Cars > MINI > Fifty Years Of MINI

By Ketan Patel


Fifty Years Of MINI

Fifty years ago today, the first Mini rolled off the production line at Cowley, now called Plant Oxford. For the first time in half a century that very car is returning to its birthplace for a celebration of 50 years of production.

Plant Oxford built 602,817 Minis from 1959 to 1968, before production was moved to Longbridge. Since 2001 more than 1.4 million new MINIs have been built at the production facility and in total, more than six million classic and new MINIs have been sold since the car first went on sale in 1959.

BMW Group member of the Board of Management for Production, Frank-Peter Arndt said: “Anniversaries are always a wonderful opportunity to look back at the past. But on days like today, it’s also good to look to the future. Therefore, our objective is absolutely clear: We are going to continue the success story of MINI and continue to strengthen it”.

1959–2009. Fifty Years of MINI.

Younger than Ever. The MINI Model Family

Over the Years.

The concept was always unique – and to this day the MINI remains unique in all its features, qualities, and characteristics: It was fifty years ago, to be precise on 26 August 1959 , that British Motor Corporation (BMC) proudly revealed the result of their development activities in creating a new, revolutionary compact car. And indeed, the public right from the start were able to admire no less than two new models: The Morris Mini-Minor and the Austin Seven. This double premiere of two almost identical four-seaters was of course attributable at the time to the broad range of brands offered by BMC in the market, but it was also of very symbolic nature.

Lots of space inside with minimum dimensions outside, seats for four passengers, impeccable driving characteristics, superior fuel economy, and a very affordable price – precisely this was the brief the creator of the Mini, automotive engineer and designer Alec Issigonis, received from BMC's Top Management. And the brilliant ideas he implemented in developing this two-door for a family of four had an impact quite sufficient for more than one single car, an impact therefore carried over successfully to other model variants.

Precisely this is why the Mini Van and Mini Estate also appeared on the market in the very first year of production of the classic Mini. And ever since the re-birth of the brand with the market launch of the MINI in 2001, the principle already applied successfully fifty years ago has once again proven its full value: a superior concept is always convincing in many different variants and renditions. Both the MINI as well as the MINI Clubman and MINI Convertible show their individual strength and unique character, while right inside they are one and the same car in particular: a MINI.

Right from the start the very first sales brochures proudly presenting the Morris Mini-Minor highlighted the car's clear and steadfast orientation to the future. But to what extent these prophecies would really come true, hardly anybody would have believed back then.

Today, fifty years later, we know that only very few car concepts have survived such a long time, and none of them has ever been converted into such a wide range of variants as the Mini.

One of the reasons for this outstanding success is that from the start the Mini met all the requirements of its time, while offering further qualities in the same process. Measuring just 3.05 metres or 120" in length and selling at a retail price of £ 496, the Mini was simply perfect for small parking spaces and low budgets. Through its driving qualities and the charming character of its proportions alone, the Mini was however also of great interest to the ambitious motorist seeking not only compact dimensions and superior economy, but also sporting performance particularly in bends as well as individual style on the road.

This blend of different qualities remains as popular today as ever before, with a concept likewise younger than ever. Hence, the current MINI is also more up-to-date and, at the same time, more fascinating than any of its competitors, combining unparalleled efficiency, lasting value of the highest calibre, and incredibly agile handling in the modern mega-city with unrivalled sportiness and design full of expression and quite unmistakable.

Longer, stronger, more sophisticated, more versatile: the first variants of the classic Mini.
Introducing the classic Mini, Alec Issigonis, the creator of this unique car, clearly fulfilled his mission. The Morris Mini-Minor and the Austin Seven, differing solely through their radiator grille, wheel caps and body colour, were both powered by a four-cylinder engine fitted crosswise at the front and delivering maximum output of 34 hp from 848 cubic centimetres.

The performance of both models was identical, as was their luggage capacity of 195 litres or 6.83 cubic feet at the rear. Everybody was thrilled by the generous space available, the efficient but powerful engines, the good roadholding and the comfortable suspension this new compact car had to offer. But Issigonis was already looking far into the future – and he was not the only one.

