what I was told, he didn’t use it for competition and I can find no record of him doing so. I’m now trying to find ways to get in touch with Teppo Lindberg and Kim Forsman to see if they can provide more information, or have any photos or history they would share.
On another note, the car will be returning to ‘rallying’ this weekend. My wife and I have entered a two-day road rally in Northern California. The Snowball Rally (http://thesnowballrally.com/) is more of a social rally / motor tour than a competitive event, but it will be the first time my wife has done anything even remotely like this. Still, I’m sure the little 850 is going to be given a good workout as we’re going to be up in the Sierra Nevada mountains around Lake Tahoe and trying to keep up with considerably more powerful cars. I’ll try to take photos as I’m sure there will be several interesting cars. Right now, I have a last-minute weepy water pump to replace, but otherwise we’re good to go. We even have ‘Monte Carlo’ style door numbers with our competitor number courtesy of a generous co-worker with a vinyl cutter.
Snowball Rally, Friday Evening
Well, what an amazing weekend!
The Snowball Rally is a two-day event, with an optional ‘night stage’ on the Friday evening. The event is strictly for classic cars, the only criteria is they must be pre-1980, and the more interesting the better.
We started off late Friday afternoon meeting up with some of our fellow entrants on the Marin headlands, at the North end of the Golden Gate Bridge. The assortment of cars was pretty amazing. Among them were a few Porsche 911’s and a 356, a handful of TR3’s and TR4’s, several interesting Alfa Romeos, a pair of Datsun 1600 Roadsters, a Dinalpine (Mexican built Renault-Alpine A110) and a 1950’s Rolls Royce Silver Cloud – you get the picture. The collection of people was equally diverse. There were three Minis, a decidedly NOT pre-1980 Mini which the owner either thought, or was pretending, was a 1968, the 1971 Australian built Mini 1000, and our 1964. We could safely make the claim of having the smallest engine of all the cars there.
Early evening, after the bay area traffic had calmed down a little, we were given our road books and a quick driver’s briefing (basically “Please be careful, courteous, and don’t crash”), and we were dispatched off towards Sacramento – our Friday night destination. The route took us out of the bay area, and North through Napa wine country. It was an absolutely gorgeous evening, and quite a spectacle driving along with the other classic cars. As we passed through picturesque small towns as the sun set, there were plenty of pedestrians stopping in their tracks on their evening stroll to watch, wave, and take photos as the cars drove through.
I will admit, we made an early navigational error. We were assuming the route instructions would take us straight unless told otherwise, but we quickly worked out that we should stay on the road designation unless told otherwise. So, remain following CA-12 even if it turns ninety degrees off the straight road you’re on. Never mind, we quickly corrected the error, got back on track, and learned the thinking process of the guy setting the route.
As darkness fell, we were zipping along a road atop one of the levees on the Sacramento river delta. The cars were well spread out by now, so the road was very quiet. It was a good chance to run our genuine ‘60’s Lucas auxiliary lights. I really don’t know what you Americans are talking about with all your Lucas jokes! Of course, they worked wonderfully and lit up the road up like daylight. A good job, as the road was very unpredictable. It basically followed the edge of the water, but would suddenly dip down off the levee, through a sharp ‘S’ bend, then another ‘S’ back up onto the top again. It was a wonderful drive, along a very interesting piece of road, and obviously the Mini was in its element. We finally pulled in to the restaurant’s crowded parking lot. We were definitely not the first there, but also not the last to arrive. Already the wild tales had started!
Snowball Rally, Day 1
The day started bright and early(ish) in a small square to the south of downtown Sacramento. We pulled in and parked, then watched car after car arrive. Of course, the guys we’d seen the previous night were all there, but then other machinery started pulling in and some of it was breath-taking. Two Jaguar XK-120’s, an XK-140, two big Healeys, an E-type, then a BMW 3.0 CSL. Seriously, how many of those have you seen on the road in recent years, and this guy was going to give it a thrashing through the mountains. That’s so neat! All in all, there were about 65 cars entered, and another dozen or so driven up just to watch. Again, some interesting stuff, including a guy with a 1960’s Renault Floride Gordini. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those before.
