In 1969 the car you see here cost R1398, making it the cheapest sedan on the market. Born from a perceived need for a Mini with a boot, Leyland South Africa took the step of combining the front of the round-nosed Mini 1000 (so-named for its 998cc engine) with the rear end of the Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet, on sale in the UK since 1961. Originally intended to be badged as the Elf (with no reference to Mini), it simply became known as the Mini Mk3 because the Elf name was already in use by a local truck-building concern.
Normally the writing of these stories in our series of uniquely South African cars is preceded by many hours of research to find out the truth and it’s often an exercise in myth-busting and requires finding and interviewing the true ‘inventors’ of these home-grown machines. Of course, memories have often dimmed over the years but on occasion we’ve been fortunate enough to find paperwork in the back of dusty lever arch files or notes scribbled on scraps of papers, or receipts from parts departments at car dealerships which confirm certain facts. Well, none of this was necessary in the case of the Mini, thanks to Ryno Verster’s detailed and insightful book, Thanks for the Mini Memories. The information in the opening paragraph of this story is sourced entirely from his Chapter Seven, saving us a small fortune in time and phone calls.
While the car shown here is not original in colour and features a number of authentic Mini accessories, it is pretty rare. Between late 1969 and early 1972 (production at the Blackheath plant near Cape Town was discontinued the year before) a total of about 3 900 were sold and no doubt many have just rusted to dust. The Mk3’s body panels were pressed locally as production of the Riley Elf in the UK ended in ’69 and the tooling for the saloon rear was then shipped here. However, the first local cars still used imported panels.
Leyland’s plan was to phase out the Elf’s (Mini Mk3) aged 998cc engine and replace it with the headlights-in-grille Clubman front end and 1 098cc engine and then the second-generation short stroke version in rapid succession. But this never happened, possibly because the booted Mini was considered overpriced and had been a slow seller. Nevertheless, the combination of Riley Elf rear and rounded nose did make it unique to SA. The name was also unique, as Roman numerals were used to describe the UK’s Mk III.
This little car has an interesting time ahead of it and shortly after our shoot it was due to be prepared for what will be the ride of its life. With a bunch of other golden oldies it is taking part in an African odyssey through Mozambique and Malawi which will see it cover 6 000km. It is going to need all the additional ground clearance that can be built into it and the underside will also be fitted with skid plates. Because SA opted for the cheaper rubber cone suspension (staying away from the hydrolastic set-up saved a significant R34), raising the ride height is fairly straightforward. The temptation to modify the 998cc powerplant (power being a bit of a misnomer as it was rated at 28kW and 70Nm) or replace it with a 1 275cc unit has been resisted.
Talking numbers, the booted Mini was 21.6cm longer than a normal round nose and the longer tail added 36.3kg, for a licensing mass of 626kg. Boot volume shot up by 50 percent and much was made of this new-found luggage capacity in the advertising of the time. The Mk3 also introduced a round of technical changes which were carried through to other locally made Minis for the 1970 model year.
What should’ve been known as an Elf highlighted the Mini’s first decade in South Africa, the classless little car first introduced here in 1959 in 850cc form. The last year of the ’60s was also significant in that it marked the beginning of the end of the road for names like Austin, Morris and Wolseley here, with the Mini Cooper S also discontinued that year as part of the formation of Leykor – a uniquely South African word derived from Leyland and korporasie.