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2018-10-06 12:56

Ferdi de Vos

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Image: Supplied

Mini has announced that the 1499 GT, its latest special edition model that harks back to the brand’s heritage and one of its best-known sporty classics of all time – the Mini 1275 GT first introduced nearly 50 years ago – is available to order online until Sunday (7 October) via a special website.

Only 30 units are available for the South African market, with unit number 1 of 30 previewed at the recent South African Festival of Motoring at Kyalami. Much like the 1275 GT paired distinctive design with inventive solutions (Mini claims it was the world’s first vehicle fitted with run-flat tyres), the new1499 GT is the first in the local line-up to be available to order online. 

However, in the process Mini South Africa has missed a trick – and a huge opportunity to pay homage to Mini’s rich history locally – by failing to recognise the Leyland Mini GTS, a unique local model which (according www.classicregister.com) was produced as a higher performance successor to the 1275 GT.

The exclusively South African 1275 GTS, built at the Blackheath plant in Cape Town from July 1973, 45 years ago, to March 1980, looked much like the British 1275 GT having the Clubman type body, but underneath it was very much like a Cooper S in specification and performance.

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Image: Supplied

The classic GTS

The GTS has several unique features which make it a particularly desirable model in the classic Mini model line-up, but awareness of this model in markets outside of South Africa remains limited. It was built at a time when local content regulations significantly influenced manufacturing in the South African auto industry and in 1973 local content accounted for over 55% in locally assembled Minis, reaching 65% in 1975.

As a result, the GTS received several parts and components not strictly conforming to the manufacturing protocols of the Mini in the UK and other markets. Probably the most notable alteration was the decision by Leykor to cast a version of the Cooper S engine locally – at the Gearings Foundry in Epping – for use in the GTS. 

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Image: Supplied 

This was a major benefit, considering that by 1973 the Cooper S specification 1275cc engine had been phased out in other international markets. Fed by twin SU carburettors and using a free-flow exhaust system the 4-cylinder pushrod 8-valve generated 55kW at 5800 rpm and 103 Nm of torque at 3500 rpm – giving the GTS nippy acceleration and a top speed of 155km/h (with 10-inch wheels).

With this type of performance, the GTS was competitive on track, and it had a successful career in South African touring and production car racing with numerous class wins in the 1970s, including winning the overall Group 1 Championship title in 1976. 

Unique body decals

The GTS was available in a variety of single tone colours, with contrasting body stripe decals. Different from the British GT model, these stripes ran over the bonnet and down the sides of the car with GTS script integrated in a decal at the back. It was available in gold, silver or black, depending on the paint colour of the vehicle. The decals were similar, but not the same as those applied to the Australian Clubman GT. 

According to Ryno Verster's book Thanks for the Mini Memories - A South African Mini Story, as corroborated by www.classicregister.com, the wheel arch flare support panels were spot-welded to the wheel arches, covered with plastic flares and a PVC chrome-plastic finishing strip was applied over the seam, held on by body tabs.

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Image: Supplied 

Some changes during the lifespan of the GTS include the introduction of lockable fuel cap and semi-sealed halogen headlamps in 1975, wiper blades and arms painted matt-black, and a black plastic roof line gutter finishing strip in 1979. 

Production of the 1275 GTS ended in March 1980, a couple of months before the 1275 GT was discontinued in Britain. However, while 117 949 Mini 1275 GT units were produced at Longbridge, most sources confirm only 4210 GTS cars were built at Blackheath– making it much more collectable than its UK cousin…

The new GT

The new Mini 1499 GT is finished in Midnight Black with distinctive gold side stripes. Additional exterior features include a John Cooper Works styling pack with distinctive front and rear bumpers, side skirts, spoiler and door entry plates. It also features gold Union Jack mirror covers and gold Union Jack side scuttles…

So, for those aficionados also interested in our local Mini heritage the solution may be to bid on the limited edition 1499 GT (for R447 000) at mini1499gt.co.za and, if successful, rid the car of those dreadful golden Union Jacks, add a “S” to the GT nomenclature and perhaps a bonnet stripe or two, to commemorate the local classic…

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Image: Supplied 

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