You can have fun racing off-road with unconventional vehicles—and the Mini Cooper can be one of them. Just like classic Porsches and Mazda Miatas have been converted for rallying, so can Britain’s iconic hatchback. And not just in the modern day—the Mini starting racing off-road almost from the start.
The Mini Cooper’s off-road rally racing history
The original Mini wasn’t actually called ‘Cooper’ when it was released in 1959. That came when famed British racer John Cooper approached BMC, which owned the brands which made Minis, to help the company with its racing efforts. BMC had entered the Mini into the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally, but it had gotten into an accident. It likely wouldn’t have won anyway, though, considering it only had 37 hp.
But John Cooper saw the car’s potential, especially since its front-engine/front-wheel-drive layout gave excellent traction. So, he enlarged its four-cylinder engine to 997cc, giving it 55 hp. He also upgraded the transmission and fitted larger brakes, Hagerty reports. The result was the 1961 Mini Cooper. But although it was mildly successful, Cooper wasn’t done.
In 1963 came the Mini Cooper S. This had an even larger 1071cc 90-hp four-cylinder engine, and even larger brakes. With those upgrades and low weight, the Mini Cooper S won the 1964, 1965, and 1967 Monte Carlo Rallies outright. It would’ve won in 1966, but it was disqualified on a headlight-related technicality, Petrolicious reports.
And Mini is still involved in off-road racing, albeit with Countryman- and Clubman-based builds. The brand has raced in multiple Paris-Dakar events and even won a few. Though, admittedly, these racers aren’t exactly showroom-stock.
However, you don’t need a Countryman or Clubman to go off-road. With the right mods, you can take a regular Mini hatchback into the sand and mud.
Journeys Off Road’s Mini Cooper lift kit
Arizona-based Journeys Off Road makes lift kits for a variety of vehicles. Including for Mini’s entire lineup.
Journeys Off Road’s kits fit all US-market Mini Coopers, from the 2001 model year to the newest models. These all-steel kits cost about $280 and include suspension spacers as well as tie rods to maintain proper handling. The company claims installation takes about 6 hours.
The kits add 2” to the car’s ground clearance, which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, that gives the hatchback about 7.3” of ground clearance, only about 1” less than a Suzuki Jimny. With larger wheels and tires, though, that could still be improved upon.
And some Mini Cooper owners, indeed, have taken that to heart.
More-extreme builds and good build starting points
The Mini Cooper doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation for reliability, according to Consumer Reports. Especially when it comes to the engine, Road & Track reports. The most-troublesome model years, CR reports, are 2008-2013 and 2015. And the early US models are also somewhat trouble-prone.
However, there is a way around that problem, OffRoad Xtreme reports–engine swapping. Though, admittedly, the owner of the 2004 Mini Cooper S shown above went a little beyond that. In place of the 1.6-liter supercharged four-cylinder is a 5.3-liter GM V8. It rides on 33” Falken Wildpeak A/T tires and fully-custom suspension. And in back, there’s a Ford Expedition differential.
But you don’t have to go quite that far to take your Mini off-road. With a little lift kit and some off-road tires, you can turn any winter road into a little Monte Carlo Rally stage.
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