THE LARGEST ever gathering of vintage Works Minis roared into Abingdon, along with the mechanics, navigators and racing drivers who made them the gold standard in motorsport throughout the 1960s.

The town was the former home of the British Motor Corporation's famed Competitions Department, and was a fitting place to host the unique reunion of Mini Coopers hand-built by the department's mechanics.

The Competitions Department was closed down almost 50 years ago, but between the Mini's inception in 1959 and 1970 more than 70 rallying and racing variants of the giant-killing Mini were built at Abingdon, going on to win events all over Europe and beyond, and helping to create the abiding legend of the all-conquering Cooper S.

The reunion brought together cars that spanned the 1960s and the event, hosted by 7 Rifles at the Army Reserve's Edward Brooks Barracks, was also a reunion for surviving members of the competitions department.

Attendees included team bosses Stuart Turner, Peter Browning and Bill Price, 1964 Monte Carlo Rally winner Paddy Hopkirk, navigators Paul Easter, Mike Wood and Willy Cave, racing drivers John Rhodes and Christabel Watson and mechanics Den Green and Dudley Pike, who each shared their own experiences of the mighty Mini Cooper.

The reunion was organised by Works Mini owner John McIntosh, who said: “With 21 Works Minis, plus some other excellent cars of the period, this was the largest gathering ever of these rare vehicles and it was made all the more special by the presence of so many team members and staff from the competitions department."

He added a return to the old department building - now a distribution centre for post and parcel service UK Mail - was one of the most poignant moments of the weekend.

For many it was the first time they had ever seen the building, and for others it was the first time since 1970 that they had been back when they gathered there this month.

It was not all sharing memories, as Works Mini owners used the military airfield which adjoins Edward Brooks Barracks to show off just how well the Mini has held up.

With their powerful engines working overtime, the sounds were just as evocative as the sight of the historic cars in action again as they whizzed across the airfield.

Mr McIntosh said: “None of it would have happened without the support of Rutherford Cancer Centres, Mini Sport and British Motor Heritage. They made it all possible and helped us to bring these cars together for a truly memorable weekend."

Vintage Tyres contributed a new set of tyres and Mini Sport a pair of prints signed by the competitions department veterans for a charity auction.

The items were auctioned for the event's chosen charity, Maggie's Cancer Centre based at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, which provides professional support services to those with cancer and their loved ones

He added: “Our thanks also go to the staff of 7 Rifles for their great hospitality, to the Abingdon Station Headquarters and to UK Mail, whose staff did so much to make us welcome on our visit.”