The BMC Mini was first released in 1959. It set the scene for the Swinging Sixties! A poll of motoring luminaries would subsequently vote it 'Car of the Century'. Such was the esteem in which the little Mini was held! You do not have to look too hard to uncover its 'unique selling point'. Alec Issigonis - the Mini's designer - was obsessive about not wasting an inch of automotive real estate. The Mini was a utility vehicle, par excellence! Yet, it was also one of the coolest cars ever to turn a wheel ... each of which was a whopping 10″ in diameter Issigonis' design process really did include sketches on the backs of envelopes. But, then, they were for the Mini! Anyway, it worked - more than 5,300,000 Minis were built. That made it Britain's best-selling car ... ever!
Space-saving, then, was the Mini's raison d'être. Its front-wheel-drive set-up was key to this ... as was the fact that the gearbox was placed beneath the engine. The Mini was a tour de force, technically! Dr Alex Moulton dreamed up radical rubber-cone suspension for the car. BMC quoted 'penny-a-mile' running costs. Bear in mind that the Mini was conceived in the wake of the 1956 Suez Crisis - when fuel prices were at a premium. But, economical as it was, the Mini could shift a bit, too! In performance car terms, its apogee was the Mini-Cooper S. Named after John Cooper - the legendary race-car constructor - the top-spec version delivered 76bhp. And a top speed of 96mph. The Mini had always handled well ... now it had a motor to match. Standard-spec Coopers won the Tulip Rally, in '62 and '63. The Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally, in '64, '65 and '67. That was on top of ruling the roost in British saloon car racing. All that poke required that front disc brakes be fitted on the road car!
The Mini even moved into the luxury car market ... well, sort of! Both Radford and Wood, and Pickett, turned out coach-built versions of the car. Pink Panther actor Peter Sellers owned one of the Radford and Wood creations. Presumably, Sellers bought a Mini with an eye to style, rather than cost. But, Minis were comparatively affordable ... in standard trim, at least. The cost of the original cars was kept down by fitting sliding windows, cable-pull door releases, and externally welded body seams. To begin with, there were just two models to choose from - the Austin Mini Seven, and Morris Mini-Minor. The latter came in basic, or de luxe versions. Over time, the use of alternative sub-frames enabled several variations on the Mini theme. There were vans, pick-ups, and estate cars. Not to mention, the Mini Moke and Cabriolet. The Mini, in turn, went on to influence other cars - like the long-boot Riley Elf, and Wolseley Hornet. In the final analysis, though, the Mini was unique. As often as not, 'milestone' cars are comprised of vast swathes of metal and plastic. Alec Issigonis' Mini, though, went to the other extreme. Petite, certainly ... but perfectly-formed. Best car of the 20th century? Possibly!