One of the most recognized cars ever produced, Mini production started in 1959 and was an instant success. It’s transverse engine front-wheel drive layout influenced a generation of car makers, and became one of the best selling cars in Europe. The UK subcompact developed into several different versions, including a wagon, pickup truck, and of course the Mini Cooper.
The Mini was originally developed out of Great Britain’s need for a more fuel-efficient car. In 1957, Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Company issued his top engineer, Alec Issigonis, to head up a team of designers. They started with a transverse engine and gearbox, which allowed front-wheel drive. This space-saving design was not new, it was first seen with the German DKW F1 in 1931.
With all four wheels “pushed out” to the far corners, interior space was maximized and a wide stance was achieved, which gave good balance and nimble handling. The transverse engine planted weight over the front tires, providing excellent traction and grip.
1st Series Mini (1959-1967)
All early models had a manual four-speed transmission. In January 1962, the Austin Seven was renamed the Austin Mini. A new suspension design, called the Hydrolastic system, was seen on 1964 models. This created a softer ride, but was criticized for altering the handling of the car and also increasing cost.
An automatic transmission became optional on the standard Austin/Morris Mini and the Morris Mini SDL in 1965. Also this year, the millionth Mini rolled off the production line.
2nd Series Mini (1967-1970)
The revamped Mini was launched at the 1967 British Motor Show, featuring a redesigned front grille and a larger rear window. In 1968, the manual four-speed gear-box now had synchromesh on all four forward ratios.
Production of the original Mini was in the United Kingdom, and also in Australia. The license for the Mini brand was also sold to Spanish and Italian companies. A variety of Mini types were made in Pamplona, Spain, starting in 1968, by the Authi company.
Between 1960 and 1967, BMC exported about 10,000 left-hand drive BMC Minis to the United States. The Mini was withdrawn from the American market in 1968 because it could not meet newer U.S. safety regulations and emission standards. A total of 429,000 2nd series Minis were produced.
3rd Series Mini (1969-1976)
The 3rd series Mini had several body modifications, including larger rear side windows and larger doors with concealed hinges. Sliding windows were replaced with roll-up windows. The Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969. Starting in 1971, the original rubber suspension was back, and used until production end. By 1973, alternators replaced generators on all Mini models.
Austin Mini/Rover Mini (1976–2000)
During the late 1970s and 1980s, new models were designed and released, largely playing on the original Cooper and Cooper S models. In 1980, it once again became the Austin Mini. With competition from new, more modern minis, sales began to fall. 1981 was the original Mini’s last year in the top-ten of Britain’s top selling cars. In 1988, the Austin Mini became the Rover Mini.
Last Original Mini
After a four-decade run, the final original Mini, a red Cooper Sport, rolled off the production line at Longbridge in October 2000. Over 5 million classic Minis were sold during it’s 41-year lifespan, making it the most popular British car ever produced. In 1999, the Mini was voted second most influential car of the 20th century, right behind Henry Ford’s Model T.
Acquisition By BMW
BMW acquired Rover Group (formerly British Leyland) in 1994, selling most of it in 2000, but retaining the rights to build cars using the Mini name. In October of 1999, the concept for a new Mini was unveiled at the Paris Auto Show. The BMW Mini was introduced in 2001. Compared to the original Mini, the new Mini is much larger, but when comparing the new Mini with other modern vehicles, its still considered a compact car.