Curbside Classic: 1980 Austin / BL Mini 95 Van – Just More Of It To Love

Twentieth Century Minis are a yen a dozen in this country, as I’ve documented in many of my monthly singles posts. Several have included a Mini, because I see them so often that, every once in a while, a photo-worthy one does show up. Most times though, they’re just bog standard late model Rover-badged Coopers and Citys, nothing all that exciting. This long-roof version however, complete with UK plates, was very different and warrants its very own long-form post. [Late edit: as if the universe wanted to prove me wrong, between the time I wrote this and publication, I encountered two very interesting Minis. More soon then…]

First the bad news: whatever kind of an excuse these are for headlamps is just plain wrong. Not a fan of the black vinyl wrap on the bonnet and the blacked out chrome in general, but those are less off-putting than these LED-infested atrocities perched on those wings. But enough said about that – it’s not a total deal-breaker.

Aside from the front, the rest of the car looks very nice indeed. I’m even ok with the aftermarket wheels in this case, which is not my usual position on the matter, but these look cool.

I’m assuming that we’re all pretty familiar with the Mini, but perhaps this variant is not quite as well known. The Mini was born in 1959 under the Austin and Morris marques; the long-roof version arrived just a year later. There were two distinct lineages: the family-oriented Austin Countryman / Morris Traveller, some of which were of the fancy wood-trimmed variety, and the no-frills workmanlike ¼ ton Van.

Both the Van and the Countryman / Traveller shared a longer wheelbase, which was all of 84.2 inches (2138 mm), compared to the saloon’s 80.25’’ (2036 mm). This, as well as a tiny amount of extra rear overhang, made the estate / van 9.5 inches (240 mm) longer than the saloon’s 120.2’’ (3054 mm) – just as long as the Wolseley Hornet / Riley Elf. In 1961, a Pickup variant was added to the range on the LWB platform.

All long-roof Minis got a twin barn door tailgate, too. Back in 1960, the hatch was still far from ubiquitous, even in wagons, but it’s still a bit strange that a highly cutting-edge car like the Mini opted for this rather old-fashioned solution.

LWB Minis, clockwise from top left: 1960-69 Countryman, panel van, pickup, 1970-80 Clubman Estate


The woodie Countryman / Traveller did not survive the first major shake-up of the Mini range in 1969, when the new British Leyland direction also elected to do away with the twee stuff, such as the Wolseley and Riley variants and even the Austin and Morris badges. They decided to turn Mini into its own independent brand (on the domestic market, at least) and ushered in the Clubman as the new Mini deluxe, so the Clubman Estate appeared, sans wood. But the Mini panel van and pickup, still dressed in their 1960 clothes, including the external door hinges that had disappeared on the saloons, carried on regardless through the depressing lows of the BL era, also known as the ’70s.

All of the sudden, in the last weeks of 1978, British Leyland remembered about their LWB commercial Minis and gave the range a slight makeover. The name became Mini 95 Pickup and Van, at least on the domestic market and several important Continental ones (e.g. France, Belgium or Germany). But as always with BMC / BL products, certain markets had their own thing going – the above Danish advert shows that the car was known as the Morris Mascot 95 up there.

Engine-wise, the Mini 95 was initially available with either the 848cc (33hp) or the 998cc (39hp) A-series 4-cyl., only mated to a 4-speed manual. After 1980, the 850 was dropped, leaving only the “big” motor available for the remainder of the model’s life.

And that life turned out to be quite short, really. Production of the Mini 95 stopped in the spring of 1983 – it was finally time for the little car to fully espouse its newfound bourgeois clientele. Blue collar variants such as the panel van or pickup, whose success had been quite modest anyway, were no longer welcome in the Austin-Rover showrooms. Just goes to show that not everything sporting a BL badge was necessarily all that bad – provided it was a legacy design made well before the creation of that sorry sinking ship. The badges are in the process of fading away in any case.

The name of the Mini 95 refers to the car’s approximate total weight of 0.94 tons, but it was still only able to haul ¼ ton at best. There is no marque on the car anywhere per se – a Leyland roundel, albeit without the “British Leyland” name, was all that was deemed appropriate. The Mini saloon was brought back under the Austin marque in 1980, but the Mini 95 never bothered with that distinction.

However, since the BL parts bin was regularly raided for ways to improve the working class Minis at a reasonable cost, the Austin Allegro’s steering wheel (the circular one, fortunately!) found its way in the mix. Said steering wheel, aside from clashing with the rest of the dash, also bore the new Austin-Morris logo, introduced in 1978.

Of course, this car has plainly had a lot of aftermarket dials added here and there, as well as what looks like a dash-mounted A/C. If that’s the case, let’s hope the engine was swapped for the 1250 GT’s unit.

Despite the many unwelcome additions festooned about this Mini, it would take very little effort to return it to a near stock appearance, so it’s not too bad. Some mods, such as the deletion of the ugly fender extensions that BL put on these from the factory (go back to the Morris Mascot ad above), are actually very good – though judging from a quick Internet search, it seems a lot of folks either did the same thing or this was only for the Danes.

Everyone has their favourite oddball design features. For me, one of those if the LWB Mini’s fuel filler cap, half-buried in its little recess. It reminds me of the Land-Rover’s fuel filler, which looks almost exactly the same. It’s a great little trick to break the monotony of the car’s flank – and rather than being cute or clever, like those hidden-in-a-taillight types, it’s just plain and practical.

And speaking of taillights, I’m quite fond of the ones on these Minis too. All in all, this version of the van, i.e. with side windows, is perhaps one of the most attractive versions of the classic LWB Mini, tied with the woodies of the ‘60s. And it’s the most interesting one I’ve seen around here, by at least 9.5 inches.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: Austin Mini – Yesterday’s Mini; Today’s Micro, by PN

Car Carshow Classic: 1960 Austin Seven (Mini) – The Future Started Here, by Roger Carr