It might not be immediately obvious what Princess Margaret of England, John Lennon, Peter Sellers and Finnish rally driver Rauno Aaltonen had in common – apart from a love of hard liquor.
But when sufficiently sober to do so, all four of them were Mini drivers. The original Mini was a car that broke down social barriers, proving that almost anybody could be too cool for school.
These days, the Mini is also often used as a promotional vehicle for Red Bull – with many of them driving around with a giant can on the back.
Like all modern cars, they’re incredibly safe now. But Austin didn’t bother too much about safety equipment when the car first came out in 1959. Seat belts were only an option on the original Mini, largely down to the insistence of the car’s designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, who claimed: “I make my cars with such good brakes and steering that if people get into a crash, it’s their own fault.”
To prove the above point, Austin decided to take its babies rallying. And the diminutive Mini comprehensively trounced the opposition on the Monte Carlo Rally. It won three times, which would have been four had not the Minis that finished first, second and third in 1966 not been controversially disqualified for a tenuous headlamp infringement, handing Citroen victory. Amazing how little changes in half a decade, because on day two of the Monte Carlo Rally this year, Sebastien Loeb still leads.
But MINI (as it is now officially known, in shouty capitals) is out for revenge. Dani Sordo is currently second in the all-new John Cooper Works WRC, and if he can pull off victory in the most famous rally in the world, it would be nothing less than history repeating itself.
'The car feels really good... but it's going to be a massive job to catch Loeb'
“It feels really good,” said the Spaniard – whose team-mate is Kris Meeke: another up-and-coming rally driver backed by Red Bull. “We’re in a good position now, and to do well in Monte Carlo is a dream, but it’s going to be a massive job to catch Sebastien Loeb.”
And Sordo should know: he was Loeb’s team-mate for five seasons. But in just six rallies with MINI, he has already come closer to beating Loeb than he did throughout those five years. For a brand new car run by a team with a limited budget, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
But isn’t being the underdog a typically British role that the Mini thrives on? Mini’s last Monte Carlo win, in 1967, came thanks to Rauno Aaltonen: an unlikely Finnish superstar with a haircut that was questionable, even by 1960s standards. Nonetheless, with their giant-killing achievements the Minis and their daredevil drivers became folk heroes all over the world. Now they just have to do it all over again…