It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that August 26th was the Silver Jubilee of the launch of the Mini and it is right that the anniversary is marked, for the Mini is a great car. In the post-war period, Motor Sport was outspoken in its condemnation of much of British volume car design which lagged far behind Europe. Then in the space of a few months, in 1959, we had the Triumph Herald which featured irs and made advances in safety and ease of maintenance, the Ford Anglia, a conventional enough car but one which helped to establish Ford’s current reputation for engines and gearboxes, and we had the Mini.
Initially launched as the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Se7en, it quickly became known simply, and affectionately, as the “Mini”. It was the last volume car to be largely credited to a single designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, and it was perhaps the first volume car which was a properly integrated package with a great deal of attention being paid to passenger space within a small area. The technical ingenuity of its transverse engine, with the gearbox in the sump, attracted a great many imitations.
The cleverness of the design was not, however, the reason why it became so popular, rather it was because it was the right car for a particular time.
Britain was relatively prosperous and at less than £500, and economy to match, the Mini brought new car ownership within the reach of tens of thousands, destroying the fad for bubble cars in the process. Few designs have ever had so wide an appeal, it was a family car, a city car, a shopping car, a car in which film stars and royalty were not ashamed to be seen in. It was classless at a time when some of the old social barriers were breaking down.
The sporting fraternity soon discovered its incredible roadholding and, taking a lead from John Cooper, the tuners and specialist builders took wholeheartedly to the Mini, backed by an enthusiastic BMC management.
Minis were soon in action on the circuits and in rallies piling up innumerable victories in major events. Mini variants began to appear, the Ogle, Broadspeed, Unipower, Mini-Marcos, Terrapin, Cox GTM, Deep Sanderson, Biota and many more.
Minis starred in a major film, “The Italian Job”, and played character roles in dozens of others. Sir Noel Coward nominated a candy-striped Mini Moke as part of his definition of “style”.
The Model-T Ford gave the world wheels, the VW Beetle gave the world an inkling of the advantage of advanced engineering. The Mini cannot compete with either in terms of sales (currently just under five million) but it ranks with them as a great design. It gave the world sheer pleasure on four small wheels.