This Mini comes with a major reputation

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Driving history: Graeme Urch at the wheel of his race-winning 1967 Austin Cooper. Picture: Yanni

THE iconic Mini Minor still radiates an intoxicating air of engineering elan and “swinging 60s” fashion flair in the eyes of British car enthusiast, Graeme Urch.

The Mt Martha resident owns a rare and internationally significant BMC Works Mini that was brought to Australia to race in the late 1960s.

Now, fully restored with genuine original parts and an eye for detail, the 1967 Austin Cooper has its own story to tell on the 60th anniversary of the first Mini being sketched on a tablecloth by designer Alec Issigonis. His brief was to design a fuel-efficient car in response to the 1956 Suez oil crisis. He succeeded.

Minis under the Cooper badge went on to achieve racing and rallying successes far and wide, notably the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally and again in 1965 and 1967. It also burned up the world’s rally circuits, winning the 1964 European Touring Car Challenge.

The distinctive cars were collected by the rich and famous, such as the psychedelic Radford Mini de Ville owned by The Beatles’ George Harrison. Groovy and “cool”, the car appeared in the film Magical Mystery Tour (1967). Others were in the famous car chase scenes in The Italian Job (both the 1969 original and 2003 remake) and The Bourne Identity (2002).

Mr Urch’s restored rally Mini with a 1293cc motor was among 53 built by the BMC competitions department at Abingdon, UK. It was one of two brought to Australia for the 1967 Southern Cross Rally.

Known as LRX828E the ex-works rally car had been slated to contest the 1967 European Rally Championship but first came the 1967 Acropolis Rally in Greece. After 56 hours of rough rallying in high temperatures the car collided head on with a spectator vehicle at high speed and was forced out of the event and sent home for a complete body rebuild.

It was then entered in the 1967 Danube Rally in Prague over 3200 kilometres of mountain driving in Romania. While in a winning position the car was stopped at the Hungarian border and refused entry because the driver was not carrying the correct visa.

Coming to Australia for the 1967 Southern Cross International the car suffered gear box failure and was out again before winning that year’s Total Australia 500 Rally. It was the first rally victory in Australia for an international driver.

Although gearbox problems forced the car out of the 1968 Southern Cross Rally it had many successes in Australian and state championship events – notably the 1968 KLG 300 Rally – after being bought by BMC Australia.

Mr Urch bought the car from Ballarat BMC dealer E Collins Motors in 1971 and has spent the past 48 years restoring it under Abingdon’s traditional Tartan Red and Old English White body colours.

He has displayed it at 60 concourse events but his favourite events are the annual Motorclassica Motor Shows where enthusiasts can ogle it unabashed.

Asked if his Mini is the best in Australia, Mr Urch says: “I think so. It is recognised as one of the best original Minis in the world, but everyone thinks theirs is the best.”

He draws the distinction between “highly reproduced” cars with tricked up restorations using foreign parts against his pedigreed original.

Naturally, the car is ageing gracefully. “Some enthusiasts don’t mind how shabby the upholstery is if everything is original and how it was when it left the factory,” he said.

“This is looked upon more highly than others that have been completely reproduced.”

Basking in leisurely “retirement”, the former race and rally car once known as LRX828E can take things easy as its owner reflects on days when Minis were at the top of international motor sport.

First published in the Mornington News – 23 July 2019https://issuu.com/morningtonnews/docs/mn_23rd_july_2019/5

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