Sports Car Shop Classics: 1967 Austin Mini Cooper S And 1999 Rolls-Royce Silver Spur

(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.