Ian Nicholls unravels the production data to try and come up with a definitive number of Minis built. He finds more questions than answers – but it looks like more than six million of all types were made.
In terms of sheer volume, the original Alec Issigonis-designed Mini is the most successful British car of all time, with an official figure of around 5.3 million being produced between 1959 and 2000. Most of these were produced by the Longbridge plant, which manufactured the Mini throughout the little car’s lifetime. However, even the official figures differ.
Chris Rees, in his book ‘Complete Classic Mini 1959-2000’, gives a figure of 5,378,776, supplied by the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust. Jon Pressnell, in his book ‘Mini – The Definitive History’, has a total of 5,387,862, as supplied by MG Rover. This is a difference of 9086. The difference between the two sets of figures appears to start in 1977.
The bizarre feature about these discrepancies is that they do not start to appear until BL/Rover had divested themselves of most of their overseas plants and production was by and large centred on Longbridge.
The next step is to collate all the individual production data on a model by model basis.
Mini MkI including Estates 1,106,000
Mini MkII including Estates 406,000
Mini Clubman including Estates 583,862
Mini MkIII-MkVII Mpi 2,113,065
Mini Cooper and S (1961-1971) 125,767
Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet 59,367
Mini Moke (including Australia and Portugal) 49,937
Using the BMIHT figure, this leaves some 355,095 cars to account for. If we use those supplied by MG Rover, we have a difference of 364,181. However, what is also confusing is how many were manufactured by overseas plants and whether these were counted as CKD kits built by BMC/British Leyland at its British factories. What constituted a CKD kit and what constituted a car completely made from locally-sourced components?
While many an overseas Mini had an A-Series engine imported from the UK, some had a locally-made unit. So is the figure of 5.3 million really accurate? In a similar exercise in the July/September 2009 issue of the Australian magazine The Mini Experince, now The BMC Experience, journalist Craig Watson disputed this and came up with a figure of at least 6,302,000 Minis produced.
Apparently, he was informed by British Motor Heritage at Gaydon that the research was to big a job for them and that they did not have all the records from Longbridge. Craig Watson used as his base figure the BMIHT total of 5,378,776 but, as this already included some foreign manufactured vehicles, I will start with the total of UK models.
In this article, I will try and clarify the situation, but whether I reach a satisfactory conclusion is another matter. First of all the BMIHT production figures are combined with UK sales up to 1993 to give us an idea of the numbers we are analysing. The overseas sales figures are an approximate estimate, derived by subtracting UK sales from total production and take no account of cars sitting in showrooms awaiting buyers as each new year dawned.
In the early years of Mini production these overseas sales would have been exports of actual cars but, as overseas production began, the picture becomes more confusing.
|Year||Production||UK Sales||Overseas Sales|
What these figures reveal is what a remarkable car the original Mini was, with overseas sales topping 100,000 by 1962. UK sales peaked in 1963, which allowed analysts pouring scorn on BMC’s business methods, such as Anthony Bambridge of The Observer newspaper, to claim that the Mini was in terminal decline, and all this was a symptom that BMC had got it all wrong and was heading for the rocks.
Certainly UK sales had declined a whopping 38.63 per cent between 1963 and 1967, but overseas sales had increased by 51.21 per cent, offsetting the Mini’s perceived decline. The whole saga that enabled Leyland to gain the upper hand in the merger negotiations with British Motor Holdings was based on an analysis of BMC’s domestic performance in comparison with Ford UK. This revealed the insular mindset permeating the City of London and the financial institutions.
The data on BMC’s overseas success with the Mini and its bigger brother, the ADO16, was not so readily available. BMC was an international player, Ford of Britain was not, and there lay the vital difference between the two manufacturers. The formation of the British Leyland Motor Corporation in May 1968 led to an influx of ex-Ford finance personnel into Austin Morris as BMC was re-branded. These cost-control experts had little time for Alec Issigonis’s design philosophy and his cars, which they deemed to be unprofitable.
Their focus was on the home market and turning Austin Morris into a Ford clone which, given Britain’s failure to gain access to the lucrative EEC car market, seemed a logical step at the time. Austin Morris threw their scant resources into developing their own fleet car, the Morris Marina, which only briefly attained its production target of 5000 cars a week and had little export appeal.
While the new management had little affection for the Mini, the little car stormed ahead in overseas markets, proving particularly popular in the 1969-1973 period when it was already a decade-old design. By now a lot of these sales would have come from BLMC’s overseas plants spread all over the world. In January 1973 Britain joined the Common Market, meaning trade tariffs that had previously made the Mini price uncompetitive in the major European countries no longer applied.
This also had the effect of making the new generation of Superminis cheaper to buy in Britain and, as the 1970s wore on, the British love affair with the Mini began to wane as more modern rival cars were available. However, overseas sales held up remarkably well, with Seneffe in Belgium supplying Europe with Minis, after the end of production in Spain and Italy.
In 1980 the best Mini markets were as follows:
1. UK 61,129
2. France 14,290
3. Italy 5343
4. Ireland 2916
5. Netherlands 2820
6. Belgium 2468
7. Germany 2291
8. Portugal 2110
In 1980 Japan, titan of the world motor industry, took a mere 201 examples of the antique Mini, but by 1990 it was its biggest fan, buying 12,087. Germany, another automotive giant, bought 4790 Minis in 1990, and perhaps this was a sign of things to come. 1980 was also the last year that the Mini was British Leyland’s premier small car, as it was supplanted by the new Metro at the end of the year.
