Relatively few of us can actually remember the Sixties, there are, however, true icons that were spawned in the era of Pop Culture that have grown in popularity with the passing of time. They have cemented their place in world’s consciousness like no marketing campaign could ever achieve.
One such revered treasure is British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) truly iconic “Mini”.
A crumb of comfort to all budding design geniuses the Mini’s designer, Sir Alec Issigonis’, during his Engineering studies at the Battersea Polytechnic failed his maths paper three times. Despite this his skills were recognised by both Austin and Morris where he was employed in the late 1930’s – working on a predecessor to the Morris Minor – prior to their fusion into BMC in 1952.
After a brief stint with Alvis, in 1955 Issigonis left at the invitation of BMC’s boss Sir Leonard Lord to work with a small design team on three new designs. With the Suez Crisis in 1956 the project was scaled down to concentrate on a small car code-named XC/9003. The result was a transverse four cylinder water cooled engine and front-wheel drive which allowed a greater percentage of the car to be used for passengers. The car also featured a down-scaled rubber cone suspension system designed by Alex Moulton (the eponymous bicycle designer).
In August 1959, the car was launched as two models, the Morris Mini Minor – the first bearing registration “621 AOK” – and the Austin Seven (later to be known as “the Austin Mini”). Issigonis’ design was initially manufactured at Longbridge and Cowley – BMC’s plants – and later made under license all over the world. The Mini become the best selling British car in history with a production run of over 5.3 million cars.
Variants included the Clubman, Traveller, the half-timbered Countryman, the Moke, Reilly Elf, Wolseley Hornet and the sizzling 1275GT.
Performance versions, the Mini Cooper and Cooper “S”, were realised by Issigonis in collaboration with John Cooper who specialised in designing and maintaining racing cars. Cooper saw the potential in these small cars that drove like a go-kart on ten inch Dunlop tyres. They were hugely successful winning the Monte Carlo Rally three times.
In 1969, a coup for early product placement, Mini’s were seen being triumphant in the film “The Italian Job” – alongside Michael Caine and Noel Coward – Aston Martin DB4/DB5
My wife’s first car was a resprayed – from gold to red – and treasured Mini that was stolen in Streatham (South London, UK) in the early 1990’s much to her sadness.
In the mid-1970’s my Aunt Molly, simply one of the coolest people I have ever known, had a Harvest Gold version. She and her husband had lived in South Kensington and holidayed in Juan Les Pins. She wore Pringle and Ferragamo but Todds to drive in.
BMW acquired the Rover Group (formerly British Leyland – the successor to BMC) in 1994 and sold-on most of it to other manufacturers, retaining the rights to build cars using the “Mini” name.
The last Mini – a red Cooper Sport – to made in Longbridge was built in October 2000.
The later re-imagination of the Mini brand by BMW would have been inconceivable without the role played by the original but BMW are certainly making the most of its heritage. Launched in 2001, under the masterful eyes of designer, Frank Stephenson, the early designs of the “New Mini” embraced much of the retro feel of its predecessor and has certainly achieved the status of a classic design. Only time will tell if it achieves a similar iconic status in its own right.
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Images courtesy of BMW and others.