Back in the day.
Mini might be known as the king of the Monte Carlo Rally, but back in 1960, one car got so out of sorts that its drivers resolved to commit it to the briny deep. But did that ever truly come to pass?
Held since 1911, the highly challenging Monte Carlo Rally was more of a battle of nations before becoming the first event of the FIA World Rally Championship in 1973. Back in 1960, it was a 2000-mile endurance race with several starting points in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Norway, France, Scotland, The Netherlands, Poland, and Germany, with France’s Chambery acting as the initial meeting point. There was also a judged element based on some arbitrary criteria, which was rather unpredictable outside the timed laps around Monaco, two of which had to be completed through day and night.
The rally took place in 1960 from January 18–25. Norway fielded several big contenders next to all those Scottish teams, with cars ranging from Citroën DSes and Mercedes-Benz 220 SEs through MGAs, Triumph Heralds, various Fords, Sunbeams, Austin A40s, Volvos, Simcas, Borgwards, DKWs, Skodas, badge-engineered Singers, and even a Lotus.
While the Metropolitan Police entered with a Wolseley, the British Motor Corporation sent three of its brand-new Austin Sevens to Monaco, along with a trio of Morris Mini-Minors. Introduced in the summer of 1959, BMC’s smallest cars were called Austin Sevens before the Mini name in took root in 1962.
Driven by the likes of former Blower Bentley ace Alec Pitts and multiple Rallye Monte Carlo veteran “Tommy” Wisdom, the Minis didn’t dominate the race in 1960. That would come four years later, and it became a major selling point for the brand for the next half-century.
As explained in the clearly BMC-sponsored documentary The Road to Monte Carlo sourced from the British Pathé’s collection, “The wide track and independent suspension give the Mini Minor magnetic road holding under foul conditions.” Unfortunately, that didn’t help Alec Pitts on the slippery bits. To sum it up: “He seems to have hit everything in Provence.”
The film noted how the team suggested that their red 1959 Morris Mini Minor, “TMO 560,” which was smashed by a truck and dragging its exhaust yet soldiering on in the Alps, would be “buried at sea with full naval honors at the end of the rally.”
Was that a joke over a pint and a pipe, or a serious proposition? We’ll never know, yet Keith Mainland’s book Classic Mini Specials and Moke reveals the following about the 1960 BMC works effort:
£10 ($12) is not a bad deal for a complete Mini powertrain, even if the rest of the car seems unsalvageable. Of course, it’s hard to say what remained of a BMC A-Series four-pot after covering over 2000 race miles in the freezing cold, but one thing is for sure—the Mercedes-Benz 220SEs finishing 1-2-3 that year weren’t gifted to their drivers for 12 measly bucks.