After another quick drivers meeting (we were basically told not to crash, and be cool) we set off of the day one route “Snowpocalypse”. Leaving Sacramento as quickly as possible, we set out along more scenic country roads and rolling hillsides. Everything was still beautifully green after our unusually wet winter. Again, cars were reasonably well spaced out, but inevitably small groups form and run together. This is definitely a social tour rather than a frantic competitive event. A quick stop at ” . . . the last gas station for 70 miles”, along with almost every other car on the event had the locals bemused. I was a little concerned with the fuel range on a standard 5.5 gallon Mini fuel tank. Particularly as the tank is foam filled, which slightly reduces its volume, and has no gauge to read inside the car. We have a calibrated sight glass (well, plastic) in the trunk, so know how much fuel we had when stationary. We had to rely on a static measurement and an average mpg figure to calculate available range. Still, we never ran into issues and were getting a fairly consistent 36 – 38 mpg (30mpg US gallons) despite driving everywhere practically flat-out as you have to in an 850 Mini.
Shortly after the fuel stop we ran behind one of the Austin Healeys as we climbed up CA-88 towards the Carson Pass. Admittedly, our little 850 was no match for the big Healey going uphill, and we were frequently running third gear at 40 to 50 mph just to keep moving. As soon as the road got level and twisty, or there was any downhill whatsoever, we could catch up again. It was good entertainment, if a little loud, and before too long we were cresting the 8652 ft pass, crossing the state line into Nevada, and heading towards the lunch stop.
The organizers did a great job with their planning and had made prior arrangements with diners and restaurants in the small town at the designated lunch stop. Pulling up next to the XK-120, or a late 60’s 911, was very pleasant visual treat for us. Other visitors were also keen to stop and talk to crews about the cars, and what we were doing. There was so much interest and appreciation from hikers, cyclists, bikers, and fellow participants who made everyone feel welcome.
The next leg continued along now NV-88 before turning off again through several other small towns heading towards Carson City. The city itself was busy, traffic was slow, but it was really unavoidable. Still, the Mini was getting lots of waves and thumbs-up from other drivers, most of whom were driving pick-up trucks the size of small houses. Before long we were back off the busy roads and heading up towards Virginia City. For those who don’t know, Virginia City is a mining ‘boom town’ that sprang up in 1859 when major silver deposits were discovered nearby. Looking at it, it hasn’t really changed much since then. They have surfaced the road through town, but there are still wooden-fronted stores along a wooden boardwalk just like you see in the westerns. Unfortunately, this has made it a tourist attraction, so everything appears terribly ‘tacky’. Still, it was worth stopping for a photo and another inevitable chat with the bystanders.
From there, we headed down into the Reno valley, but no time to stop before heading back up into the mountains (and the snow) to the West. Mount Rose Pass is the highest point of Highway 431, and the highest pass which is open year-round. Other, higher passes are closed in winter due to the snow. At 8911 ft elevation the little Mini felt a little asthmatic, but we still managed to pull over the summit with more third-gear thrashing before descending to Lake Tahoe. Like the thin air at altitude, the scenery was also breath-taking. Tahoe is an absolutely magical place – one of those ‘looks almost too good to be real’ sort of places. Of course, being Nevada, our overnight was in a hotel-casino. We felt we’d gambled enough all day, so we didn’t touch the tables and headed straight for the steak house and dinner with some new-found friends.
Snowball Rally, Day 2
Our final day was a slightly later start to allow everyone to sleep off the previous night’s festivities. Apparently, not everyone just went for dinner then turned in for the night!
We managed to have an entire parking lot reserved for the rally participants, which made life easy for another pre-run drivers meeting. This was the usual “don’t crash” and a warning about some towns to take very cautiously due to over enthusiastic local police, and general warnings about road conditions. Still, everyone was anxious to head out. Then stop down the road for breakfast.
Driving along the shores of Lake Tahoe in the early morning was sublime. Several other classic car owners, not participating in the rally, had come out to have a look and follow along for a while. We followed a lovely white 911 out of town and up the Donner Pass road. As we turned off to head cross-country through undulating pine forest, we were followed by a British Racing Green XK-120 and a TR-3. I thought we’d be passed in no time, yet as soon as we got to some bendy roads we lost them. It wasn’t like we were going particularly fast, it’s an 850 don’t forget, so maybe they were some of the revelers from the previous night.
Pine forests quickly gave way to wide open alpine meadows. Yet again, the organizers had found some stunning scenery and it was too good not to slow down to enjoy.
The lunch stop arrived quickly and, feeling as though we’d only just had breakfast, we made the decision to fill up with gas then drive on. Hopefully we’d get a run at the canyon before everyone else got there. We’d been told by a fellow Mini driver who had done the event previously, that we were very likely to be headed down the Feather River Canyon road. He said it was a road made for a Mini. He wasn’t kidding! It was pretty much an uninterrupted run of 75 miles following the Feather River gorge gently down hill. The road wound back and forth parallel to the river. Sunlight and shadow flickered through the windscreen as we wound our way under lush green trees. It was probably the driving highlight of the weekend and we seriously considered stopping at the bottom, turning around, and doing it all again.