As early as in 1960, BMC added a Mini Van to the classic Mini. Then, proceeding from this van structure with its closed side panels, BMC introduced an Estate version with glass windows all round as well as two rear doors, like the Van.
Like the saloons, this body variant was also marketed as the Morris Mini-Traveller and the Austin Seven Countryman with exactly the same technical features. And at the latest in 1961 the potential of the classic Mini really became clear once and for all, the year starting with the introduction of the smallest of all transporters, the Mini Pick-Up. Just half a year later two other Minis, this time at the noble end of the scale, saw the light of day: the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf.

Now, therefore, two further BMC brands were able to benefit from the concept of the classic Mini, both models proudly bearing their own distinguished look through their majestic radiator grilles, an extended luggage compartment and swallow-tail wings at the rear.

A very special variant destined more than any other to create the legend of the classic Mini made its appearance in the second half of the year: the Mini Cooper. John Cooper, the famous engineer and manufacturer of sports cars already a close friend of Alec Issigonis, had recognised the sporting potential of this new small car right from the start, when the first prototypes appeared on the track. So he received the go-ahead from BMC's top managers to develop a small series of 1,000 units of the Mini Cooper featuring a modified power unit enlarged in size to 1.0 litres and offering maximum output of 55 hp.

The response to this car entering the market in September 1961 was quite simply euphoric, with only one further request from enthusiasts everywhere: even more power! So Issigonis and Cooper enlarged engine capacity to 1,071 cc, raising engine output to 70 hp.

This made the Mini Cooper S a truly exceptional performer not only on the road, with Finnish driver's Rauno Aaltonen's class win in the 1963 Monte Carlo Rally marking the starting point for a truly unparalleled series of outstanding success in motorsport. The highlight, of course, was three overall wins in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, and 1967.

Versatility at its best: from the Mini Moke to the Mini Clubman.
In August 1964 BMC presented yet another version of the classic Mini originally conceived for military use: the Mini Moke, a four-seater open all round and destined to remain in the price list for four years.

The “bodyshell” of this unique car was made up, for all practical purposes, of the floorpan with wide, box-shaped side-sills, together with the engine compartment and windscreen. To the event of rainfall, a folding soft top appropriately referred to as a “ragtop” at least tried to provide certain protection.

Using the drivetrain and technical features of the “regular” Mini, the Mini Moke became a genuine success particularly in sun-drenched parts of the USA and in Australia .

By 1967 the time had come for a thorough update of the classic Mini, the car receiving a more powerful engine offering 38 hp from a larger capacity of 998 cc.
Two years later the Mini Clubman joined the range as a slightly larger model with a somewhat different front end compared to the classic Mini. Indeed, this sister car was some 11 cm or 4.33" longer than the original, the Estate version replacing the Morris Mini-Traveller and the Austin Seven Countryman measuring exactly 3.4 metres or 133.9" in length, while width, height, and wheelbase remained unchanged.

At the same time the Mini Cooper was taken out of production, being replaced by the top model in the Clubman range, the Mini 1275 GT developing 59 hp from its 1.3-litre power unit.

A number of other details also changed in 1969, the front sliding windows so typical of the classic Mini since the beginning being replaced on all models by wind-down windows, the door hinges at the outside being moved to the inside, and a special “Mini” badge now standing out proudly on the engine compartment lid.

Never-ending classic Mini and the comeback of the Mini Cooper.
Numerous special versions of the classic Mini with all kinds of highlights – from sporting to trendy, from distinguished to fresh – entered the market as of mid-1970.
Between 1980 and 1983 the model range was streamlined appropriately, with the Clubman, Estate and Van leaving production. The “only” car left over, therefore, was the classic Mini with its 1.0-litre power unit now delivering 40 hp. And customers, simply loving the car, remained faithful to this little performer for years to come, the five-millionth classic Mini coming off the production line at Plant Longbridge in 1986.

In 1990 fans the world over were delighted to celebrate the comeback of the Mini Cooper once again entering the model range. Now this special model was powered in all cases by a 1.3-litre, production of the 1.0-litre in the Mini ending in 1992 on account of growing requirements in terms of emission management. So from now on all models came with the 1,275-cc power unit and fuel injection.

