The sudden success of the Mini 1275 GT Longman.
OUT OF THE BLUE, AND INTO THE HISTORY BOOKS.
When the night was at its darkest, when they needed him the most, he came roaring back.
No, this isn’t the first sentence of the newest superhero origin story, this is the tale of the Mini 1275 GT Longman. A one-off Mini that was not meant for the runway, but for the racetrack. A car that came almost out of nowhere to conquer all in its path and become an instant icon. But first, let’s set the scene for its arrival.
Welcome to the club.
In 1969, 10 years after the MKI Mini’s debut, it was time to freshen things up around the brand. British Leyland (Mini’s owner from 1968 to 1986) decided to introduce a new model. The Clubman, as it was called, was designed to replace the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf, the more luxurious, three-boxed versions of the Mini. Although the Clubman originally had the same 38 hp engine of the original Mini, that would not have satisfied everyone’s appetite for power and progress. Thus, a sportier 1275cc 57 hp version of the car was also introduced. This car – the 1275 GT – was to replace the brand’s current sporty automobile, the Mini Cooper. It wasn’t a great leap forward in power, indeed the Mini Cooper S, which was to be available until 1971, packed 76 hp – 19 more than the 1275 GT. However, the greater controversy concerned its looks. Ex-Ford designer Roy Haynes was given the task to freshen up the Mini’s visage for the coming decade and he created a much squarer look, which did offer more crash protection and better under-bonnet access, but divided customers.
But it wasn’t just the style of the Clubman, and by extension the 1275 GT, that proved a headache. The second half of the 1970s was a difficult time for Mini and British Leyland, as competition from mainly German and Japanese cars was fierce. In 1971, 318,475 Minis were produced, but by the end of the decade that number had dropped by more than 50 percent. With a new car, that would kickstart sales still years away in British Leyland’s plans, they needed something to bring some sparkle back into the world of Mini. Rallying by this point was out of the question. Mini’s great successes had been achieved 15 years previously, and rally had moved on. So, British Leyland turned to touring cars and to a man who already had history with Mini: Richard Longman.
Lighting in a bottle. Twice.
Longman had spent the better half of the sixties at the British Motor Corporations (Mini’s owners before British Leyland) approved tuner, Downton Engineering. He worked on, converted, and tuned many Minis, before moving on to form his own company, Longman Engineering in 1971. But Longman was not just a tuner, he was an avid racer. So, when British Leyland (together with car dealers Patrick Motors) offered to back him to compete in the British Saloon Car Championship (now the British Touring Car Championship), he jumped at the chance. His team tuned up the Mini 1275 GT to 120 hp, but even so, racing in the 1300cc class would be no easy task. Down the straights bigger, stronger, and more muscular cars were still faster. However, the 1275 GT Longman made up for it with its agility, the little car being second to none when it came to cornering.
And in the end, brains versus brawn proved to be a one-sided contest. In 1978, Longman and his Mini 1275 GT took eleven class wins out of twelve races (retiring once), winning the championship. Then, as if to prove it was not a fluke, Longman did it again one year later, this time winning ten out of the twelve races in the very same car to secure the title once again.
These victories proved to be the 1275 GT’s swansong, as British Leyland replaced the car in 1980 with the Austin Metro. But what a way to go out: ensuring that, while the car may be gone, it will never be forgotten.
“This special car gave respect to the name of the GT 1275.”
Legacy from nothing.
Longman’s 1275 GT, in its original condition – unchanged since its last race – is part of the vehicle collection at BMW Group Classic, which ensures that as many people can see it as possible. But the car has a strong appreciation among motorsport enthusiasts, who would have given a lot to see it race one more time. Well, they got their wish in 2013, when Mini tuners Swiftune created a perfect replica of Longman’s 1275 GT for Goodwood’s 72nd Race Meeting. With only some minor updates, the replica reminded people of the capabilities of Longman’s car. Racing against a bunch of V6’s and V8’s, the little Mini came in at a frankly astonishing 3rd place.
The MINI GT 1275 Longman is proof that even in the most unlikely circumstances, with ingenuity and determination, history can be made almost instantly. This special car gave respect to the name of the GT 1275, ensuring that it earned its place in the annals of special Mini cars. Not bad from a little blue car with a stern look.
The MINI One-Off Series.
Our history is enriched by a long list of one-off cars. Whether they were created for movies, noble causes, or designed by celebrities to show the world the many faces of MINI’s personality, we love them all equally. That is why we wanted to look back at these cars, and share their unique stories.
Check out other cars in the series:
The groovy Union Jack clad MINI Cooper Austin Powers.
The blacker than black MINI Calvin Klein.
The classic Designer MINI Kate Moss.
Mr. Bean's legendary, broom driven MINI.
The shiny MINI designed by David Bowie.
The unforgettable MINI motorhome, the shapeshifting Wildgoose.
The coolest, Batman-inspired pink MINI, the MINI Ice Cream Van.
The all-conquering off-road MINI designed by DSQUARED2.
One star, a lot of stripes. The MINI Paul Smith.