It was fifty years ago this year that the British Motor Corporation (BMC) proudly revealed the result of their development activities in creating a new, revolutionary compact car.
And Issigonis clearly fulfilled his mission.
The Morris Mini-Minor and the Austin Seven, differing solely through their radiator grille, wheel caps and body colour, were 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. 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.
1961 saw 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.
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 and 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 management 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.
This made the Mini Cooper S a truly exceptional performer – and 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 was three overall wins in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, and 1967.
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. In the event of rainfall, a folding soft top appropriately referred to as a “ragtop” at least tried to provide certain protection.
Between 1980 and 1983 the model range was reduced, with the Clubman, Estate and Van leaving production. But the classic Mini continued 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.
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 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. 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 Oxford between 1959 and 1968.