Yet another new variant of the classic Mini made its appearance in 1991 as the last new model in the range. And this was indeed the only Mini to originate not in Britain , but in Germany : Like some tuners before him, a dedicated Mini dealer in the German region of Baden had cut the roof off the classic Mini, turning the car into an extremely attractive Convertible. And contrary to earlier attempts, the result was so good this time in its quality that Rover Group, now responsible for the classic Mini, decided to buy the construction tools and production equipment for the Mini Convertible, which from 1993 to 1996 accounted for sales of approximately 1,000 units.

Production of the classic Mini finally ceased once and for all in the year 2000. In the course of time more than 5.3 million units of the world's most successful compact car had left the production plants in numerous different versions, among them some 600,000 cars built at Plant Oxford between 1959 and 1968.

But even after 41 years, there was still a long way to go. For after a break of not quite one year, a new chapter in the history of this world-famous British brand opened up in 2001.

A new start in 2001 – starring the MINI Cooper right from the beginning.
Taking over Rover Group in early 1994, BMW also opened up new perspectives for the Mini brand. The first step was to present a concept version of the MINI Cooper at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show offering an outlook at the new interpretation of this unique small car from Great Britain . As a modern rendition of the Mini's concept so rich in tradition, the new version for the first time combined the classic values of its predecessor with the demands made of a modern car set to enter the 21st century.

The series production version of the MINI Cooper made its first official appearance in November 2000 at the Berlin Motor Show, the future-oriented interpretation of the original entering showrooms just a year later in the guise of the 85 kW/115 hp MINI Cooper and the 66 kW/90 hp MINI One. Featuring front-wheel drive, four-cylinder power units fitted crosswise at the front, short body overhangs and ample space for four, the new models successfully took up elementary features of the classic Mini. And while the exterior dimensions of the car were now larger, meeting modern requirements in terms of interior space, the design of the new model clearly retained the proportions so typical of the brand, as well as the unmistakable design icons at the front, the rear and at the side, thus boasting a clearly recognisable link between the MINI and its classical predecessors.

At the same time the MINI built in Oxford stood out clearly as the first premium car in the compact segment, achieving a status strongly reflected by a level of safety uniquely high for a car of this class as well as the uncompromising standard of quality so typical of BMW.

The new MINI also set new standards through its surprisingly agile handling, immediately moving right up to the top in terms of driving pleasure. So here, too, the new model followed in the footsteps of the classic Mini, but now with a lot more power and performance thanks to the most advanced and sophisticated drivetrain and suspension technology.

Ongoing success the world over – from 2004 also in the MINI Convertible.
Almost overnight, the new interpretation of this classic small car developed into a worldwide story of success continuing to this very day. The introduction of new engine variants, to mention such one significant highlight, served to offer additional momentum, the MINI Cooper S with its 120 kW/163 hp compressor engine entering the market as an exclusive driving machine in June 2002, the MINI One D just a year later setting new standards in terms of all-round economy and efficiency as the first diesel in the history of the brand.

The desire to drive a MINI in the open air, finally, also came true much faster than in the classic model, with the MINI Convertible making its debut in spring 2004. In the four years to follow some 164,000 units of this truly outstanding model with its hydraulically operated soft roof came off the production lines in Oxford in the guise of the MINI Cooper S Convertible, the MINI Cooper Convertible, and the MINI One Convertible.

From the original to the original: the second generation of the MINI.
Showing tremendous success in the market, the MINI outperformed even the wildest expectations. Indeed, it quickly motivated the consistent continuation of this concept, taking up and fulfilling additional potentials in many areas.

Further enhanced in an evolutionary design process and thoroughly renewed in technical terms, the second generation of the MINI entered the market in November 2006. Following the motto “From the Original to the Original”, the design of the MINI already receiving the greatest praise everywhere was further refined in numerous details giving even greater emphasis in particular to the sporting virtues of this compact and agile performer. So that now the looks of the car really conveyed a clear signal confirmed from the start by the driving experience.

