Ian Nicholls tells it like it is…
So the Mini has reached the grand old age of 45, but how and why have so many of us had an ongoing love affair with this 10 feet long car?
Well it can’t be the cars reliability. In the 2001 BBC Top Gear/JD Power survey the Rover Mini came near the bottom, while its stablemate the Rover 75 was at number 3. And it can’t be the cars anti-corrosion abilities. The Mini, for all the attempts to improve it over the years, is a 1959 design, and car design has moved along greatly in the area of anti-corrosion. And Mini’s do rust badly, particuarly 1990’s examples. And by modern standards the Mini is not particuarly economical. The evoloution of 16 valve technology, ironically pioneered by the 1989 Rover 214, has seen to that. The Mini’s interior is still remarkably space efficient, but it doesn’t make the best use of it by not having a hatchback. In short the Mini is not the best car to load up with shopping.
The above are all the negative points about the car. So why do we love the Mini? First of all the Mini is a fantastic drivers car. The features that non-believers consider to be anachronistic are in fact its virtues. Modern cars are packed with unnecessary gadgets, aircon, electric windows and power steering. The nadir of car design came in 1995 when the final incarnation of the Metro, the Rover 100, was criticized for NOT having power steering.
This writer had a 1995 Rover Metro GTa and it did not need power steering, it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to turn a steering wheel on a small car. In short modern cars are anti-septic, with excessive gadgets and the art of driving seems to have become of secondary importance. They are designed by committees of marketing men. With the Mini the driver is directly connected with the tarmac, with razor sharp steering one feels every contour of the road. The Mini’s small wheels mean it has a low ride height which results in go-kart handling. And the fun factor increases with every drop of power one squeezes out of the venerable A-series engine. In 1959 the Mini was the future of the family car, whilst rivals like the Ford Anglia and Triumph Herald were its past with rear wheel drive and tank like handling.
|In 1959 the Mini was the future of the family car,
whilst rivals like the Ford Anglia and Triumph
Herald were its past with rear wheel drive and
tank like handling.
Also in the Mini’s favour is its perceived coolness. The 1969 film “The Italian Job” has now become a cult movie with enthusiasts re-telling chunks of the films dialogue.
There is also the nostalgia factor. We associate the Mini with the so called swinging 60’s when Britain exerted probably its greatest cultural influence worldwide through the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others, Mini’s won international rallies and the England football team won the world cup on a day in July 1966. Yes it really happened!And we haven’t stopped going on about it since!
The Mini Cooper won international rallies, and after every Monte Carlo win it appeared on the top rated live TV show “Sunday night at the London palladium”.
The Mini and the Jaguar E-type were the automotive icons of the decade, with celebrity owners such as the Beatles, Peter Sellers and Princess Margaret. The Mini also seems to have timeless styling, a product of skinning around the cars mechanicals as closely as possible, which gives the car its cute looks. Statistically more Ford Fiesta’s have been made since 1976, but the styling on Fiesta’s date, resulting in facelifts and then new models. And the same can apply to the other supermini’s, their looks become dated while the Mini remains eternally young.
Also in the Mini’s favour is the factor that in the 1970’s rival manufacturers decided to make their new generation of small cars larger than the Mini, creating the “Supermini class”. This left the Mini in a unique class of its own. Had a rival manufacturer built a car like the cancelled BMC Issigonis designed 9X (a Mini sized hatchback with amazingly more internal space and a more modern engine, the prototype of which is at the BMH museum at Gaydon) then the Mini might have disappeared into oblivion in the 1970’s.
So is that why we love the Mini?