Events : MINI’s centenary tour (updated 28 March)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Day two: Milan, and the Innocenti factory
Day two: Milan, and the Innocenti factory

MINI celebrated the Cowley centenary in style by touring of all of the European production sites that have built this iconic car over the years. These included Novo Mesto (Slovenia), the Italian city of Milan, the former production plant in Malta, the Portuguese town of Vendas Novas, Pamplona in Spain, Seneffe in Belgium, Amersfoort in Holland, Longbridge and the Irish capital Dublin.

And MINI Plant Oxford celebrated a quite extraordinary anniversary: cars have been produced in Cowley for 100 years now and the history of the plant, like its present, is closely intertwined with the one-off British small car. Where today the MINI is produced, the classic Mini – one of the most important models built in Oxford over the years since 1913 – was also born. The classic Mini embellished its British roots with a very European character; Cowley’s assembly figures were bolstered by Mini cars pieced together over the decades in European pastures beyond the brand’s native borders. To kick off the celebrations, five Cowley-built MINIs toured the eight former classic Mini production locations throughout Europe.

The first classic Mini rolled off the production line in Oxford on 8 May 1959, and another 602,816 were to follow in the years up to 1968. During this time, the Oxford factory also built CKD (Completely Knocked Down) vehicle sets to be assembled in other locations. The tour was taken by five current MINI models and returned to mind the cross-border nature of Mini production and it took the cars – plus an accompanying fleet of media representatives and the MINI Community – to eight former production locations between 13–27 March.

Fans could follow the progress of the tour on the specially launched website www.since1913.co.uk. The final destination on the tour was Oxford – the home of the brand past and present – where 100 years of car production will be celebrated on 28 March.

Mini Malta (12)
Visiting the former BMC/British Leyland CKD plant in Malta

The tour of former production locations covered more than 6500 miles and has included stops in Novo Mesto (Slovenia), the Italian city of Milan, the former production plant in Malta, and is scheduled to move on to the Portuguese town of Vendas Novas, Pamplona in Spain, Seneffe in Belgium, Amersfoort in Holland and the Irish capital Dublin.

Only three of these eight locations are still home to car production today. But all of them count the classic Mini as an important part of their local industrial history, one that is about to roar back into the public consciousness. Looking further afield still, CKD classic Mini sets were also dispatched from Oxford for local assembly in many other parts of the world, such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela and South Africa.

Today, MINI production is concentrated among far fewer locations. All UK operations are carried out within the MINI production triangle, taking in the press shop in Swindon and the Hams Hall engine factory in Birmingham, as well as the Oxford assembly plant. The BMW Group is set to pump around £500 million into the expansion and modernisation of its production capacities in Great Britain up to 2014, bringing the company’s total investment in its British production plants to more than £1.5 billion since 2000.

MINI is now one of the UK’s three largest automotive producers. Five models in the current seven-strong MINI family roll off the line in Oxford, but MINI production can still claim a European flavour. The MINI Countryman and MINI Paceman are built by production and development partner Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, although they too include a number of components marked ‘Made in Great Britain’ – notably engines from Hams Hall.

RN1_3313b


Gallery

All photography: MINI

The ex-Innocenti plant in Milan

Car assembly in Malta

Car assembly in Portugal

From Portugal, it was a long trip back to Pamplona. As this factory’s still very much in action building SEATs, following the company’s purchase of the factory from British Leyland in 1975, getting close for an iconic shot was always going to be a problem. After all, most modern factories look so dull.

That wasn’t the case in Belgium and Holland, though, as both Seneffe and Amersfoort are no longer active factories. Luckily, Belgian and Dutch enthusiasts drove out to meet the MINIs as they arrived at the factories, giving the four cars an extremely warm welcome. Some of the cars they brought along were pretty special, too.

After the Benelux stop-off, it was off to the Hook of Holland to catch a ferry for England. The convoy was travelling through the UK in order to get to Dublin to check out the Mini production site in Ireland. But first they stopped off in London for some inevitable iconic photography. After Dublin today (26 April, the cars return to the UK) for the final two locations, Longbridge and Cowley. Here are details of when and where – wonder if MG Motor UK will be expecting the convoy…

26 and 27 March, Ireland and England

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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46 Comments

  1. I’d put my cynical hat on, and say that celebrating all of the international locations is a way of buttering up Mini/MINI fans for future further international production of the MINI range?

    The Dublin plants – Austins were assembled where the Bank of Ireland is now – http://www.flickr.com/photos/henryharris/3341601800/
    The arches from the Brittains’ Morris plant are still present:
    http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showpost.php?s=56e5e0edbe2d9426e682bc2bc069cef9&p=73892553&postcount=10

    Mini Adventure was a good show ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b016yhpj ) – a Mini driven from Belfast to Singapore. I still have it on my Sky+ box.

