(first posted 10/24/2012) We haven’t dropped in on the Sports Car Shop for a while, but spotting these two out front made it pretty irresistible. What a matching set of Britain’s finest; or more accurately, their smallest and largest. It’s not that I haven’t found Rolls-Royces and Minis on the streets here, but in the case of the Mini, this is an exceptional example that begs for a closer look. The Rolls? Not all that exceptional; the Silver Spur will not go down in history as one of the best representatives of the marque, at least design-wise. Don’t expect it to get as much quality time with me as the Cooper S.
I haven’t seen such an original Cooper S in a long while. This one is a genuine U.S.-market import from the last year such cars were available. In fact, in 1967 the only Mini still being imported was the Cooper S, which had endeared itself to a small but loyal cult. That year also was the last altogether for the Mark 1 Mini and its original grille and other details. This one embodies several endings.
For those of you too young to have been steeped in original Mini nomenclature, the basic Mini was just that (CC here): An 850 cc economy car of unprecedented compactness. The Cooper and Cooper S were strictly performance versions; the Cooper came first, in 1961, fitted with a 997 cc, 55-hp version of the little A-Series engine. It had twin SU carbs, a close-ratio gearbox and disc brakes. The first one-thousand copies were built to qualify it for racing.
The more powerful Cooper S arrived in 1963, powered by a 1,070 cc engine; subsequent Cooper S’s, such as this one, got the definitive 1,275 cc, 75-hp version. The Cooper S used a special cylinder head not available on MG Midget and Austin Healey Sprite engines, both of which were rated at 65 hp.
In the hands of Paddy Hopkirk, the Cooper S won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally outright, and would come back to repeat that performance in 1965 and 1967. Let’s just say the the little bomb became a huge legend.
Clearly, this car is very original. It’s been in the same Oregon family since 1969, and its owner recently died. You just don’t see them like this anymore unless you can either turn back the time machine to the ’70s, or find one stashed in a garage like this one.
The Mini is so narrow, my camera couldn’t catch both the seat back and the instrument nacelle in one shot. Just try to find a Cooper S with its original steering wheel.
Since we’re peeping, let’s look in the back, which really can seat a couple of adults, preferably ones raised on the bad food of the postwar years in England. I wouldn’t recommend it to those raised on Big Gulps.
I couldn’t get a look under the hood, so this shot is from their website. The compact A-block fills up the bay pretty well; Alec Issigonis wasted no space anywhere. The transmission is integrated into the engine sump, which meant that it shared oil with the engine–not perfect, but it worked well enough. Keeping dry that distributor placed inches behind the front grille could be a challenge in a downpour.
That’s the short story of a huge legend, so how about an even shorter story of a huger car? Actually, despite of how it looks compared with the Mini, the Silver Spur, even as the long-wheelbase version of the Silver Spirit, is not really all that huge, at 211.8″ long. Compared to today’s Phantom, it would look downright compact.
Yes, it also looks tall compared with the Mini, but when compared with much of today’s vehicular fleet these Rollers lack the majestic presence of their forerunners and of the Phantom, which obviously was designed to re-create that “We are better than thee” feeling. Upon seeing this car in traffic the other day, both of us noted how rather nondescript it looked.
The Silver Spirit/Silver Spur shared platforms with the Silver Shadow, which first appeared in 1966. Given that today’s Bentley Arnage still rides on basically the same platform, that makes it very venerable indeed, at almost a half-century old.
The outside might not be overly majestic, but Rolls-Royce interiors almost always are. That steering wheel sure isn’t, though; it might as well have come from a ten-year old pickup truck.
This is the place to be in a long-wheelbase Roller. The ad for this car says 1999, but Wikipedia claims that production of these cars ended in 1998. Hmmm. Presumably, someone is wrong. This one does have the turbocharged engine, but is not called the Flying Spur. I’m hardly the expert on these, and I’ll leave that to someone else.
Genuine CooperS cars are worth good coin now and there are many clones about though the extra stud for the cylinder head is hard to fake
That Cooper is rather charming. There is something rather endearing about a Mini. My Grandmother had the normal cooking version of the Mini when I was a small boy that she loved dearly. The sound of the engine and gearbox was very distinctive.
