Friday June 21, 2019
As the 60th anniversary of the Mini approaches, we will be featuring blogs on the many facets of its story – including the version aimed at the “Jet Set” of bygone days. You can just imagine such a vehicle being driven by Cary Grant or Sophie Loren through St. Tropez to Hôtel Byblos or being transported on the decks of a millionaire’s yacht.
Just listen to Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? and you will have an accurate impression of the target market of the Mini Beach Car.
When was the Mini Beach Car first introduced?
The “Rivera Buggy”, as it was sometimes known at the British Motor Corporation, was created by Dick Burzi as a rival to the likes of the Fiat 500 “Jolly”. BMC trialled one model based on the Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet – Alec Issigonis used it for the press launch of the Cooper in 1961, and it was discovered nine years ago by the Mini enthusiast John Reymondos in an Athens scrapyard.
The majority utilised the standard car, with the side panels removed to facilitate “ natural air conditioning”. The A and C pillars supported the spot-welded roof, and there were stylish - if not very inviting-looking – seats.
How many Mini Beach Cars were built?
Between 14 and 20 vehicles appear to have been constructed between late 1961 and March of 1962, and 13 LHD cars went shipped to the USA to publicise the North American market Mini. One example was employed as a courtesy car to convey VIP guests around the Longbridge plants.
There was also an RHD version – 442 FON. Bob notes ‘it was built in 1961 in the South Experimental Department at Longbridge’ and registered in April 1962 as a “Morris Mini”.
The PR department deployed the Beach Car, and for a short period, it was even used by HM The Queen at Windsor Castle. In 1965 the Beach Mini was sent to Amsterdam where it transported HRH Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon during “British Week”. After its return to Longbridge, the Mini was rebadged as an Austin, but by then the Moke occupied the Beach Car’s intended market.
How did Bob become the owner of a Mini Beach Car?
Bob joined the Corporation in 1965 as an apprentice, and he recalls that after the BMC/Leyland merger ‘they started scraping a lot of prototype cars’; fortunately, the Beach Car ‘was hidden down one of the tunnels at Longbridge’. His father was ‘the foreman in the South Experimental Department and a friend of Alex Issigonis’.
The great man gave his permission for the Beach Car to be sold to Mr. Hart senior, for a price of £130 in November of 1968. Mr. Hart junior was also able to buy ‘a trimmed twin-engine Moke bodyshell for just £7 10s – but that is another story.’
Of course, the Beach Car was never designed for regular use in the UK.. Bob remarks that the wicker seating is useful for keeping the occupants in place – a vital point given the lack of doors - and of course there is no heater. But with a Mini of such innate glamour, who cares about such minor issues as the British weather?
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