How it all started
In August of 1959, a small car was launched in Britain under the extraordinary vision of groundbreaking engineer, Alec Issigonis. The original model, introduced to the world as a ‘Morris Mini Minor’, featured a transverse engine and an unconventional front wheel layout, which made for exceptionally modest dimensions. With room for only four seats, two doors and a striking compact aesthetic, it would be this contemporary combination of quirky design features, which would spark public popularity for a car; later acclaimed for innovation and originality – recognised by motorists universally.
The Mini that started it all…
In 1960, less than a year after the initial introduction of the Mini, Brian Harper awaited the delivery of a Mini 850s, straight off the production line at the British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) Longridge Plant, Birmingham. Brian impressed by the definitive design and structure of the car; saw further potential in the Mini, which had not yet been so openly discovered. True to intuition, Brian and his Wife, Heather, were yet to realise that the purchase they had made would be regarded by the Harper family as a landmark investment from that day forth.
The Downton tuned 997cc Cooper, had been modified to provide an impressive gain in torque, remarkable tractability, improved top gear acceleration and a wide engine speed range. The initial road test of the converted vehicle was to be affectionately headlined the ‘Mini-Ton-Bomb’ by Autocar Magazine. The modifications made on the model were so acclaimed that Journalists informed Issigonis, who later appointed the Downton engineer, Daniel Richmond, as the official developer of the Mini engine for the rest of the decade. With this in mind, it was at no surprise that Brian and Heather, piloting a car with unprecedented power, found themselves competing in the thriving rally scene – bitten, without doubt, by the thrilling competition bug.
Brian and Heather soon became passionate about the rallying lifestyle and continued to compete with their modified Mini Cooper. However, spare parts became essentials and soon second-hand parts were filling up both the garage and home at the Harper residence. With an abundance of used parts, Brian made the decision to post an advertisement in Motoring News, listing every spare that consumed space in their family home. It was a remarkable response to this spontaneous advert that provided Brian with an interesting insight into the new and highly demanding market for all things Mini. It would eventually be this slight reflection on the burgeoning Mini industry, which inspired and motivated Brian to establish Mini Sport one day in 1967.
Establishing Mini Sport
Applying keen knowledge and enthusiasm, Brian and the Harpers founded the basis for a successful business focused entirely on an avid passion for the Mini, rallying and motorsport. Working on personal familiarity, Brian was able to define and diagnose flaws in the Minis mechanics, working on his own experiences to improve driving performance for other drivers. A poorly designed throttle linkage, which was generally prone to sticking and breaking, proved to be a common problem in earlier Mini models. Utilising experience and raw technical ability, Brian developed a new, rigid throttle linkage, which was easy to fit and endowed the car with smoother, more progressive acceleration. Brian’s design was an instant bestseller and word spread in the motor-industry surrounding this clever answer to a re-occurring issue. As reputation soared the impact on Brian and Heathers small company proved astonishing and sparked a natural progression into the astute engineering industry for Mini Sport.
Armed with an exclusive innovation, old-fashioned knowledge and a humble approach, Brian and Heather witnessed their business grow. Stock lines expanded and custom rose to impressive heights and by April 1969, Mini Sport outgrew its humble beginnings and the company moved to its first dedicated premises at 15 Church Street, Padiham. To this day the company still resides in this small, Northern Town.
With business booming, the competition side of Mini Sport was still paramount to the foundations of the company and throughout the decades that followed, the Harpers fully dedicated themselves to the competitive and challenging Rally scene. By the early 1970s the Mini Cooper dominated as the remarkable road-rally underdog. The Mini Coopers structure, technical elements, weight and power worked in perfect ratio for competition – beating big names in motoring to momentous titles.
Brian Harpers keen sense of engineering was practiced to new extents throughout this time and he applied his skill in designing a powerful 1400cc engine, which continued to be exclusively developed by Mini Sport for competitive clientele. Cars equipped with this robust engine soon became the envy of the rally scene and to this day, Mini Sport have remained influential in over six decades of contribution to road rallies and competition.
Mini Sport as a business continued to demonstrate their engineering abilities and branched out into exciting conversions, modifying cars to achieve optimum performance, economy and most importantly, reliability. This great demand for Mini parts had become so significant that soon; complete Mini Sport tuning catalogues were imperative to illustrate the elaborate range of stock lines and services homed at Mini Sport.
To ensure full potential, new premises at 7 Church Street, Padiham were later acquired. New space and storage facilities meant that customers could now take advantage of Brian and Heathers expertise with a practical, hands-on approach. Performance accessories, wheels and seats were now added to the product lines and Brian continued to innovate new Mini parts, which would benefit the Mini in competition. His 1400cc engine conversions generated intrigue across the Mini scene with the advantages of exceptional power output and reliability; sought after by competition drivers. Mini Sport was now certified as the one-stop shop for every Mini connoisseur.
The instant success of the business catapulted Heather and Brian into a busy lifestyle but their fondness for the Rally scene never faded and in 1975, less than ten years after the launch of Mini Sport, Brian won the SD34 Shellsport Rally Championship in his 1340cc Cooper S. Two years later Brian’s collective triumphs in competition meant that Mini Sport continued to progress with a phenomenal reputation.
Complete displays and services meant that even more room was needed and the firm moved to its existing HQ at Thompson Street, Padiham. A fully expanded engineering department, dedicated fitting bays and mail-order packing meant that everyone could share the full Mini Sport experience.
