Alec Issigonis’s cheap small car for BMC was innovative with its front-wheel drive and space-saving transverse engine layout but, more than that, it was incredibly entertaining to drive, even if it took buyers quite a while to cotton on.
The Mini had a personality that few small cars had displayed before, and it soon became a best-seller. The Austin version was initially called the Se7en, but became the Mini in 1961. The 848cc A-series engine was used throughout the life of the MkI; one significant change was the adoption of Hydrolastic suspension in place of the original rubber-cone type in 1964.
Such was the rightness of the original Mini, that once it had reached Mk3 form, there really wasn’t much left to improve – and so, between the late 1960s and early ’90s, very little materially changed, other than trim and equipment.
The short-lived Mk2 (1967-69) had received a new grille and the option of a 998cc engine, while the Mk3 (1969-1976) hid the door hinges and replaced the sliding windows with wind-up ones. The old Austin and Morris badges were dropped with the formation of British Leyland in 1968, with the Mini now a marque in its own right. Hydrolastic suspension – more expensive to fit – was dropped in favour of the original rubber-cone type.
Changes for the Mk4 (1976-1984) were more subtle, with alterations to the interior and subframe. The Mk5 took over from 1985-92, with 12in wheels and front disc brakes.
Rover brought back the Cooper in 1990 as a limited edition of just 1000 after seeing the car selling so well in Japan throughout the late-1980s. Such was the interest in the special edition that the decision was taken to reintroduce it as a mainstream model, with a 1275cc engine plus alloy wheels, white roof and more sporting interior.
An â€˜S’ package from John Cooper boosted power to 78bhp. Fuel injection from 1991 increased the power of both types even more, but from 1996, this changed from single- to multi-point with electronic ignition as well. The 40th birthday celebration Cooper S Works of 1999 was the most powerful of them all, with 90bhp. Production ended in 2000, and Lulu drove the last car off the line.