Car: BMC Mini Austin cooper, 1959

The Mini provided cheap transport, technical brilliance, motor sport dominance, and classless style. It’s also Britain’s best-ever selling car.

1959 BMC Mini cooper car
The Mini’s long period on sale made anniversaries routine: this is the 1989 Mini 30 (left) with the Mini Cooper that won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.

It was conceived by one man, Alec Issigonis, a gifted engineer hired by the British Motor Corporation in 1956. Almost immediately, the Suez crisis emerged, forcing gas rationing on British motorists, and creating an urgent need for up-to-date economy cars. Issigonis envisaged a highly compact “cube,” in which the four passengers would sit, headed by a space-saving front-wheel drive system. Issigonis’s imagination overcame the small dimensions by mounting the gearbox under the engine instead of behind it, and specifying a compact rubber cone suspension system. Packaging was the 10ft- (3m-) long Mini’s greatest strength.

1959 BMC Mini Austin cooper
1959 BMC Mini Austin cooper
1959 BMC Mini Austin cooper car
1959 BMC Mini Austin cooper car

The interior was staggeringly roomy. Every square inch was used: there were big door bins for storage; a parcel shelf instead of a dashboard; and tiny, space-saving 10in (25cm) wheels. Launched on August 26, 1959, as the Austin Mini Seven and Morris Mini-Minor, the £496 starting price made it virtually the cheapest car on sale. Buyers adored the Mini for its thrift and its verve. Its tenacious road grip meant it ran rings around expensive sports cars, it was easy to park, and it looked chic. There were numerous updates during its 41-year life, but the investment needed to build it meant that, for years, it sold at a loss, adding to the rocky fortunes of BMC and its successors.

“Don’t expect me to be modest about the Mini. I’m very proud that it has run for so long and it still looks like the car we designed.”

Sir Alec Issigonis, Father of the Mini

Video: model of the car BMC Mini Austin cooper

Specification: model of the car BMC Mini Austin cooper

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Birmingham, West Midlands, UK
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 52–78ci (848–1,275cc)
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the front wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, four-seater sedan and station wagon
TOP SPEED: 100mph (161kph)
NUMBER BUILT: 5,387,862