A Family Business
When 1984 arrived it was time for Chris Harper, the first of Brian and Heather’s three sons to join the team at Mini Sport. Chris soon settled in to running the firm’s sales department. With a shared passion for Mini’s and the Mini Sport brand, Chris’ knowledge and commitment to sales and service reinforced Mini Sports original values and fortified Mini Sports growing reputation. Chris managed to establish distributors throughout Europe, America, Japan and Australia. These new distribution opportunities meant that Mini Sport was now being appreciated on an international scale and that Mini Sport, a local business from Padiham had established international acknowledgement and officially gone global.
Fast forward 30 years and Mini Sport now delivers to over 100 countries across the World with 9,000 featured products and parts on our website and in our showroom. Our product range has grown to encompass a full range of exclusively manufactured Mini Sport products, parts and accessories, housing collections from over 50 prestigious brands.
In 2014, Chris cemented a collaborative deal with Mike Cooper, son of John Cooper, to re-establish the original Cooper brand as ‘Cooper Car Company’ – Mini Sport now acts as the only authorised dealer in the UK to distribute this nostalgic brand. Working closely with Michael John Cooper to design and manufacture a range of exclusive products and parts; reminiscent of the original designs produced by his father, John Cooper, in the rise of the Mini Cooper’s popularity.
Daniel Harper soon followed suit and joined Mini Sport shortly after his brother. His engineering abilities mirrored those of his father, turning out precision-made crankshafts at the tender age of 13. Daniel took a role leading the Mini Sport engineering department, manufacturing professionally made parts and developing new designs with a life-long knowledge of the company.
Daniel’s skill pioneered innovations in engineering that became recognised globally with notable admiration in the British field of Motorsport. Throughout the 1990’s such new developments included the introduction of the first ever single point injection tuning kit, class-leading solid billet alloy brake callipers and road-spec helical five-speed gearboxes to the market. Other World firsts included adjustable rear camber and track brackets, and the re-development of lower suspension arms and tie-rods for 90s Mini’s.
When Mini Sport introduced the single point fuel injection in the 90s, Daniel built his own competition variant, which swept several first class wins during the British Rally Championship. With the 1995 Group A 1300 British Rally Championship award and the addition of a class award in the 1997 Network Q RAC Rally, Mini Sport remain proud to have built the first Mini to take a class victory on a World Rally Championship event.
Daniel has driven expansion into the Mini Sport Engineering Department and has augmented this area of Mini Sport with M.A.D (Motorsport Advanced Developments) Engineering, a separate division of Mini Sport engineering, which specialises in the development and manufacture of products for popular car companies and F1 teams. Working closely with the Mini Sport technicians and Rally team, Daniel and the engineering department have been able to develop products and parts for requirements in every area of the Mini automotive industry. Today our engineering department has gained reputation as World leaders in modified performance parts for Road, Rally & Race track.
It wasn’t long before the youngest of the Harper brothers, Jonathan joined Mini Sport. With a fresh outlook and a new enthusiasm, Jonathan was able to utilise his passion for marketing alongside his skill in digital technology to ensure that the Mini Sport experience was available to all. Mini Sport was marketed on a whole new level with sharp photography, a full-functioning website and a step into social networking; which enabled the company to share new products, advice and news to a whole new audience. Jonathan even helped cement a collaborative deal in 2011 with Mini Legend, Paddy Hopkirk – which sparked both new designs for the Mini and a new friendship for Mini Sport with the addition of ‘Paddy Hopkirk Mini’ gaining further interest for Mini Sport – who continue to develop and design this exclusive line of parts and accessories alongside the famous Monte Carlo winner.
Mini Sport Today
Today Mini Sport has become renowned as the ‘World’s Leading Mini Specialists’ with exciting projects and developments emerging every day. The trusty premises at Thompson Street, Padiham have been extended to home each individual sector of our business and guarantee that a full range of resources, equipment and services are available to all our customers.
Our 2,000 square foot Service & Fitting Centre features everything we need to get your Mini in excellent condition. Complete with a state-of-the-art Rolling Road and cutting edge Engine Balancing Equipment, Mini Sport maintains a reputation as pioneers in the forefront of automotive technology and design.
Our Body Shop & Spray centre has gained critical acclaim with an abundance of restoration projects exhibited in Mini World, Pacenotes Rally Magazine, Classic Car Magazine and the Mini Cooper Register – with our in-house specialists offering frequent advice and ‘how to’s’ for the number one Mini publication, Mini Magazine. We accept restorations from as far as Singapore and have restored and modified some exceptional cars with everything from a Cooper T72 driven by Sir Jackie Stewart to Bogus 2 the ultimate performance Mini, commissioned by Mini World in our archive of success stories.
The motorsport foundations, to which Mini Sport was built on, still remain prevalent to our ethos and our involvement with both Race and Rally is as strong as ever; still supporting motorsport disciplines like Historic racing. Most recently our long-established involvement with back-to-roots rallying has been cemented in the ‘Mini Sport Mini Cup’ awarded to Mini contestants in the Old Stager Championship as part of Historic Rally Car Register. Our support also covers the Mini Se7ens, Junior F100 Championships and Clubman Rally Championships.
Reflecting on the careers of Brian and Heather Harper and the family values they have channelled into establishing a successful business around their primary passion, it’s true to say that Mini Sport, just like the Mini, has channelled a philosophy that surrounds an adoration for classic British design, engineering, motorsport and most importantly the people and communities that make the Mini so special.