60 Years of Mini History in the Making
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Mini Cooper let’s have a history lesson on the life of this iconic motor vehicle that has been a major part of the culture and lifestyle of its adoring fans.
From the first sketches done on a restaurant napkin by motor industry engineer, designer & racer Sir Alec Issigonis the Mini has always had been playful at heart with its go-cart feel and its creative use of small spaces. The charm of the Mini quickly made it a favorite with jet setters and culture influencers of the swinging sixties such as actors Gerald Harper and Steve McQueen, and musician George Harrison.
With the Suez crisis in 1956 Britain experienced gasoline rationing. Leonard Lord of British Motor Company (BMC) saw the need for a new smaller car to enter the market. Lord gave Issigonis carte blanche to create a new vehicle that would be versatile and fun for public use. With a vision to create the smallest possible car that would also fit four adults and some luggage Issignois, along with a small team of assistants, began the design work on this iconic motor vehicle.
The overall design stemmed from Issignois viewing the car as a box with an engine that needed to maintain a dimension of 10 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet. With the idea to place the gearbox in the sump of the engine allowed for an easier engine installation process within a small workspace. Other creative space saving designs included mini 10 inch wheels and an all independent compact suspension with rubber elements.
By the summer of 1958, Issigonis was ready to take Lord on test drives in one of the earliest prototypes. Lord was immediately convinced about the possible success of the new design and told Issigonis to plan on having the car on the production line within a year, and by spring 1959 the first models were rolling off the assembly lines at Austin in Longbridge and Morris in Cowley. The official birth of the Mini was on August 26, 1959. With the merger of the Austin and Morris companies in 1952, newly name BMC, the original Mini was launched in two versions; the Austin Seven originally marketed as “The Incredible Austin Seven” and the Morris Mini-Minor which was marketed as “Wizardry on Wheels.”
With a price tag of just under £500, or approximately US$647, the Mini saloon (or sedan) was one of the most affordable options on the market. With production starting at around 20,000 cars in 1959 it quickly jumped to 200,000 per year by 1962 and continued doing so for the next 15 years. Many different variations of the original design went to market from 1960 to 1964, such as an estate car, van, pickup, and then luxury versions that included expanded trunks for increased luggage space.
With its small car design and athletic DNA the Mini was destined for the race track. Sports car designer John Cooper immediately saw the race potential of the compact four-seat design and in collaboration with Issigonis developed a variety of design concepts for the Mini with more powerful engine options. This partnership birthed a racing legacy that experienced three outright victories in the 1960s at the Monte Carlo Rally that ushered in the creation of the high-performance Mini Copper in 1961.
By 1967 the Mini lost the traditional Austin and Morris brand names and became its own established brand. Small design updates were made to the original design including wind-down windows instead of sliding windows and new concealed door hinges. By 1969 Mini had manufactured its second millionth vehicle and by 1971 the production figure reached more than 318,000 per year with production of its fourth million Mini in 1976.
In 1986 Mini found itself under the RoverGroup and a new campaign was launched with taglines of “You never forget your first Mini” and “Minis have feelings too.” These internationally successful campaigns helped to boost sales and to reestablish this iconic and culturally relevant brand and in 1990 the Mini Cooper was re-launched and quickly became the best-selling Mini version. The Mini convertible was produced by Rover in 1992 with one of the most expensive Mini price tags at £12,000 or US$15,500 but still preformed well at market.
With the acquisition of the Rover Group by BMW in 1994 the Mini brand got a face lift with investment into its product line with an updated image of “energy, escapism, excitement, individuality and innovation.” In 1997 two newly designed models of the Mini hit the market, the Mini and the Mini Cooper with a cost of £8995 or US$11,600 with plenty of higher priced options for the buyer to choose from including special equipment, accessories, paint and trim schemes; thus positioning the Mini of the future as an up-market small car rather than an entry level mass-market car.
The 2000s started with the introduction of the R50 project with the Mini One and the Mini Cooper and has progressed with the introduction of the 4-door Countryman in 2011 and 4-door Clubman in 2016; and a highly anticipated electric model Mini EV coming out in August of 2019.
With a steady track record of being a motor vehicle for the people in ever changing times the Mini clearly is here to stay with its dedication to design, innovation, and performance.