- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Visitors to the Washington Auto Show this week saw the resurrected Mini under the BMW badge.
The genesis of the car occurred in the mind of Alec Issigonis more than half a century ago.
The thought that went into this began before World War II. The war delayed development, as did the postwar economic disaster.
In the first decade after the war the "economy cars" built in Europe were lacking mostly in size and performance. What really put the Mini on the front burner was when Egypt occupied the Suez Canal in 1956 and cut the oil supply to the West.
British Motor Corporation officers determined there was a great need for an inexpensive small car that combined economy of operation with large-car characteristics such as performance and interior spaciousness.
The task was assigned to Mr. Issigonis who quickly decided that the key to a successful project was having the engine and transmission take up as little space as possible.
Economics dictated using an existing engine. The four-cylinder Morris Minor engine was chosen, but it came with a problem: it was 38 inches long.
Mr. Issigonis had already calculated that the space needed for four passengers and their luggage would be a cube 104 inches long by 50 inches wide by 52 inches tall. He didn't want to tack on another 38 inches to accommodate the engine.
By mounting the engine sideways a lot of space could be saved but there was no room for the transmission behind the engine. By placing the gearbox under instead of behind the crankshaft, Mr. Issigonis found he had an engine/transmission unit that fit neatly between the two front drive wheels. The battery was moved from under the hood to the trunk to help equalize weight distribution.
From start to finish Mr. Issigonis had shepherded the Mini from concept to production in less than 21/2 years. The first preproduction Minis were built April 4, 1959, and by August 1959 Minis were regularly rolling off the assembly line.
The little cars proved to be so popular they were soon seen on highways and city streets throughout Europe.
That's where Peter Garahan saw his first Mini. From 1965 to 1967 Mr. Garahan was assigned to shore duty as a Navy enlisted man."I traveled extensively throughout Europe," he said. Everywhere he went he saw Minis.
Almost 30 years came and went before Mr. Garahan, now of Great Falls, read a magazine article in 1995 about Mini automobiles. "The whimsical little cars made me smile," Mr. Garahan said.
After a bit of research Mr. Garahan decided the model for him was the slightly larger "Countryman" station wagon. He began looking for one in 1996.
He searched for two years before concluding he was never going to find the car of his dreams. That's when he called Mini restoration expert Leo Jacks in Great Britain. Mr. Garahan, who explained to Mr. Jacks what he wanted, was assured that his will would be done.
Within a month Mr. Jacks telephoned to say he had located a beat-up derelict of a Mini, which was the model Mr. Garahan had specified. After he purchased the rusty hulk in November 1998, Mr. Jacks hauled it to his restoration facility in Bridgewater.
Because Minis are his specialty, parts and tools are readily available. Mr. Jacks kept Mr. Garahan abreast of progress on the car through photographs and telephone calls.
The car had to be rebuilt from the ground up, so Mr. Garahan suggested that some improvements be incorporated during the process. All of the cosmetic ash wood trim had to be replaced. Because Mr. Garahan had requested front wheel well fender flares, he asked Mr. Jacks if he could duplicate the fender flares in wood for the rear wheels.
No problem, Mr. Jacks said.
The original 998 cc engine was adequate; however, a hotter 1,275 cc engine with twin S.U. carburetors would be better. To make it easier to handle the extra power, Mr. Garahan asked for 13-inch, eight-spoke wheels to replace the original 10-inch wheels.
No problem, Mr. Jacks said.
Four months after Mr. Jacks purchased the derelict Mini Countryman, the remarkable transformation was complete. In March of 1999 an anxious Mr. Garahan flew to England with his wife, Maryam.
When he first saw the renewed 10-foot, 8-inch-long Mini wagon that stood a short 52 inches tall with a 25-inch-long hood covering the mighty transverse power plant, he was ecstatic.
It started easily and everything worked. "The speedometer reaches 110 mph," Mr. Garahan said, "but the car doesn't."
Mr. and Mrs. Garahan motored about England for a week in their new old car before flying home to Great Falls. The car followed by ship six weeks later.
When the car arrived at the port of Baltimore Mr. Garahan and his wife drove to claim their prize. There was absolutely no hassle and the trip home was without incident.
With the barn doors at the rear of the car open, the opening is 30 inches high and 40 inches wide. That large opening combined with a low step-over height makes the Mini a favorite of the 14-year-old family Labrador retriever.
After the September 11 attack Mr. Garahan gave a lot of thought to how he could express both his anger and his patriotism. That's when he recollected the Mini sedans he had seen in England with the Union Jack covering the roof. The slightly longer Countryman model would be perfect, he thought, as a billboard for the stars and stripes.
Mr. Garahan had Studio4squared create the flag decal tailored to fit the roof of his Mini.
"The flag went on the first week of November," Mr. Garahan said. "Since then, nothing brings more smiles."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide