The Mini provided cheap transport, technical brilliance, motor sport dominance, and classless style. It’s also Britain’s best-ever selling car.
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.
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
YEAR REVEALED: 1959
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Birmingham, West Midlands, UK
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 52–78ci (848–1,275cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 76bhp
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