Note the Mini’s radiator drawing air from the left wheel well. An old friend found when the roads were just at the edge of freezing, not uncommon in this climate, the fact that one front tire was a little warmer than the other led to some exciting moments on tight-radius off-ramps!
All Issigonis New-Design cars, including the landcrab, have this `feature’. This could of course be implemented easily with a front-facing radiator and electric fan, but considering it would have been a Lucas fan, it was probably better this way.
Look at the fan, it is supposed to pull air out of the engine compartment into the wheel well. People would put a fore-&-aft A-series fan on these & wonder about the overheating.
Actually Mike it doesnt it draws air through the grill and pushes it out through the radiator and gills cut in the wheel well.
Were I into English cars, this duo would make up the perfect garage. OK, maybe a droptop sports car would be necessary. But for everything else, you have the fun, zippy little errand-runner/canyon carver and the uber-luxurious cruiser for the interstate or when a guy tires of working a gearshift to stay inside of a narrow, peaky powerband. I could even grow a mustache and buy a tweed cap and driving gloves. Then, whether you are in the mood for darts and a pint of Guinnes or a cup of tea, you have just the right car.
Don’t forget a British Racing Green Morris Isis/Oxford to fetch parts for these cars in.
Another Issigonis design.
For whatever reason the generation Rolls-Royce shown in this photo has never been able to develop a strong following, which is resulting in the lowest prices I have seen of used Rolls in my lifetime with some nice examples in the $10,000 range and still falling. No one seems to want a 1981-1999 Rolls. I must admit they are amount my least favorite.
> No one seems to want a 1981-1999 Rolls.
Too much ten year old Mercedes-Benz clone styling. Although the car is different enough (the interiors, Oh! The interiors…), it doesn’t *look* that different. RR in the old days was a more prestigious marque than MB. This period coincided with the steady downfall of RR and up-market push of Mercedes-Benz. Of course, now BMW-Royce are full-on pimp mobiles with no pretence of class at all, but they’re sufficiently differentiated from both BMW and MB, a task which MB’s own Maybach marque failed at.
I think what made Rolls-Royce what it “was”, was the persistence in a few key areas. I would never compare Mercedes or BMW to the pre-BMW Rolls because Mercedes and BMW are mass produced cars, whereas Rolls-Royce only made a few thousand bespoke cars until the ugly Rolls of today. Mercedes attempt at that market was the Maybach, just a S-Class in drag, and we see what happened there. When BMW bought Rolls they went to the same parts bin they used for BMW. You can find the same A/C buttons in the Rolls in the picture you will find in a BMW 3-Series to a 7-Series of that era. Sad isn’t it? I wish Rolls-Royce could have remained in British hands until the British people where tired of picking up the check for low profits at which time they would have given the name a nice proper funeral and burial.
PS, For me the last great Mercedes was the 1964-1980 600.
+1 on your PS.
I would love one. To me they’re the least ostentatious of the bunch.
I found one at a u pull it junkyard five years ago, $10k is the value for a “pristine” example. Personally I don’t get the appeal of Rolls Royce in general but I REALLY don’t get the appeal of this generation which looks about as distinctive as a GM B body
I like the Rolls! No bloody floor shifter here. Still has a fat knee-bruiser console though.
Also all the chrome parts in the interior, vents, switches etc are actually brass underneath because apparently it gives a better chrome finish.
Not strictly accurate to say that the postwar diet was “bad” food. Actually, it was a far more balanced and sensible diet than we have become used to! Lots of fruit/veg, reasonable amount of carbs, very little meat and butter. So you’re right that the slim, healthy people of the time were quite well suited to the back seat of a mini!
I learnt to drive in an 850 mini (and a 504 estate), and found it heaps of fun, up to 50mph on country roads. Longer journeys on bigger roads were a bit tiring.
How did you manage your knees with the low, low height of the driver’s seat?
Well enough, I guess. I’m 6’2″, so probably you wouldn’t pick a mini as being my perfect car. Someone had fitted a smaller, non-standard steering wheel, so that may have helped.
