British Leyland immediately began a programme of rationalisation, which resulted in the MkIII Mini of 1968. The sliding windows were upgraded to winding ones, although this meant that the hollow doors with the famous gin-carrying storage bins had to go. For the first time the normal Mini was made available with the 998cc version of the A Series engine, alongside the familiar 848cc model. Finally, the Mini name was by then so strong that BL decided to use it in its own right, with the cars becoming the Mini 850 and the Mini 1000, slotting below the Mini Clubman 1000 and Clubman 1275, and the Mini 1275GT.
All of which makes this 1977 car a very middle-of-the-road example. It’s a Mini 1000, making it the top of the traditional Mini range. The cheery Inca Yellow paint is very much of its time (a more modern colour palette was another Leyland change) and is matched by black vinyl interior trim with graduated grey ‘deck chair’ seat cloth. All of this has been recently refreshed and the interior has a very crisp, new feel to it, especially the seats, which are very supportive and still have their full complement of stuffing.
Devotees of the original Issigonis design will argue that a Mini without sliding windows, door pockets and external seams isn’t really a Mini at all but even I (who has more than some sympathy with that view) find it hard to deny that this MkIII represents something of a sweet spot in the Mini’s history. The MkI’s thin seats, exposed metal and mean levels of equipment may have a certain charm but charm can become rather wearing if you actually want to use the car, especially on long journeys. On a blazing summer’s day the thing I immediately appreciated was the added breeze from those wind-down windows, as well as the appearance of the fresh air vents in the dash.
None of the changes on the MkIII alter the way it drives – on the lower-spec cars like this the suspension was reverted to the original, cheaper rubber cones instead of Hydrolastic. So instead of the floaty, wallowy ride of a MkII this Mini 1000 jigs and hops along country lanes just like a 1959 car. The engine is spritely and doesn’t need to be pushed as hard as the 848cc motor to make good progress, although a steep hill will quickly remind you that 38 horsepower still isn’t very much. A direct ‘magic wand’ gear lever remains my preferred way of swapping cogs in a Mini but the 1000’s remote shifter is slick and easy to use with remarkably effective synchromesh for a Mini of this age. The handling remains as joyous as ever, whether it’s sneaking between lines of parked cars where bulbous modern hatchbacks can’t follow or scooting along some derestricted B-road.
The ‘Seventies Minis are always rather overlooked, lacking the cachet of the early ones and the obvious performance and retro-cool appeal of the later Rover-built Coopers. This is a shame because in terms of performance and refinement they incorporate as standard a lot of the improvements that people fit to the older cars as matter of course.
This specific car is in very nice condition inside and out but, crucially, had that indefinable ‘rightness’ in the way it drove of a car that has been looked after to a very high standard. If you just want a Mini to savour the unique Mini experience and to actually drive, then grab a MkIII such as this before everyone realises how good they are!
TOP SPEED: 75mph
0-60mph: 25 secs
GEARBOX: 4-sp man