Sadly, we were time limited, and our evening reception dinner was already booked, so we continued on our way. Exiting the canyon, we quickly started the descent down to the Sacramento delta. As the altitude decreased, the temperature increased and it was over 30 degrees centigrade as we got back to the level. Still, the Mini was relatively unfazed, although the temperature gauge was noticeably higher than it was in the cool mountain air. A quick, but boring run along the Interstate was ended when we turned off through a small town and back onto one of the levee roads. It was much more open in the daylight than the tunnel-like feeling we’d had at night, but the coolness of the river fifteen feet below us on the right was definitely helping keep the temperature in the car down. Another beautiful drive, although not quite as exciting as our night-time jaunt, and we were soon back in the city heading towards our final stop.
I have to say, the whole event was an absolute blast – great cars, great people, fantastic scenery, amazing driving roads, and top entertainment. I’m very fortunate that my wife really got the hang of the navigating and on top of that, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. We have agreed that this is something we most definitely want to do again.
Our little rally Mini may not be pounding the forest stages anymore, but she is still giving it a good go and keeping smiles on faces.
Snowball rally – Epilogue
Unfortunately, my wife was feeling a little queasy at the awards banquet. I guess starting at a map in a very hot car all afternoon was not a particularly good thing for her. Anyway, we had to excuse ourselves and leave early to allow her to get some rest back at our hotel. It turns out this was unfortunate as we were nominated the winners of the “Best in Snow” perpetual trophy for having a cool car, and enthusiastic attitude – Yeay!
I’ve been doing a little more research on our car and its previous owners and have managed to track down two of the gentlemen who competed with her. Tepo Lindberg spent two years restoring the car, and he sent me a photo of the shell in its epoxy primer. He told me he will send more pictures, but needs to go through his storage files and find them.
Also, I’ve received a message from Kim Forsman. He purchased the car from Tepo and competed also competed in it with his brother as navigator. He has sent a great photo of the car in action. The photo shows the car on the ORIMATTILA RALLI in Finland where it ended up finishing 60th overall.
I’ve also learned more about the car’s build specification. The 850 engine is the original fitted to the car from the factory. It was rebuilt during the restoration to FIA Production Touring Car rules, as was the rest of the car. I’m sure some of you here know more than me about this, but it sounds as though this is equivalent to the original Group 2 rules in the 60’s. It was built to the 1959 homologation standards to enable it to run on dry suspension, as the period correct Hydrolastic suspension was never particularly suited to competition cars, isn’t particularly durable, and is getting very difficult to find parts. The head was skimmed as much as possible to raise the compression without breaking into the oil gallery. He thinks this gave it around a 10:1 compression ratio, but needs to find his original build documentation to confirm the actual figure. Standard valve and port sizes were maintained, but the ports were given a light clean up. The camshaft was a billet item with a BMC544/286 profile. The head was then built up with Cooper S outer springs only. Bore size was taken to first oversize, making it an 874cc engine. Flywheel was lightened, and the whole crank, pulley, flywheel, and clutch assembly balanced. He believes it will run very well up to around 7000 rpm. The distributor, I quote, “. . . was tuned (spring setting and ultimate advance) by an expert mechanic of racing Minis (from the) late ’60’s”. Other than that, and a central oil pick-up in the gearbox, the car was fairly stock. It has a LSD too, but this appears to have been a later addition. I’d be interested to know how well the engine performs on the dyno. It’s surprisingly perky, and doesn’t seem to have too much trouble keeping up with the Coopers on our Mini Owners of America San Francisco (MOASF) club runs.
A quick update – Another email from Mr. Kim Forsman. Kim has sent some more pictures from some of his events with the car. These were all photos he had in his collection. He actually took the time to take them to a place to have them digitally scanned so he could send them to me – what an amazingly generous man!
These first two are of the car on the XXXL Kaakois Ralli held near Kotka. They finished 56th overall, and 3rd in class as evidenced by the trophy!
These next two photos show the car on the Peurunka Ralli near Laukka. This ended in a DNF and appears to have been the car’s final competitive rally.
He also sent me a photo of the car on the Black Rocket Rally. Result was 81st overall and 12th in class
I appreciate the time and effort that Mark Holloway put in to putting the above story. If you have any comments or questions on the post or Mark’s Mini, then leave a comment below or you can send me a private email at the following address: shanna12 at comcast dot net