Cars shaped as foodstuffs – there have been quite a few. We’ve had cars shaped like sausages, creme-filled chocolate eggs, cheese burgers, ice-cream cornets and even crayfish. But none of them has quite the charm of the Outspan orange Mini. Which, as the pictures on these pages show, is an outlandishly dimensioned citrus fruit on wheels.
There were originally half a dozen of these promotional spheres of influence. Designed and built by the Brian Thwaites company of Sussex between 1972 and 1974, they were used by South African orange producer Outspan to promote its fruits around Europe, and rather effectively so, one suspects. The company is still in business today, and at least three of the Oranges are known to survive, one still with Outspan. Minis were often hacked about and adapted in the 1960s and ’70s because they were cheap, because regulations were more relaxed and because the Mini’s mechanical layout lent itself to wild reconfigurings of the bodywork enveloping it.
All of which has led us down some weird avenues of Minidom over the past 60 years. The Mini’s adaptability stems from the fact that its powertrain and suspension are carried on a pair of subframes whose position relative to one another can easily be shifted. That made it simpler for the British Motor Corporation to offer the longer-wheelbase Mini Countryman and Minivan, and not too difficult for assorted jokers to build devices such as the Mini Mini, which rides on a wheelbase short enough to house only two, or the Duckhams oil company to turn a Mini into a distinctly unstable-looking giant gallon can of 20-50.
The Outspan Mini was more ambitious than this, however, requiring the creation of sizeable moulds to produce a peel-textured monocoque complete with the green leaves of a stalk. Beneath this were stuffed the aforementioned subframes, the axles a mere 48in apart. Until some concrete ballast was added below the floor, this arrangement rendered the orange orb prone to performing impromptu forward rolls. The trigger for these gymnastics was the heft of the 848cc four-speed automatic powerpack, the A-series engine accessed via a lift-up lid cut into a dashboard stylishly surfaced with orange carpet. The carpet and its plywood substrate, incidentally, do a surprisingly good job of suppressing the Mini motor’s cheery threshings.