Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
When the first-generation Mini hit the motoring scene in the 1960s, it quickly became an insanely popular vehicle. In short, it was everywhere, and as the above video shows, we mean it was really everywhere – even in the frigid, desolate expanse of Earth’s southernmost continent.
As you might expect, there’s a very interesting story behind this vehicle known officially as the Mini-Trac. It starts in Australia with Terry O’Hare, a name that might sound familiar to hardcore Mad Max fans. Based in Melbourne, O’Hare was involved in building some of the crazy machines in the infamous movie franchise but before all of that, he built a variety of specialized track vehicles for the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. Those creations had custom bodies and were generally quite large, but O’Hare sought a smaller, more economical solution.
Enter the Mark 1 Mini, which was invading the world with its small, front-wheel-drive layout. Track-drive vehicles generally utilized such a layout, so O’Hare basically yanked the Mini’s wheels and suspension, installed a sprocket on the differential, and connected it via chain to a pair of drive sprockets. 180-millimeter-wide rubber tracks were installed, using Mini-spec wheels for guides. And just like that, the Mini-Trac was born.
Believe it or not, the rest of the vehicle was mostly stock, right down to Mini’s rear drum brakes at the back used for skid-steering left or right. The original 848 cc engine was swapped for the larger 1.1-liter mill used in the Morris 1100, and a heater was obviously added for the cabin. Otherwise, the four-speed transmission was stock, and if it sounds unnervingly simple for a vehicle designed to traverse the unforgiving Antarctic landscape, you’re not wrong. It went to the Australian team at Antarctica in 1965, and it left before the end of the season following numerous reliability issues including a burnt clutch.
According to the video, O’Hare built three tracked Minis. Only one was used in Antarctica; it was later put to use in Australia’s Victorian Alps then disappeared after 1966. Another one was built for New Zealand, but there’s no paper trail as to what happened to it. The third was the original prototype with shorter tracks that sat further back, and it was eventually sold to Canada where it may have emerged in 2009, looking heavily modified from its original form. We say may have emerged because there’s no definitive evidence to its origins, but honestly, how many first-gen Minis are there in the world with tracks instead of wheels?
This 20-minute clip from Calum on YouTube is an eye-opener not just for Mini fans, but anyone who appreciates interesting automotive trivia. It’s definitely worth a look.
Calum via YouTube
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