I’ve never had a problem in the driving seat of any car. However, back seats are not my natural territory – I particularly remember spending some non-quality time in the back of an MX-3…
I used to feel quite comfy behind the wheel of some pretty small cars, as long as their tall enough.
I drove a 1966 Mini in Denver a while ago, and I fit in that car so well despite my 6’8″ height. The owner had to double-take the look at where my legs went. He couldn’t believe I had about three-four inches of headroom.
The angle of steering wheel helped greatly. Despite the tiny size, Mini was one of the most comfortable and roomy cars I have ever driven.
I had a rental Mini 1000 in the late 70s I had three 6 footers plus me in it one night one with broken leg in plaster his crutches just fitted down the centre of the car between parcel shelf and rear window, theres more room in a real Mini than it looks like.
People used to complain about the ‘bus-driver’ steering wheel angle of the small Issigonis cars, but it did give plenty of legroom.
I said that tongue-in-cheek. 🙂 But you’re quite right, and if you came to visit, you’d be getting a lot of that “bad” food at our house.
Forced to chose between the two, I’d take the Mini for bombing down a mountain road but I’d much rather have the Rolls as a daily driver.
Honestly when it comes to long wheelbase sedans my preferences are branded Jaguar, Cadillac, and Lincoln in that order.
This is why it bugs me that all Minis are now Coopers. The name has been rendered meaningless. It would be like suddenly calling all Mustangs Shelbys.
It would help to think of them as (slightly) smaller BMWs.
Correction: all U.S-market MINIs are Coopers. BMW doesn’t bother to import the less-powerful MINI First and MINI One (or the diesels), but they are available in other markets.
BMW Mini diesel set a fuel economy record in NZ when first released they used a Peugeot 206 turbo diesel powertrain in the early models.
That Spur steering wheel is the BMW airbag wheel isn’t it? I’m sure Rolls began using BMW components well before being sold to them.
My best mate had a fleet of 3 Spirit/Spurs as his wedding cars 3 yrs ago. As one of the groomsmen I spent a good period of time in the Spirit, and was suprised how SUV-like it felt from the passenger seat – tall seating position and vaguely ponderous manouvering. I do like the Spirit/Spur because of their subtle appearance – but give me an SII Shagow any day. In reality though, all I could afford is a Mini – which is fine by me as they’re awesome little go-karts!
Paul, I can bet that Stephanie would have loved the 1956 Ford Squire woody wagon that was recently sold at this dealership.
You bet she did; I did a post on that: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-capsule-1956-ford-squire-for-a-man-with-a-load-on-his-mind/
That post is why I thought that Stephanie would like that wagon they sold recently.
“Since we’re peeping, let’s look in the back, which really can seat a couple of adults, preferably ones raised on the bad food of the postwar years in England.” Also, include smokers (tobacco smokers), because smoking supposedly keeps you thin by curbing your appetite.
NOTE:no offense is meant to anybody
That is a nice Mini!
Actually it is fairly easy to keep the ignition dry. There is a plastic cover that is attached to the top of the rocker-cover and from there it reaches all the way down to the bottom of the engine and it is about the width of the rocker cover.
I don’t have a pic now “in action” only as you can see on the pic, top right corner.
The easier alternative is to use a dishwashing glove with the leads run out through the fingers!
A few weeks ago I saw an “old” Mini and a new one parked nose to tail. Should have stopped to take a picture, but it was quite a contrast. I’d like to catch old and new Fiat 500’s together. As for the Rolls, as someone who was just old enough to have the Silver Cloud ingrained in my childhood mind as “the” Rolls Royce, the Silver Shadow and successors are certainly dull. I think Road & Track described the Shadow as looking like a Peugeot 403 with a Rolls grille tacked on.
dman, my first car was a 1959 or ’60 Fiat 500, which I traded in after about 18 months on a ’59 Morris 850. The Mini was exactly 10′ long on purpose – Issigonis was out to prove a point or something – while the 500 with massive American-market bumpers came in at a few inches shorter (and about 400 pounds lighter!). The other day I saw a new 500 parked next to an earlier Honda Fit, which unlike the 500 will hold four standard-size adults in relative comfort. Despite this, the Fit was noticeably shorter. As for old and new Minis, both my ’59 saloon and ’61 Countryman (wagon) could carry four adults without too much difficulty, whereas I managed – barely – to squeeze into my mom-in-law’s new Mini’s back seat, and damn near killed myself clambering back out.
