25 British cars to drive before you die: 3) Mini Cooper S, CAR+ September 2015

Published: 04 August 2015

► 1970 Mini Cooper S
► The ‘cute hooligan’
► Chris Chilton explains why

When the original 34bhp Mini launched in 1959, going fast wasn’t part of the plan. It had the all the handling and none of the hustle, like a McLaren P1 stuck in tepid electric mode. The first 997cc twin-carbed Cooper upped the power quotient to 55bhp two years later, but it was 1963 before BMC produced a factory Mini capable of keeping up with the cars tuners like Downton, Speedwell and your uncle Brian and his subscription to Cars and Car Conversions were knocking out.

That original 1071cc S was the sweetest, the insane 970cc homologation special the most manic of the three Cooper S variants. But the grunty 1275 and its epic top gear go is the one you want. The 1275 is a proper pocket musclecar, a brawny 76bhp mite that needs no encouragement to have a go at anything. Pre-’65 Ss on their ‘dry’ rubber cone suspension are the tautest of the breed, but all Cooper Ss came with decent disc brakes and a throttle response sharp enough to sever your toes from your feet.

‘Automotive small-man syndrome’

We defy anyone to get behind the wheel of a Cooper S and not be transformed into an ASBO-deserving hooligan. Maybe it’s automotive small-man syndrome, or some physiological transformation wrought by the whiff of 1960s vinyl, something along the lines of a van’s driving seat’s ability to turn even an Etonion into a Sun-reading letch. Few cars are capable of making you genuinely cry with laughter. A Cooper S can.

Some of those tears might be of pain, mind. The driving position is terrible and it’s bouncier than its bright orange spacehopper contemporary. But a few corners in, you’ll be astounded by the steering response, throwing clutch-less changes at the little A-series, trail-braking into roundabouts to set the back tyres loose and wondering why, for all its cursed failings, no one makes them like this anymore. 

A rare shot of a Mini Cooper S between hilarious, teary-cheeked scraps with Porsche 911s

The specs

Produced: 1970-1971 (MkIII, pictured)
Price at launch: £942
Value now: £9000-£20,000
Engine: 1275cc inline four-cylinder, 76bhp, 80lb ft
Performance: 10sec 0-60mph, 97mph 

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker