1 2 3 ... 5
Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 8:27 a.m.

 

I have always loved the look of Minilites and the many variants thereof.

I was first introduced to them via mid 80's Saab 900 turbo when I ran the factory Saab Minilite version which were initially made by Carroll Shelby,
here's a good read regarding those:
https://www.carthrottle.com/post/poog5jj/

Later I upgraded to a set of Panasport Pro Rally for the Saab and those are indeed totally awesome.

I now run a 2006 MINI R53 JCW equipped with Rota RB which have served me well despite Rota getting a good bit of criticism online --- they are very affordable as well as lighter in weight to their competitors who also make these famous 8 spoke style wheels.

Just wanted to post up a thread for putting as many pix as possible with all variety of cars featuring different variants of Cooper style wheels, which I call them due to legacy heritage and is not a dis on Minilite at all because I most often use that descriptor so it is more easily understood what I'm referring to --- the Cooper angle will be addressed shortly further down in a pedantic fashion which will annoy and irritate the TL/DR crowd LOL

 

It was actually in large part the Watanabe angle that prompted me to construct such an elaborate effort fumbling toward an origin story.

Many times I've come across people steeped in JDM world who posit as fact that Watanabe originated the 8 spoke design, like in this video that I won't embed because I get easily annoyed and irritated by most automotive related youtube content but even moreso when it's like a rapidfire linguistic machine-gun from an adderall'd teenager LOL
But whatever.

exhibit A:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOm0smfem-4&ab_channel=FitmentIndustries

 

cheeky After watching that video, we can all agree that the printed word is great, no?

 

Onward to the geekout ~

In the past I've searched for the definitive answer but could not find any one authoritative exposition which encompasses the full historical arc of origin, so what I'm going to write here is like a patchwork of differing sources filtered through my personal lens of perception and as such it is just a speculative theory of how I view it all may have happened, so your view on the topic is most welcome and I'd very much be keen on a thorough discussion along with many many pix of these cool cool wheels.

The Cooper Cars book by Doug Nye has been a tremendous resource for me.
I have only recently got it and haven't even finished reading it yet.
His book is truly top shelf.
Simply the best.

Anyways,
tracing the origin of the Minilite inevitably led to the witnessing of birth to the alloy wheel itself.

The innovative American racecar designer Harry Miller first filed a patent in 1919 for his design of a revolutionary wheel which utilized aluminum alloy.

Here is his patent drawing:

But the H.A. Miller wheels never went past the design phase and were never actually made.

It was Ettore Bugatti who succeeded in producing them first, in 1924 --- casting aluminum brake drums, wheel spokes, and wheels at the Bugatti foundry in Molsheim France, using molds he had developed himself, and which were intended for fitment to the Type 35 which could be said to be the most famous racecar of all time.

Note that the initial Bugatti wheel design very closely echoes Miller's earlier design...

 

...but the later version evolved into the classic eight spoker we all know and love:


Those wheels were 19" and incorporated integrated brake drums to help facilitate quicker pit stops.

 

Now,
this is where we visit Charles Cooper when he ran a small garage in Surbiton and who happened to maintain the various cars of famous local racer Kaye Don.

 

Kaye Don was so impressed with Charlie's spanner turning mechanic abilities that he was made crew chief for his racing team, and when Don-the-Brooklands-ace decided to get himself a Bugatti Type 54 in the early 1930's, Charlie Cooper was sent off to the Molsheim factory to build up the 4.9 liter straight-eight French racecar, as well as to learn all about it while he was there. This was somewhat common practice back in those days and even later at the Cooper Works garage they allowed favored customers' mechanics to assemble their cars on premises.

I would think that Charlie learned and picked up quite a bit with his time spent at the Bugatti factory.

Due to the high monetary value of early Bugatti cars there is a tremendous amount of research spent on them, and thanks to that we can see the actual car that Charles Cooper built up and worked on, it is chassis number *54203* with a stated build date of 1932.

 

A couple of period photographs:

 

John Cooper grew up immersed in a wonderful world of hardcore motorsport and from a very young age was bitten by the bug, tinkering and building "specials" was in his blood.

By the time of 1946, John was getting serious with his intention, to move beyond hobbyist level and into full-fledged production mode.

The burgeoning 500cc movement gave him the opportunity.

As in America, the post-war years in England saw many servicemen returned home who had a bit of a thrillseeking bent, men mad about motors and modding them beyond belief, forming clubs for fun like rumbling the ton.

In England in 1945 there was an official 500cc class formed and it grew to be quite popular because entry to the field was much more within reach to the workingman, so it was like a poor-man's racing formula, as opposed to the upper echelons of racing which had always been a playground of the wealthy playboy.

The 500cc car that John Cooper developed proved to be an excellent design,
it is now known as the Mark I.

Here is some incredible vintage footage of silent film from 1946 showing him testing it on public roads!!!

 

If you watched the film you may have noticed that the wheels are quite plain and have not a small sliver of anything even remotely related to the look of Minilites, this is because the car was built up using bits from a Fiat Topolino which crucially had an independent suspension, so it was only natural to use the wheels as well. John had acquired the Topolino from a broker down the street from the garage for cheap money because it had been crashed in the rear and was an insurance write-off.

Here's what a 1946 Topolino, which means "little mouse" in Italian, looked like:

 

Please bear with me reader, although it may seem this may be veering off topic, I feel it is a necessary part of the story to understand the overall evolution.

The Cooper Mark I proved successful and generated much enthusiastic interest, but there was no way that Cooper could source an infinite supply of wrecked Topolinos to build them from, so in 1948 the Cooper Car Company was born and incorporated to make an updated version which was to be produced in-house.

It was then that with the new 500cc car that a newly designed wheel also came along. Not quite a Minilite but did have an eight spoke element.

The design is credited to Charles Cooper's nephew Colin Darby.

John Cooper wrote:
"My cousin Colin Darby was a draughtsman for a firm called Celestion, who made loudspeakers in Kingston. One evening we got together and discussed supply problems with wheels. We wanted a 15" of our own which would be stronger and lighter than the old Fiat type which we just couldn't find anymore. So with Colin we designed our own, including integral brake drums like Bugatti prewar, and patented them and had them cast in aluminium by a foundry in Croydon, I think."


The wheels were made of cast Elektron which was a trade-name for a type of magnesium alloy.

This pic shows them well, with Charles standing and John in car.

Several action shots:

 

Now,
we can get past the germinal stages and get to the point where the Minilite proper is fully realized.

The year is 1956.

The car is the Mark II T39 "bobtail",
truly beautiful:

https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1956-cooper-climax-t39-bobtail-sports-racer/

The new wheel was designed by the famously eccentric Cooper designer Owen Maddock,
nicknamed "the beard".

His mercurial temperament and volatile personality sometimes grated against his employers' nerves. Once, when a potential new recruit arrived for a job interview, Charles Cooper asked his secretary whether he had a beard. On being told that he did, Cooper told her to "Send 'im home. I've got enough trouble with the one I've got!".

It was his design that gave us the "banana spoke" as we know it.

So here we are,
ultimately at
MINILITE.


The brand name Minilite magnesium wheels came into existence some time between 1962-1964.

Trade mark number 1415893, MINILITE, is registered in Class 12 in respect of “Lightweight eight spoke magnesium wheels, all for motorcars; lightweight magnesium or aluminium wheels for motorcars.”

They were made by a company called Tech-Del Limited which was formed by Derek Power who was an atomic physicist.

The original Minilites came packaged as a full set in a barrel box,
just too damn cool.

Here's John Cooper in a Mini sporting the de rigueur wheels:

laugh

Now,

I'd  love for this discussion to develop further and get constructive input and/or debate or whatever as for the origin story, as well as eventually cataloging the vast array of minilite variants which have been available over the years.

 

Also,

please post up good pix of  cars fitted up with these stone cold classics, almost any car looks great with them, even more modern stuff,

like this Fiesta:

I just skimmed this, and already feel educated. I'll be back to read in detail in a bit.

Thanks for sharing.

noddaz
noddaz GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
10/3/20 10:04 a.m.

Facinating.   It was a bit drawn out up to the Banana spoke wheels, but it was all relevant. 

And the barrel shaped boxes.  Genius!

 

wawazat
wawazat Dork
10/3/20 10:47 a.m.

Shameless post ho action engaged!laugh


 

I've always loved the Minilite look and I didn't want Torque Thrusts or Magnum 500's.

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 12:07 p.m.

A banana is
a banana is
a banana.

 

enlightened

smiley

heart

 

Killer Cougar action!

 

Thanks for the add and sharing the pic.

Love to see American iron shod up with this style of wheel.

If I had to guess the maker of your wheels, I'd say Trans Am Engineering?

There are other possibilities but that's my guess.

 

And, it provides a great segue into TransAmLand too! 

"The Trans Am was a no-holds-barred, highly competitive series. We had the best American drivers, we ran on the best North American circuits, and we drove cars that were spectacular to watch and that the fans could easily identify with. The Trans Am was the greatest road racing series that has ever been run over here..."

-- Parnelli Jones

 

 

 

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 12:11 p.m.

*edit

Forgot to add this period polaroid, love groovy pix like this!

 

 

FSP_ZX2
FSP_ZX2 SuperDork
10/3/20 12:19 p.m.



I love this tread.  

That is all.

PS--that was my dad's Pacer, with a Turbo 232 I6.

chandler
chandler UltimaDork
10/3/20 12:21 p.m.



this is my set, not sure what brand they ACTUALLY are, bought as Western Superlites but not sure they really are. 15x7 5x5.5 planned for a slammed Ramcharger but the build fell apart before I started it.

wawazat
wawazat Dork
10/3/20 12:22 p.m.

Thanks.  Trans Am Race Engineering is correct.  I was going for an updated Trans Am vibe with my car and I love them.  

Are you familiar with the book “The Cars of Trans Am Racing 1966-1972” by David Tom?   I picked it up this summer and it’s fantastic if you like this period in American racing.   Highly recommended!

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 12:32 p.m.
FSP_ZX2 said:



I love this tread.  

That is all.

PS--that was my das'd Pacer, with a Turbo 232 I6.

A Pacer with Minilites?

 

Now that is RAD TO THE MAX!

 

Thanks for the add.

 

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 12:40 p.m.
chandler said:


this is my set, not sure what brand they ACTUALLY are, bought as Western Superlites but not sure they really are. 15x7 5x5.5 planned for a slammed Ramcharger but the build fell apart before I started it.

Wild dynamite!

this bunch has the other guys pegged - DEADERNHELL!

Hard to tell because there were so many different makers each with their own slight variations, but most of the Western Superlites I've seen were ten spokers.

 

 

 

 

 

mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
10/3/20 12:49 p.m.

I have been thinking that when my Abarth finally needs new rubber, I may go with a minilite replica.

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 12:54 p.m.
wawazat said:

Thanks.  Trans Am Race Engineering is correct.  I was going for an updated Trans Am vibe with my car and I love them.  

Are you familiar with the book “The Cars of Trans Am Racing 1966-1972” by David Tom?   I picked it up this summer and it’s fantastic if you like this period in American racing.   Highly recommended!

I've looked at a few but they're somewhat expensive, but I deffo need to get a couple to learn more and look at the great pictures too.

 

I must admit that I'm a bigger fan of the under 2 class though and there ain't enough writ about 'em in many cases it seems somewhat ignored unless you're an Alfa/Datsun/BMW fan...

But I must admit the headlining rockstars of T/A were the pony cars and boy o boy did they put on an immensely grand show!

 

I mean, dig this crazy pass in the grass man!

@11:40

 

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 12:59 p.m.
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) said:

I have been thinking that when my Abarth finally needs new rubber, I may go with a minilite replica.

Do it!

 

I think they look great with those wheels!

Several options available too...

Competizone Sport Tuning Monza

Ciao Torino

Most likely Panasport too, amongst other possibilities.

Trent (Generally supportive dude)
Trent (Generally supportive dude) PowerDork
10/3/20 1:18 p.m.

My Eight and a half on panasports.

And my mini on minilite styles which had to go since 99% of all minis are running a variant of that wheel.

Oldboy Speedwell
Oldboy Speedwell New Reader
10/3/20 3:07 p.m.

@ Trent

HOLY MOLY MAMA MIA !!!

Thanks for the add.

Man what a gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous Fiat 850 --- everything about it sits just right and those big Pana's bake the cake into ultimate yumyumyummy goodness.

 

One of my oddball dreamcars in standard form, but the restomod job you've done with yours is next level droolworthy throb throb lustbucket of unicornish horniness!

 

I've always wanted a proper Mini too, and I hear ya with regards to Minilites being the universal common choice, but I mean they just look so right wearing them don't they?

 

I've always liked the Revolution 4 spokers too, but that's another common choice although they can be modd'd up monster for wide arch madness to make them pop more uniquely...

Rodan
Rodan Dork
10/3/20 3:50 p.m.

My all time favorite wheel design! yes

I got a set of originals with a Cortina I bought 20+ years ago and never finished... sold the wheels when I sold the car.  Closest I have now is a set of Rewinds with cheapo all-seasons for winter on our beater NB.

tr8todd
tr8todd SuperDork
10/3/20 3:56 p.m.

Literaly just finished mounting a set of tires on a set of Superlite wheels.  Off the top of my head I have the following sets of various 8 spoke wheels.  13X5.5, (2) 13X7, 13X8, (2) 14X6, (2) 14X7, 15X7, 16X8.  Might actually have more than that, but thats what I can think of at the moment.

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Reader
10/3/20 3:59 p.m.

One of the best forum posts I've ever read.  Well done, sir. 

TurnerX19
TurnerX19 SuperDork
10/3/20 4:14 p.m.

I own two cars, both pictured below. The Volvo has Panaports, the Fiat has Australian "Superlight" brand. And the Mini is not mine.... 

 

84FSP
84FSP UltraDork
10/3/20 5:01 p.m.

Panasport C8 13x10.5.  Awesome article - so many characters in the early motorsports.

wlkelley3
wlkelley3 UberDork
10/3/20 7:30 p.m.

IMO, there are few wheels that look great on anything and Minilites (and their variations) are one. Libre's are another.

mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
10/3/20 9:02 p.m.
Oldboy Speedwell said:
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) said:

I have been thinking that when my Abarth finally needs new rubber, I may go with a minilite replica.

Do it!

 

I think they look great with those wheels!

Several options available too...

Competizone Sport Tuning Monza

Ciao Torino

Most likely Panasport too, amongst other possibilities.

JUst do not know if I want to stay with the smaller 16" or move up to the optional 17s.  I think I like the slightly "meatier" look of the 16s.

 

While I do not yet have a car with minilites, I do have a trailer :)

 

dabird
dabird Reader
10/3/20 9:51 p.m.

Saab factory 8 spokes that my son just bought for his 900. 

wspohn
wspohn Dork
10/4/20 1:22 p.m.

Mid 1970s, my car with American Racing magnesium wheels, a Minilite lookalike (they were also available in aluminum and were offered back in the 1960s as dealer options for new cars like the TR3 and TR4).  I have always liked the look of the 8 spoke version to the 5 spoke ones used on the cars with 5 bolt hubs.

 

 

1 2 3 ... 5
Our Preferred Partners
Of5NIHHagjNlsET0qKBgswM3c46Qj8gm6g4wF3zSTX1v4ER9XqBRjzP3TCTzpv21