New, even more powerful and, at the same time, far more efficient engines, together with the further enhanced suspension technology, served in this new generation to offer even greater driving pleasure so typical of MINI. Both the MINI Cooper S with its 128 kW/175 hp power unit and the 88 kW/120 hp MINI Cooper introduced from the start thrilled aficionados everywhere through their enhanced driving performance combined with significantly greater fuel economy and emission management.

Modern versatility: the MINI Clubman and the new MINI Convertible.
Almost exactly one year to the day after the launch of the new model generation the MINI model range was further enhanced by an innovative new concept in autumn 2007: With its wheelbase 8 cm or 3.15" longer, the MINI Clubman offers the driver and passengers many new ways and opportunities to enjoy the driving pleasure so typical of the brand. Indeed, through its versatility the MINI Clubman successfully re-interprets the traditional shooting brake concept confirming both the car's sportiness and function through the stretched and sleek roofline and the steep panel at the back.

Compared directly with the MINI, the MINI Clubman is 24 centimetres or 9.45" longer overall, with its longer wheelbase serving completely to provide extra legroom at the rear.

On the MINI Clubman the driver's and passenger's doors are supplemented by an additional entry on the right-hand side of the car as well as the two wings of the Splitdoor at the rear hinged on the outside. Thanks to the additional door on the right-hand side of the car, the Clubdoor opening against the direction of travel, the MINI Clubman offers also the rear-seat passengers comfortable access to the rear seat bench. The two-piece Splitdoor, in turn, takes up an authentic detail from the car's classic predecessors – the Morris Mini-Traveller and the Austin Mini Countryman – back in the 1960s. And last but not least, the generous luggage space in the MINI Clubman (varying in capacity from 260–930 litres or 9.1–32.6 cubic feet) may be enlarged in a flexible process, with very easy and convenient loading and unloading through the rear doors.

The latest addition to the model range is the second-generation MINI Convertible. With its even more sporting design, active and passive safety optimised in every respect, a wider range of functions and the latest generation of power units, this unique Convertible, the only premium car of its kind in the MINI segment, once again moves up the benchmark for supreme driving pleasure.

The new MINI Convertible stands out clearly through its everyday driving qualities and, at the same time, simply begs the driver and passengers to enjoy the thrill of open-air motoring wherever they go. The soft roof opens and closes electrohydraulically within 15 seconds, even at speeds of up to 30 km/h. The unique sliding roof function on the new MINI Convertible, in turn, is activated by an electric motor, the front end of the soft top moving back by up to 40 centimetres or almost 16".

Improved all-round visibility with the roof closed results, first, from the slightly larger side windows at the rear and, second, from the newly conceived, fully retracting rollbar. This single-piece rollbar moving up instantaneously whenever required normally remains slightly below the headrests at the rear, not in any way obstructing the visibility of the driver looking back. At the same time the single-piece rollbar provides sufficient space for integrating a large through-loading between the luggage compartment and the passenger compartment, again giving the new MINI Convertible additional variability and increasing the car's loading capacity to a maximum of 660 litres or 23.1 cu ft.

The current range of engines is more versatile than ever before: The MINI is now available with a choice of no less than four gasoline and one diesel engine, while the MINI Clubman comes with three gasoline and one diesel power unit, the MINI Convertible currently with two gasoline engines.

For the first time there are also three unique models from John Cooper Works, the MINI John Cooper Works, the MINI John Cooper Works Clubman, and the MINI John Cooper Works Convertible, as truly outstanding athletes in their range, offering a particularly intense experience of MINI power and performance through their 155 kW/211 hp four-cylinder engine derived from motorsport.

All of these three truly outstanding athletes are fully-fledged members of the MINI production range and are built at MINI Plant Oxford alongside the other variants of the MINI. So they are required to meet the extreme demands of the race track as well as the wide range of challenges in everyday traffic in each and every detail.
Offering qualities of this kind, MINI underlines the commitment to premium which has always applied to John Cooper Works and their outstanding cars. Integrated development processes ensure product qualities tailored perfectly to the MINI, while the strictest quality requirements following the demanding standards of the BMW Group guarantee absolute reliability, quality of finish, and authenticity in design.

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