  2. I’ll borrow Will M’s cynical hat for a second and ask why they are ignoring other cars built at Cowley? Will they be holding an event showcasing ALL cars built there, not just the one they kept to themselves?

  3. @4
    Yes there is an event in Oxford that will include all cars made at Cowley. It even includes the Montego and Maestro, oh happy days!

  4. @6
    Keith, well said! I’ve had 30 years at Cowley. Sadly this fantastic site is being taken over by those who would happily see the place close.
    No doubt I’ll get the abuse now!

  5. One for the real Mini fans, Corgi are making an entirely new casting, and the first issue is a 1275GT. No doubr more ordinary Clubmans will be on their way eventually

  6. @8 – a Corgi model of a 1275GT sounds yummy… I’ll have to look out for that. The Clubman/1275GT was the car I yearned to own when I just had an eight year old Mini 850.

  7. Hilton I will keep you posted on it. So far the only image of it is a CAD drawing. I think it is out around November, and no doubt like a lot of recent Vanguards diecasts, will sell out very quickly

  8. @7 I think you’re being a bit harsh, I don’t recall ANY comments from anyone suggesting they want Cowley to close, and whoever ‘they’ are that you refer to certainly aren’t ‘taking over the place’.

    Perhaps some folk just don’t feel that the parent company are as sincere about celebrating the heritage of the company than they would like us to think. As others have said, certain bits eem to have been airbrushed out of history, Longbridge being a prime example! The BMC/BL etc empire did not revolve around Cowley

  9. They will probably struggle to celebrate many of the other models so publicly as they won;t own the brands. Some of the other brand holders would probably complain and also it doesn’t fit with MINI’s ethos of conveniently forgetting about all the bits of it’s history that doesn’t bolster BMW’s image. Cowley produced some pretty naff cars in the final years and I cannot imagine BMW/MINI want to associate themselves with the Rover 800, Austin Maestro or Morris Marina…

  10. Oh, please, will all those embittered people banging on about Longbridge yet again just give it a rest for one thread.

    The clue is in the title: Celebrating 100 Years of Car Making in Oxford. Well done, Oxford, I say. Here’s to the next 100 years.

    Of course BMW are using the event to promote the MINI: bully for them. It’s all part of the marketing mix to promote a great range of cars that people want to buy.

    Longbridge began its life as a car factory in c.1905; MGR chose to celebrate that centenary by… going bust, with a berk in a John Bull outfit and ‘buggers grips’ whingeing “Save the Rover” in a Brummie accent. Clearly nothing much has changed, given recent evidence.

    I know which business strategy I’d choose.

  11. Magnus, you sound more embittered than the people you refer to.

    The point is that it’s rather disingenuous of BMW/MINI to be celebrating 100 years of a plant with which it shares pretty little history with, and then proceed to mention little of the majority of the history of the plant and what it was actually doing for 100 years. This is nothing to do with Longbridge, Rover, Austin as far as I am concerned, even though the plant owes most of it’s history to those names – but more to do with BMW/MINI being very selective. Afterall, how can you celebrate 100 years of the plant without a bit more background – saying “a minority of Mini’s were made here over 45 years ago and now we make some more MINI’s” is, frankly, not enough to give credit to the very thing they are supposedly celebrating.

    That for me is galling

  12. We all see what all want to see.

    Bottom line is that MINI has spoken about the history and the marques that made up the history of Cowley. The original press release even mentioned Sterling and Honda production there.

    From my position, they’ve been more than respectful of the marques that built cars at Cowley. I’m siding with Magnus here, simply because I just don’t get what else these guys have to do to celebrate the existence and growing output from a factory that, had it remained under the control of MG Rover in 2000, would now be in the same appalling state as Longbridge.

    James, what do you mean by this: ‘proceed to mention little of the majority of the history of the plant and what it was actually doing for 100 years’?

    We see what we want to see.

    The last press release issued by MINI on the subject was full of bloody Morris cars. Yes, the Maestro and Montego got passing mentions, and the Ambassador (I think) didn’t get anything, but it wasn’t supposed to be an unexpurgated history of the plant.

    If you want that, I’ve given links to proper resources around here, written in the Rover days by a PROPER expert.

    Before you pour more tiresome scorn on this supposedly good news, why don’t you come to the Cavalcade and birthday celebrations, and if you think there’s not enough BL-product then – then feel free to whinge.

    Andy (comment 7) as someone who works at Cowley now – building cars now – you have my complete sympathies.

  13. I should add that as part of the tour in the news piece (remember that?) they’ll be taking lots of photographs of the former car plants as they are now. I’m assuming people will want to see them…

  14. Until I checked that link, I’d no idea that some BMC cars had been built in the Netherlands. I assume the MINI tour will visit NEDCAR to bring the Dutch story up to date!

