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Happy birthday to Britain's favourite car: Mini at 60

Autocar 2019-02-10 00:00:00
  • Mini Cooper returned in 1989, initially as limited edition
  • "The new Mini was more successful than even BMW had dared hope"
  • Mini Moke never cut it as a military car
  • Experimental electric Mini from 2008: a sign of things to come
  • Mini is still pushing the boundaries 60 years on
  • Dakar X-Raid Countryman is four-wheel drive
  • Dakar rally-raid trucks are all drama
  • Team trucks carry tonnes of highly organised spares
  • Dakar journalists' Countrymans carry roof-top tents
  • Przygonski explains dune driving to a worried Bremner

Przygonski is one of eight drivers in the Mini X-Raid team, which is also fielding two kinds of Mini. One is the Countryman, of which there are five, and the other is a buggy. Imagine your classic late-1960s Volkswagen dune jumper with roof and enclosing cockpit, and you have it, complete with engine placed behind the driver. In the Countryman, it sits ahead, although well back from the nose to drive all four wheels. The buggy, by contrast, is rear-wheel drive, so the pair compete in different categories. The engine is an Alpina-tuned 3.0 six-cylinder turbo diesel from a BMW X5 and develops 358bhp. 

The Dakar, née Paris-Dakar, famously allows multiple vehicle types to compete, the most wonderfully absurd being the trucks, which can leap and bound with an alarming enthusiasm unimaginable to most Scania drivers. Known as the Dakar since 2009, when safety and political issues drove it out of Africa into South America, the event this year ran in only one country: Peru. Such containment hasn’t made it any less gruelling, though. There’s no let-up in the relentless physical challenge of driving and riding flat out across terrain peppered with rocks and sand soft. 

The navigator gets a road book the night before each of the 10 stages, with tulip diagrams and indications of landmarks. But for many, the best guide will be the wheel tracks of the front runners. A frequent strategy includes not quite winning a stage, in order to not go early. There are plenty of other learnings, too, says X-Raid Mini team boss Sven Quandt. 

If that surname sounds familiar, it’s because Quandt is part of the family that owns a substantial slice of the BMW Group. Quandt is a Dakar addict, not only as a team boss but also as a successful rally-raid competitor, having won the 1998 T1 Marathon Cup in a Mitsubishi Pajero. 

“No one has ever won the Dakar first time out,” he says. “And no one who wins the first stage ever wins the Dakar.” It takes experience to win. It also takes reliability and the X-Raid team, which has been Mini branded since 2011, produces the most consistently reliable cars in the field. The basis of that reliability is a “hugely strong spaceframe, made from the highest-strength steel you can work with,” says Quandt. It takes three to four weeks to weld it and it’s vastly stronger than the bodyshell of any production car, which would “barely last five minutes”, he adds.