Classic mini history story
Sir Alec Issigonis, (1906-1988), designer of the Mini, first arrived in London from Turkey in 1922 where he continued his education in engineering and in 1936 began his career working for Morris Motors in Cowley (later becoming the British Motor Corporation, BMC).
During the late 1950’s Leonard Lord, president of the BMC, decided that a compact car was needed to help with the gasoline rationing caused by the Suez crisis. He requested Issigonis to design this small car using existent parts of the BMC to reduce costs.
Previously, when Issigonis had worked for the BMC he had designed a Morris Minor prototype that was eventually discarded but was now to become the framework of this new car. The specification was to design a small-dimension vehicle able to carry four adults plus luggage. To achieve this, independent suspension on all four wheels was required along with a transverse engine, front wheel drive and a gearbox situated underneath the crankshaft. This reduced the measurements significantly to 3.05m width by 1.41m length and a height of 1.35m.
The ‘Morris Mini Minor’, as it was called, was finally shown to the world on August 26th 1959 at a price of just under £500. The 848cc engine with 34bhp made the car less appealing than many other cars and the sales only just reached 20,000 during its first year of production.
However, there were many who were interested in modifying the car, including John Cooper, both Formula 1 Champion of Builders during 1959 & 1960 and friend to Issigonis. Cooper saw the great potential within the Mini and began to make plans to modify the car to achieve a more durable and competitive vehicle. Prototypes and tests were carried out and in 1961 the Mini Cooper was born with a 997cc engine producing 55bhp and also front disc breaks.
The Mini Cooper S followed two years later with a 1071cc engine capable of almost 100mph. This became a popular rally car and won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 and 65. In 1966, the Morris Mini Cooper S came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the rally but was disqualified for having lights that didn’t meet with the French regulations. The French were furious that they had been beaten so investigated the Mini’s thoroughly to try to find fault.
In 1967 the Mk II was produced with new radiator grills, larger rear windows and the taillights were changed to rectangular. Two years later the Mk III is produced and the BMC becomes the BLMC (British Leyland Motor Corporation). During 1969 there was an attempt to modernise the Mini further creating the Clubman but was unsuccessful and production ceased by 1980.
In 1965 the millionth Mini was made and a record annual production level was reached in 1971 when 318,000 Minis were produced. By 1986 over five million minis and been manufactured.
In 1980 the BLMC changes its name again and becomes the Austin Mini and again 8 years later becoming the Rover Mini. From the 1980’s up to the late 90’s Rover released over 20 special edition models to try and revive decreasing sales, the most successful of which were the anniversary editions.
In 1990 Cooper returned with a 1275cc and a 61hp mini and further modernises it a year later when it becomes injection and a conversion kit is available allowing the car to achieve 80hp. The revival of the Cooper almost certainly played a major part of the Mini enthusiasts added enthusiasm especially when the twin point injection was introduced along with the front mounted radiator.
In 1996 Rover develops the Mk IV with additional air bag for the driver’s seat, steel bars for side-crash protection.There was an attempt to replace the mini with the Austin Mini Metro but unsuccessfully as people still yearned for their mini.
After celebrating it’s 40th Birthday in 1999, the Mini was voted the World’s second car of the century and one of the greatest designs of Automobile Engineering.
The traditional mini ceased production on the 18th September 2000 and the new BMW Mini was launched in 2000.