    A sad sight that Innocenti photo…

  15. BMW is spending money on marketing, so that the Cowley plant will stay busy. People here moan.

    MG spend very little money on marketing (cars which many here don’t seem to like anyway). People here moan.

    I’m just glad of the fact that Mini’s are still being made in Oxford!

  16. Another press release below celebrating the worldwide sales success of the Austrian built MINI Countryman, that many of the usual cynic’s on here predicted would not sell in any great numbers……:)

    250,000th MINI Countryman leaves the factory.
    “The launch of the MINI Countryman saw the British premium brand make the move into a new segment and write a new chapter in its successful history. And today the 250,000th MINI Countryman rolled off the assembly line at production and development partner Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria. This production landmark, reached just two-and-a-half years after sales began, offers clear evidence that the MINI brand’s hallmark driving fun and time-honoured style also hold a persuasive allure in the compact premium segment. “The strong global demand for the MINI Countryman represents a compelling endorsement of the rigorous expansion strategy implemented for the MINI range,” says Harald Krüger, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, MINI, Motorcycles, Rolls-Royce, Aftersales BMW Group. The roll-out of the 250,000th MINI Countryman follows hot on the heels of the start of MINI Paceman production. The seventh model in the brand’s line-up is likewise built in Graz.”
    Full Press release:
    https://www.press.bmwgroup.com/pressclub/p/gb/pressDetail.html;jsessionid=4TD8R15RQJQbxXzb4G9M5NBL8rPFhb2bNVqPsRkrvJjvp0Yl5y1f!207185473?title=talented-all-rounder-and-bestseller-the-250-000th-mini-countryman-leaves-the-factory&outputChannelId=8&id=T0137630EN_GB&left_menu_item=node__5528

  17. @James Riley. My dad helped build Minis at Cowley – that makes it a Mini factory in my eyes. By your reckoning we should say that Longbridge was not a Rover 75 manufacturing site because they started at Cowley.

    Manufacturers move stuff around (the TR7 was built at 3 different sites and the SD1 was built at Cowley as well as Solihull).

    I don’t really like MINIs – the image is all about, well……image! It’s a 4 wheeled handbag but it’s a 4 wheeled handbag that employs people in my home town and makes money for the UK. That’s good enough for me.

  18. Congratulations to Cowley, I say. And well done to BMW/MINI for stumping up some cash to promote their plant. The only thing I’d like to see is a design office for the MINI there and Countryman and Paceman production move to Oxford and out of Austria but that’s a side issue.

    As long as the plant keeps major motor manufacturing going in the UK and people in jobs then I’ll back it 100%.

    To my mind Cowley can’t be complimented enough – wouldn’t it be lovely to see Longbridge as successful!

  19. Keith @ 17, thanks for the message. The cavalcade should be very good, I think it will even include an Ambassador! From the local press releases there will be a model of every car produced at Cowley, also former and current employees will be with the cars answering questions about the history of the plant.
    if anyone is going use the Park and Ride, Oxford is a nightmare for car users, parking costs a fortune.

  20. The Morris factory at Cowley had very poor investmen under BMC. To their few credits BLMC under Stokes invested heavily and launched the very successful Morris Marina. In the first two months of launch (1971), 40,000 orders were took. If the replacement had come out as planned in 1976 then things might have been very different. Later on Rover 800 was a success and more recently Mini has been a huge success. Just want to see a new Triumph Spitfire and Dolomite and Riley versions of the new Mini. Would need to get production up to 500,000 if that happened!

  21. I have read dozens of stories about the MINI and BMW on this site over the years and I’m never not surprised at the predictable route all of them take.

    It seems that no matter what BMW do or how the MINI is marketed etc, it is simply not good enough for certain people.

    It appears that the ‘red mist’ appears and people decide to type the same thing again and again and again.

    Ok, you don’t like BMW or the MINI, you’ve made your point the first time and a long time ago. What purpose does it serve regurgitating it?

    Personally, I think BMW’s decision is nice as it celebrates the international aspect of the Mini, which was actually sold in over 160 countries.

    I am from Ireland and can’t wait to see the often ignored aspect of the car’s history marked.

    For the record, the Mini was built in at least three locations over a 19 year period. The final one, which wasn’t mentioned above, was in Ringsend by a company called Reg Armstrong. This assembly period was after nearly of all BL cars being blacklisted from Irish ports due to BL sacking their assembler – Brittains Ltd.

    I am a petrolhead and I love British cars. My liking for them came from my Dad owning them when I was very young. When I had the opportunity to buy my first car, I chose a Mini. Later, when the new MINI was launched, I bought a Cooper and then two Ss. So, i helped to support the British car industry and perhaps more than some on this forum.

    By the way, when the MINI was launched in Ireland in 2001, it was supported by at least Irish Mini club and they invited Paddy Hopkirk as a guest of honour.

