Thursday, 4 January 2018


The BMC Mini was first released in 1959.  It set the scene for the Swinging Sixties!  A poll of automotive experts 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 car's designer - was obsessive about using every available inch.  His Mini was the utility vehicle, par excellence!  Yet it was also one of the coolest cars ever to turn a wheel...all 10 inches, in diameter, of it!  Issigonis' design process really did include sketches on the backs of envelopes.  All the better to zero in on a minimalist mind-set, no doubt!  Anyway, it worked - more than 5,300,000 Minis were built - and it became Britain's best-selling car ever.

Space-saving, then, was the Mini's raison d'être.  The front-wheel-drive set-up was key to this - as was the fact that the gearbox was positioned beneath the engine.  The Mini was a tour de force technically, too.  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 Suez Crisis of 1956.  But economical as it was, the Mini could still shift a bit!  In performance car terms, its apogee was the Mini-Cooper S.  Named after John Cooper - the 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.  And some!  Standard Coopers won the Tulip Rally in '62 and '63.  The Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally in '64, '65 and ' well as ruling the roost in British saloon car racing.  Suffice it to say that the Cooper's added poke required that front disc brakes be installed on the road car!

The Mini even moved into the luxury car market!  Both Radford and Wood, and Pickett, turned out coach-built versions of the car...which were almost as elegant as a Rolls-Royce!  The actor Peter Sellers must have thought so - he owned one of the Radford and Wood creations.  Presumably, Sellers bought a Mini because they were cool, rather than cheap.  But cheap they were, the best sense of the word, of course!  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, or Morris Mini-Minor - which came in basic, or de luxe editions.  But in time, the use of sub-frames enabled many a variation on the Mini theme.  There were vans, pick-ups, and estate cars - as well as the Mini Moke and Mini Cabriolet.  And the Mini, in turn, influenced other cars - like the long-boot Riley Elf, and Wolseley Hornet.  Ultimately, though, the Mini was unique.  As often as not, 'milestone' cars are composed of vast swathes of metal or plastic, stretching almost as far as the eye can see!  Alec Issigonis' Mini, though, went to the other extreme.  Petite - but perfectly-formed!  Best car of the 20th century?  Arguably!

No comments:

Post a Comment