Same experience for me in a Mini Convertible. It would be unwise to market this & the 500 as serious choices for basic family transportation, which the originals were.
I’ve always wanted one of those Minis. The Rolls, on the other hand, screams ‘small-to-medium time drug dealer’.
I’m always surprised to be reminded that the Spirit/Spur lasted as long as they did. I think of them as design contemporaries to the “box” B-bodies and Panthers which were done by ’92.
The replacement model Rolls was shown at the 1998 Motor Show, so there may have been a little overlap between the first of the new and the last of the ‘old’. The new model didn’t last long in Rolls Royce form though, thanks to the sale to BMW.
Call me old-school, but I’ve always liked this generation Mini Cooper, before the extensive restyle.
Does the Mini have Smiths gauges? I love those, not only because they’re very legible, but also because I was able to fix a speedo once: loose screw. That was the redeeming thing about Brit cars: their assembly was inefficiently labor-intensive (lots of screws) & therefore easy to undo.
Neil, the gauges (or in the case of the 850, the gauge) are Smiths indeed. As happens for some reason to me a lot, the speedo on my second one went out the first time I drove it; had I known it was possibly a loose screw I might have been spared having to find and buy an electronic tach, followed by years of converting RPM to MPH in my head. As it was, I generally avoided any repairs I couldn’t do myself, especially on items whose inner secrets were not in my mental vocabulary.
Fantastic little Mini, though the low seating position does look like it might be uncomfortable for any distance. As to the Rolls? These were the “new” Rolls models when I was growing up, so they do seem “real” to me, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the design either. It’s big, and it’s got presence, but it seems too conservative. Like a Silver Shadow with all the character designed out of it. Plus I’m always surprised they hung around as long as they did–these were looking dated in the late 90’s in a much worse way than the Shadow in the late 70’s or the Cloud in the mid 60’s.
I’d still like one for that interior though!
I could probably be talked into giving a limb for that Mini, or at least a few lesser digits. The Rolls, on the other hand, not so much. I had an acquaintance about 10 years ago who owned a late 80’s Silver Spirit. I had occasion to ride in it a couple times to functions that he thought warranted the rolling out of the “Good Car”. The interior was sublime, but I’ve never felt like a bigger D-Bag than when getting out of that thing at a valet stand. Not to mention that on one of the few times we took it out for an evening it monsooned, which as luck would have it rendered the car lifeless at midnight in a small town Pennsylvania restaurant parking lot. Again, I felt like crawling under a rock rather than face the auto club guy sent out to jump start the stupid thing for “the four pompous asses who just had to show off” and ended up standing in the mud. Another mutual friend was impressed to point of swooning over the dumb thing until I informed him that he could have owned one at the time (2005) for less than he’d paid for the Altima he was driving then. There’s no worse investment than a used Rolls Royce. A fool and his money….as they say.
Rolls-Royce planned to cease the production of Silver Spirit/Silver Spur in 1997 when the new Silver Seraph was introduced in 1998. However, Rolls-Royce had so many bodies and parts sitting around so Silver Spur production until 1999.
Other 1999 Silver Spur for sale:
I always forget how little the original Mini is, everytime I see one, I’m always amazed at how tiny it is. Then again, when you’re 6’3, everything always seems smaller than it really is. Perception and all that.
I always liked the Rolls Royce Silver Spur, it may seem too blocky and conservative for some, but that’s always what appealed to me about to me. I always associated the Rolls with more conservative styling, and like the Buicks of old, it was always a characteristic that I liked. However, by 1999, these cars looked really old hat by that point, and I never liked the final generation because it looked lumpier and cheaper than the previous ones, not helped by the decision to body color the bumpers which was a decision that I never think looks right with luxury cars.