Skip to main content

BMC Mini

BMC Mini 1950s British classic car

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!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

FN Four

In terms of breakthroughs in the history of motorcycling, there cannot be many to rival the first in-line four engine. Belgium was the birthplace of this landmark layout. FN was the much-to-be-thanked manufacturer.The FN Four first hit the highway in 1911. It produced 4bhp. That, from a 491 cc capacity. At the time, such figures described state-of-the-art technology. Top speed for the FN Four was 40mph. Not bad - for an 8-valve inlet-over-exhaust set-up. Oh, it was air-cooled.The FN Four was light - tipping the scales at 165lb dry. Not only the motor, but the chassis, too, was avant-garde. It featured an early form of telescopic forks. A new-fangled clutch - and 2-speed 'box - only added to the FN Four's slick box of tricks. Solid shaft-drive output the power. Who, then, designed this visionary vintage? You will not hear the name Paul Kelekom shouted from motorcycling's rooftops. But, you should - for it was he who fashioned the FN Four. In so doing, he ki…

Gilera Saturno

Gilera was a big player in the realm of 1950s motorbike manufacturing. After that, the firm met with mixed fortunes. Gilera's Fifties flagship - the Saturno - was launched in '46. Rolled out in 'Sport', 'Touring', and 'Competition' modes, the Saturno would sell well for years.The Saturno 'production racer' was a hit both on road and track. Competitive for many seasons, it remained so for some time after its production run finished - at the fag-end of the '50s.In road-going form, the Saturno stayed tethered to the tarmac - thanks to its telescopic forks, and vertical rear shocks. Indeed, it would gain a reputation as a 'performance bike' of its day. Towards the end, Gilera was linked with Piaggio, Vespa - and the scooter scene, generally. Illustrious though those names still were, Gilera's glory days were behind it. Bikes like the Saturno, though, still shone a light for past success.

NSU Ro80

The styling of the NSU Ro80 was ahead of its time. At first glance, masses of glass were straight out of science-fiction. Closer inspection revealed the gently rising line of its profile - giving it a low front, high back stance - which would influence automotive design for years to come. The 5-seater body was supremely aerodynamic for a saloon car - making cruising at speed a breeze. So flawless was it outwardly that it was hardly touched in ten years of production. Just the tail-lights were modified, on later versions.The Ro80's handling was equally impressive. FWD - and precision power-steering - kept it perfectly pointed. The long-travel strut suspension soaked up bumps. High-efficiency disc brakes were fitted all round. The 3-speed semi-automatic transmission swept through the gears with aplomb. Top speed was a sound 112mph.But, of course, nothing is perfect. The Ro80 was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine. Unfortunately - in a rush to get the car into showroom…