Everyone knows that I have an unnatural fondness for British Leyland. But I’m not deluded; I know they were mostly poorly built, unreliable and outdated lumps of crap, lashed together by tea-addicted, work-shy communists. It was no secret that throughout the late 70s and the 80s BL’s Top Brass knew they couldn’t compete with the Germans and Japanese and so they ‘stacked ‘em high and sold ‘em cheap’ … except everyone was on strike so Longbridge couldn’t actually bash that many out! They did sell them cheap however; it’s reckoned that BMC and BL lost around £30 on every Mini they ever sold, and they sold 1,581,887 in Britain alone!

When I was growing up British Leyland was a joke; a failing behemoth that dominated the newspaper headlines for all the wrong reasons. However, when I was a kid I mostly thought newspapers were for insulating chips. I grew up watching Minis dominate rally-cross on Saturday Grandstand; I played with my red and yellow 1275GTs on Scalextrics; I listened to my dad and uncles regale us with tales of Paddy Hopkirk and the various ‘suped up’ Coopers they’d owned. Minis were not the usual dreary dross we associated with Red Robbo, mass walk outs and those dreadful Marinas and Maxis in 50 shades of beige. Minis were cool. Fact.

However, 20 years after the first Mini had rolled off the line, the model’s heyday was over. In 1978 the sportiest Mini you could buy was the 57bhp 1275GT; a poor relation, some believed, to the original Cooper S which a cash-strapped BL dropped in 1971. Sales in the late 70s were really dipping and the new Metro was still a couple of years away. BL needed to sexy up the brand but there was no competitions department to take it rallying anymore; and anyhow, as Group B cars, like the Quattro, began to appear the little old Mini wouldn’t have stood a chance.

And so BL turned to touring cars, coaxing expert Mini wheelman Richard Longman out of retirement to campaign a highly tuned 1275GT in the 1978 BTCC season. Issigonis’ giant killer was back in business, dominating the 1300cc class and taking overall victory in most races against British muscle cars like the 3.0-litre Capris and Dolomite Sprint, VW’s new GTI and even the new fangled Wankel of the RX-7. Longman did it again in 1979 but this was to be the Clubman-fronted sporty Mini’s swansong; in 1980 BL launched the Mini Metro as its replacement while the ‘roundnose’ Mini limped on in production for another 20 years.

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The Mini tuning boffins at Swiftune also thought that the record books should be set straight and, in 2013, built a perfect replica of that Longman 1275GT for Goodwood’s 72nd Race Meeting. Battling 3.0-litre Capris, Chevrolet Camaros, V8 Rover SD1s and V6 Alfettas the mighty Mini finished in an amazing 3rd place. Sadly, many things I thought were cool in 1978 are now somewhat tarnished*, but at least I was right about the Mini.

* Jim’ll Fix it, The Hairy Cornflake, It’s a Knockout, Stylophones, anything by Gary Glitter.

About The Author

Darryl Sleath

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 occasional book on tally-ho adventurers, PE or road tripping. As an occasional presenter on XCAR’s YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

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