Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Concepts and prototypes : Mini – Classic

A brief look at how the ground-breaking Mini made it from sketch pad to showroom in little more than two years, a remarkable achievement for a car that completely threw away the rule book.

Keith Adams walks through the Mini’s development to production reality in August 1959.


From cigarette packet to showroom in 30 months

These early Issigonis sketches (above, below) show how clearly he had the Mini concept worked out in his mind, although practical and safety considerations would see some elements – such as the location of the petrol tank ahead of the bulkhead – change before the car entered production.

These early Issigonis sketches (above, below) show how clearly he had the Mini concept worked out in his mind, although practical and safety considerations would see some elements – such as the location of the petrol tank ahead of the bulkhead – change before the car entered production



XC9003, July 1957 Fussy, rejected proposal for the Mini; compare with XC9000 and original XC9001 designs

XC9003, July 1957 Fussy, rejected proposal for the Mini; compare with XC9000 and original XC9001 designs


XC9003, July 1957 Another view of the above design; note that the indicators are positioned high on the "B" pillar, in keeping with Issigonis' desire for the car to have tiny rear stop lights

XC9003, July 1957 Another view of the above design; note that the indicators are positioned high on the “B” pillar, in keeping with Issigonis’ desire for the car to have tiny rear stop lights


XC9003, July 1957 Rear three-quarters view of the above design

XC9003, July 1957 Rear three-quarters view of the above design


XC9003, July 1957 Front and rear views of the above design, revealing a rather dumpy aspect. Further work required...

XC9003, July 1957 Front and rear views of the above design, revealing a rather dumpy aspect. Further work required…


XC9003, late 1957 A later version of the July 1957 design

XC9003, late 1957 A later version of the July 1957 design


XC9003, 1958 Ever the minimalist, this is how Alec Issigonis would have preferred to see his brainchild launched; in fact, only the commercial versions of the Mini retained this car's simple grille

XC9003, 1958 Ever the minimalist, this is how Alec Issigonis would have preferred to see his brainchild launched; in fact, only the commercial versions of the Mini retained this car’s simple grille


XC9003, 1958 This Morris-badged car's compromise grille design is close to that which finally reached production

XC9003, 1958 This Morris-badged car’s compromise grille design is close to that which finally reached production


And finally...To confuse people who may have seen the ADO15 prototypes on the road testing, the testing team developed this false front, nicknamed the "orange box". The idea was to make the ADO15 look more like an A30/35 and divert speculation away from what it really was.

And finally…To confuse people who may have seen the ADO15 prototypes on the road testing, the testing team developed this false front, nicknamed the “orange box”. The idea was to make the ADO15 look more like an A30/35 and divert speculation away from what it really was


[Editor’s Note: This page was contributed by Declan Berridge.]

Declan Berridge

Declan Berridge

Without Declan’s hard work, this site simply wouldn’t exist. An avid car enthusiast with a fleet including two ADO16s and a pair of classic Fiats, Declan’s choice of classics is second to none…
Declan Berridge

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13 Comments on "Concepts and prototypes : Mini – Classic"

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  1. Phil Simpson says:

    Interesting how lightly disguised the “mule” was. Presumably a full blown Mini under an A35 body would have been deemed to eat into the development budget too much. Plus Georg Kacher probably wasn’t snooping round Longbridge with his zoom lens back then!

  2. Chris C says:

    It’s been out some time now but I recommend a read of “Alec Issigonis – The Man Who Made The Mini” – a flawed genius and also an insightful critique of the directors who lead to the downfall of British Leyland through basic incompetence. The Mini proved again how leaving it to the concept of an individual rather than a committee produced a characterful classic but there were some major errors, eg floorpan design, late addition of subframes, fundamental cost accounting errors, etc, that proper programme management would have avoided.

  3. Hilton D says:

    Re: the 1958 XC9003 pic, I remember only Mini Van’s & Pick-ups getting that plain painted grille. An early example of colour coding which became popular on all cars in the 1980’s. I actually like it on a base trim car, though chrome looked more upmarket on most Mini’s.

    Like many readers, my first car was a Mini (40 years ago). Despite a short period of ownership, I still have mostly good memories of it. These concept articles are always interesting on aronline!

    • Nate says:

      Agree the painted Minivan-type grille looks well suited for base model 850 (or even entry-level 800) Minis however while the simple painted grille made the car less expensive to build, it was apparently abandoned after it was found to make engine access very poor.

      If only they found a way to make the Minivan-type grille removable.

  4. Fraser Mitchell says:

    A car I have never owned, but I owned the larger Austin 1100, a car that was arguably more useful to the average owner. The larger hydrolastic suspended car was a very big seller, in fact I think it outsold the Mini, but the Allegro that replaced it lost BMC a very large percentage of their market share.

    Of course as we all know the Mini just went on and on and on and on and……

  5. Nate says:

    It is mentioned the A-Series engine was used in the Mini as there was no time to develop a new engine in the rush to get the car into production, which was said to annoy Issigonis as it caused the Mini to be a shade over the 10ft length target set during development.

    Had there been time how would BMC or Issigonis have likely approached developing a new compact engine for the Mini (with scope to eventually replace the A-Series)?

    The A-Series derived 2-cylinder unit was canned for being too rough (though a few are of the opinion that the 2-cylinder’s shortcomings could have been sorted), while the narrow-angle V4 engine by Duncan Stuart was likely too large to fit into the Mini and even if it were remotely possible could still not be mounted transversely into the Mini.

    The only other options are either a further downscaling of the A-Series (as the A-Series itself was to the B-Series) similar to what Reliant achieved with the 600-850cc OHV engine that (all-alloy aside) was in essence copied from the 803-1493cc Standard-Triumph OHV engine, or an Issigonis designed OHV forerunner to the 750-1000cc 9X OHC engine.

    • Christopher Storey says:

      A series is most certainly not a down-sized B series, nor even a close relative. The camshafts are on opposite sides , as are the porting arrangements

      • Nate says:

        Meant in the sense that the A-Series engine was strongly influenced by the A40 / B-Series unit, with both engines strongly influenced by the Austin 4/6-cylinder “D-Series”.

    • Ken Strachan says:

      My understanding of the provenance of the Reliant engine is that it was copied from the pre-war Austin Seven engine – hopefully with more bearings to its crankshaft. The Seven engine only had two crank bearings, so it was the original Mr. Whippy!

      • Christopher Storey says:

        Ken : you are referring to the sidevalve engine which ran in the Reliant from the 1930s ( starting with that van with an exposed motorcycle front wheel ! ) to the mid 60s. When the 4 wheel Rebel appeared , it had a brand new all alloy ohv engine, and all the later 3 wheelers had this as well

      • Nate says:

        Christopher is correct.

        Aside from some pre-war motorsport focused OHV conversions or the pre-war BMW 3/20 OHV unit that was apparently a new design developed from the Austin Seven’s tooling / transfer machinery, it was not possible to update the pre-war sidevalve Austin Seven / Reliant engine to feature OHV.

        Hence when the old Austin-derived sidevalve engine began to show its age, Reliant decided to develop a smaller “Chinese copy” of the 803cc Standard SC OHV engine.

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