2019 marks a major milestone in Britains illustrious automotive history as the Mini reaches 60. A name that has stood the test of time, the Mini is an icon of Britain’s pop culture and to this day remains one of the best selling cars on Britains roads.
The Mini story is one of the humble beginnings and it all began during the 1950s as Great Britain was starting to get back on its feet and reestablish itself in a post second world war era.
A major factor in this stable economic growth was the Suez Canal, a gateway between Europe and the Middle East. By the mid-1950s the Suez canal saw two-thirds of Europes oil pass through it and was a vital lifeline to the continent. In 1956 the Second Arab–Israeli War broke out which jeopardised this vast movement of oil. This major blow resulted in petrol rationing in Britain and as a result sales of larger vehicles slumped dramatically. This environment proved to be the catalyst of Mini’s conception.
With fuel rationing hitting British families ability to run a motor car there was a concerted effort by manufacturers to design and develop small, economical cars that were versatile and yet frugal on fuel. Whilst many manufacturers produced their own models, none had the success in the UK that Mini had, and the major contributing factor to this success was its design.
The product of British Motor Corporation, BMC, the Mini was unique by design and to assist with the project, BMC called upon the services of Sir Alec Issigonis. A now legendary car designer, Issigonis had a vision for the Mini that later proved to be the perfect recipe of practicality and economy. Issigonis and his team designed a chassis that saw a front wheel drive layout and transverse mounting of the engine which allowed for 80% of the cars floor pan to be used for passengers and luggage.
An early pioneer of this powertrain configuration, the Mini was set to influence car design right up to the present day with a majority of mass-produced vehicles utilising a front wheel drive and transverse engine mounting layout.
With the design around a capable chassis finalised, BMC put the car to market in 1959 and it proved to be an instant hit. Throughout its continuous production, the Mini remained virtually unchanged apart from a variety of cosmetic tweaks, which centred around the design of the front apron and grille.
Whilst the Mini was equipped with small but economical engines, it was to be its chassis and handling that were to prove to be the biggest revelation. With its wheels mounted essentially at all four corners of the car, a short wheelbase and a chassis that weighed in at just under 700kg, the Mini was more than comfortable on the twisty stuff. It was therefore only natural that the Mini would find itself involved in motorsport.
In competition, the Mini was the giant killer of its day. Beating the likes of the V8 engined Ford Mustang, it’s handling prowess could never be underestimated against its power deficit. It had particular success on the Worlds Rally stages with the Mini helping Northern Irelands Paddy Hopkirk to Monte Carlo Rally successes consecutively in 1964, 65, and 67 in the now iconic red and white number 37 livery.
It’s hard to question the success of the higher performance Cooper and Cooper S variants as they also swept to victory away from the rally stages on the motor circuits of Britain in the illustrious British Touring Car Championship. Over a reign of serveral years, Mini’s helped to power drivers to no less than 6 drivers championships.
At the turn of the new millennium with car buying habits changing and new European safety regulation taking a grip across the continent, the days of the Mini in its traditional guise were numbered and production of the original Mini ceased in 2000. However, this wasn’t to be the end of the much-loved marque as BMW stepped into the breach and purchased the rights to the name from Rover.
In 2001 the Mini returned. A new design concept, the new Mini was larger and was significantly more advanced from a safety point of view. Regulation dictated the size of the new car, however, BMW was keen to retain key design elements such as the grille, headlight configuration and overall profile and proportions of the original iconic machine. Inside the interior saw a retro central speedometer and toggle style switches.
The new Mini range takes inspiration from the car of old and includes higher performance models such as the Mini Cooper S and the John Cooper Works machines. The latter moniker in a nod to legendary Mini tuner, John Cooper.
To this day the Mini remains a popular and common sight on Britain’s roads. From humble beginnings, this small machine has not only helped to shape popular British culture but has also helped to shape car design overall and was the original blueprint for the design of future hatchback vehicles.
Happy Birthday, Mini you’ve come along way. We look forward to the next 60-year chapter in this fantastic automotive story.