    Anyway, these are my thoughts. If you don’t like them, that’s fine, but try to respect mine and those who take a contrary view to yourselves.

    Peace, love and respect….

  22. The Classic Mini production was in the city of Amersfoort
    in the centre of the Country
    The factory in Borne was for the old Daf Cars later for Volvo and Mitsubishi
    And had nothing to do with the production in the past

  23. @rrr

    Perhaps your new info could be added to the BL Ireland page?
    http://www.aronline.co.uk/blogs/around-the-world/around-the-world-ireland/

    Never knew about the 3rd CKDer.

    It’s how a few major players in the Irish car industry got started. Ballsbridge motors for example, started off assembling Beetles and are now a large VW dealer.

    Once the Japanese imports started, the Irish really took them to their hearts because of the reliability. I assume this affected BL CKDs/imports?

  24. @Will M

    Well, I wrote the original article 🙂

    Btw, I actually bought my Scirocco in that dealership.

    As to your last question, I would say yes and no.

    BL popularity began to fall off in the early 70’s due to unpopularity of the BL era cars especially the Allegro.

    During the early to mid 1970’s, Chrysler had a great deal of success with the Hunter and the Avenger and they weren’t very reliable either.

    Also, Fiat had up to 18% of the market during the seventies and we all know how badly made those cars were.
    (Btw, Fiat’s current market share is less than Land Rover’s)

    I would say that poor marketing, cars, less dealers, union issues and, of course, bad quality and reliability all had they’re part to play.

    Other marques had the same pressures on them as BL with Japanese competition, but they didn’t have the other issues, as outlined above.

  25. @6@7 – Well said both. Its in the British Psyche to find something negative in everything.
    @32 – Yes lets forget about the stylish, well made, desirable vehicles built there today and look back fondly to that golden era of badly built, poorly designed, unwanted junk. Thats how the British Motor industry should be thought of surely/

  26. Delighted that Cowley continues to thrive and provide British jobs.

    This is a good peice of marketing and I hope the plant goes on for another century

  27. Well said Keith and Andy. I’d stopped reading the comments on this site as it was becoming full of “Yorkie” style crap, and alot of jelous classist negativity. Thought I’d just check them again after reading about such a fab Mini success story and, there again, the sad whingers are back! Negative negative. It’s people like these who helped destroy most of our car production in the first place! I suppose you have to laugh really. What do they read these articles for?
    Go and be sad elsewhere. This site is for enthusiasts. Geddit?

  28. @33 Paul you’ve got me confused a little – very easy to do of course.
    You appear to be knocking the knockers of the British psyche for knocking everything British and then kick the dooda out of British products that were no worse or better than anyone else’s.
    I do take issue (if I’m reading you correctly) with the reference to badly built poorly designed junk that no one wanted. This is simply not true. The Allegro never sold in the numbers it was designed to but the Marina and many others were huge successes in the show room (if not for profitability).
    My personal view ( and I do mean my own personal view) as one who drove just about everything in late 60’s and throughout the 70’s – is that for sheer driving fun – the actual driving experience – a Fiat 124, Citroen GS and Renault 16 were more fun than the British counterparts.

  29. The Fiat 124 had things like all round disc brakes, and twin cam engines, which didn’t see the light of day until the mid 1980s on a lot of mainstream family cars, and sorry, but the Marina was a dreadful car, made very badly. Drive a 1300 estate to see what I mean. I have done, and to put it bluntly, I would rather throw myself off a bridge than drive another one. It was gutless, handled very badly, and had the worst ergonomics imaginable. Which dingleberry thought of having the radio face the passenger?

  30. Have you any idea the date and time you arrived at Seneffe Belgium and Amersfoort The Netherlands ?
    I will try to send some Minis to you arrive
    HCJ van Brakel Mini Seven Club Nederland

  31. This whole celebration and tour is about the cars and the passion behind it. It’s a lot of fun talking to guys who built the Mini long time ago, and to see young people connect to the past by means of their cars (Minis or MINIs).
    Let’s leave politics and marketing to the people good at that, and lets enjoy the celebration.
    On-line tracking is provided through: http://www.since1913.co.uk for everyone wanting to meet up. Thanks HCJ van Brakel, we will be in both Belgium and the Netherlands on March 23rd. We don’t have the exact timing but will share it with you, as it becomes available through our driving progress.

  32. The website states more details about the stages the cars are travelling now…

    Estimated arrival times:
    Vendas Novas, Portugal – March 20th in the afternoon
    Pamplona, Spain – March 22nd in the morning
    Seneffe, Belgium – March 23rd late morning
    Amersfoort, Netherlands – March 23rd in the afternoon
    Dublin, Ireland – March 26th late morning
    Longbridge, UK – March 27th in the afternoon

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