British Motor Corporation marketed the Mini under both Austin and Morris names until 1969, and the very first one that hit South African shores was an Austin 850 in Tartan Red. It was an important moment in history as its purpose here was to act as an aid in making up the tooling to start South African Mini building. Completion of the first locally assembled Mini took place on 21 December 1959. By close of business that year, 36 Minis had been sold: 24 badged as Austin 850s and the remaining dozen as Morris Mini-Minors. Late 1960 saw the South African-assembled panel van added to the Mini menu, and the station wagon hit the road a year later.
But in July 1978, the Leyland future looked uncertain with Sigma Motor Corporation proposing a deal where, with a 51% shareholding, it would take over Leyland’s car building and selling business. This would mean moving production to a facility in Pretoria by late 1979, but the deal never went through. The official statement was: “Many months have been spent endeavouring to resolve the complex arrangements that would have been required to bring the proposed merger to fruition. In the event, the obstacles to the merger proved insurmountable in the light of both parties’ interest.”
Whether this production facility ripple was the reason or not, the bottom line is that Blackheath Mini production had stopped and, as of March 1980, there were no units listed on the sales charts. There was no stock and no dealer network.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Mini. In July that year, Leyland South Africa management announced that the Mini would be back. Production would once again fire up at Blackheath and a Leyland dealer network would be re-established.
By August a new Mini, the 1275E, was back on the sales lists and, mindful that the Mini had fallen off the map, the advertising department jumped into action, with material reading: “The Mini’s back. The incomparable Mini. Welcome back at your Leyland dealer. At a very welcome price.”