In the early 1970s, with Mini production peaking at almost 100,000 cars per annum, over 500 fresh-faced Austin apprentices were taken on each year. In the industrial West Midland’s getting your start at Longbridge would have been one of the proudest days in a MotorPunk’s career. Cutting your teeth (or ‘grazing your knuckles’ if you were tasked to a Mini’s engine bay) as an Austin apprentice was incredibly prestigious. But life at British Leyland wasn’t all work, teabreaks and lightweight communism; there was also time for some proper British whimsy!

In 1977, Martin Ince, an apprentice Development Engineer in BL’s Experimental Department, gathered a team of young fabricators, welders and electricians and set about the challenge of making a floating Mini. Working in their own time, they planned to build an Aqua Mini for the Radio Kidderminster Hospital Broadcasting Raft Race on the River Severn. Using a lightened Mk3 shell the raft was made watertight, painted white and red, and a had a few BL decals added. Although I think they missed a trick by not actually painting it ‘Aqua’ turquoise, which was a period BL colour*.

Sporting their matching British Leyland Motorsport “helmet” t-shirts and bucket hats, four plucky trainees manned the Aqua Mini, with the two in the rear sitting backwards, powering the four paddles. “We sealed all the apertures and cut a hole in the roof for entry and escape. With electrics to power the lights and a cassette player to belt out Rod Stewart’s “Sailing” we entered numerous raft races. Great fun was had by all, and I always considered it one of the highlights of my life.” Martin is pictured here on the nearside rear of the car, pedalling away furiously.

Considered to be one of the quirkiest vehicles ever lashed together at Longbridge’s Experimental Department, it competed in another three Hampton Loade to Bewdley raft races before sinking without a trace into the British Leyland stores.

Many other wacky prototypes were salted away in the Longbridge tunnels, excavated during the war years. But a huge fire in the plant’s bowels destroyed many of these experimental models. Was the Aqua Mini among them? The surviving members of that intrepid raft race team would love to know. Drop a comment if you have any leads.

 

*nerd alert

About The Author

Darryl can usually be found up to his elbows in some unloved piece of BL detritus when he isn’t snapping and scribbling for various print magazines or producing the book on road tripping or tally-ho adventurers. As an occasional presenter on CBS's Carfection YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

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