By 1990, the realisation that the Mini was an exploitable brand had dawned on the Rover Group, as British Leyland had become. Chairman Graham Day brought in industry outsiders who could see the big picture and the continuation of Mini production was sustained by overseas sales.
The figures show that the surge in the popularity of the Mini was only brief and relatively miniscule, no pun intended, in around 1988 to 1991, but the renewed marketing emphasis by Rover created a situation in which the Mini became a cult car and inspired discussion about branding a future small Rover as a Mini.
UK PRODUCTION IN THE 1960s
So that is the overall production figures, but how does it divide up, who produced what? Thanks to author James Taylor’s book, ‘Factory Original Mini Mk1 and Mk2′, we now have the UK production figures from 1959 to 1969, divided between Longbridge and Cowley.
1967 was the last full year that the Mini was produced at both Cowley and Longbridge. At the prodding of BMC executive Geoffrey Iley, all Mini production ceased at Cowley in January 1968. From then on, all Morris-badged Minis emerged from Longbridge, an estimated 173,000 saloons. No information has emerged as to the actual date upon which the last Mini emerged from Cowley or, indeed, if any were actually produced in 1968.
From the above figures we can see the discrepancies between UK production and total production figures, beginning in 1965, which suggest overseas production was coming into play.
It was in 1965 that the first distinctive overseas models began to appear, Minis that were not carbon copies of those emerging from Longbridge and Cowley. In 1968, Longbridge produced 139,452 Austin cars along with 94,636 Morris-badged cars, which were credited to Cowley, but most if not all were not actually made at Longbridge. This is a grand total of 234,088.
In 1969, Longbridge produced 230,682 Minis. The next source of information comes from a British Leyland press release after the record year of 1971. By then, the MkIII Mini was in production in Britain. BLMC produced 318,475 Minis in 1971, and claimed that 258,427 were produced by Longbridge, which leaves 60,048 emerging from overseas plants.
And so onto the overseas plants, beginning with New Zealand, which assembled its first Mini from a CKD kit in December 1959 at Newmarket, Auckland and Petone, Wellington. All Kiwi Mini production was from CKD kits supplied from the UK and later Australia. Detailed production figures are unavailable, but this is what I have found.
1965 Cumulative Mini sales topped 16,000. Between 1965 and 1970 New Zealand built 1,975 examples of the Riley Elf.
1970 Cumulative Mini sales topped 40,000
1972 Around 5000 Minis are sold.
1976 Cumulative Mini CKD production was 58,793 in October 1976. This was a year when only 2404 Minis were sold in New Zealand.
1977 Sales slumped further to 1671 examples.
1982 New Zealand Mini assembly ceased in August 1982, a year when only 411 were sold in the country.
Between 1960 and 1982 67,829 Minis were sold in New Zealand of which at least 58,793 were locally assembled.
The New Zealand production figures are probably counted as CKD kits within the total Mini production figure of 5,378,776.
Also beginning Mini assembly in December 1959 was South Africa, which assembled the car at Blackheath. There was a high local content from the start, which in 1965 reached 50 per cent. By 1967 this had reached 58.8 per cent and climbed higher later in the year when the A-Series engine began to be made locally. Local content increased further to 66 per cent in 1975.
South African Mini assembly briefly ceased in October 1978, pending an ultimately abortive merger between Leyland South Africa and the Sigma Motor Corporation. When this merger went belly up, Leyland South Africa restarted production at Blackheath in May 1980. South African Mini production ended in October 1983.
Mini Sales in South Africa
55 Mokes sold in 1971, 1972 and 1975 were Australian-manufactured vehicles. Craig Watson produced a total South African production figure of 104,772. If we look on all South African Minis prior to 1965 as CKD kits, because their engine was imported from the UK, and therefore counted with Longbridge and Cowley production, then we come up with a rough production figure of at least 64,405, and that does not count the 11,469 Commercial variants that were made from 1961 to 1979, some of which would have had a British-made engine.
The first European country to build the Mini was the Netherlands, which assembled them at Amersfoort under the auspices of J.J Molenaar N.V. between 1959 and 1966. Unlike some other countries, the actual production figures are available. These were all CKD kits.
Next we have Australia, which assembled its first Mini from a CKD kit in January 1961, and output from the Zetland plant soon reached 100 cars a day. The success of the Mini and ADO16 down under forced Volkswagen to switch from local Beetle assembly to importing CKD kits. The early Australian Minis only had 30-40 per cent of local content which was pushed up to 45 per cent in early 1964 with the use of local pressings.
The problem with assessing Australian Mini production is that, when the plug was pulled at Zetland and later Enfield, orders were given to destroy all the production records. British Leyland’s PR men produced a figure of 176,284 Minis produced in October 1978, but how was this figure arrived at? It certainly did not include the total of 26,142 Mokes, which brings the grand total to 202,426.
If these figures are accurate, then early Australian Mini production from 1961 to at least 1964 was attributed, in the form of CKD kits, to Longbridge and Cowley. In March 1965, BMC Australia introduced the YDO5 Mini De Luxe, which pushed local content up to 85 per cent. By now Zetland was assembling engines sent in kit form from the UK. With increased local content, perhaps Australian cars from 1965 account for some of the discrepancies between total Mini production and UK production?
In 1975,Leyland Australia reduced local content by replacing the locally-assembled 1098cc engine with a 998cc unit imported from Britain. This was at the same time that production switched to Enfield. Australian Mini production ceased in October 1978.
Chile was the next country to start up Mini production in 1964, centred on the town of Arica. How many were made there is open to dispute. There appears to have been 288 made in 1965 and 879 in 1968.
A production target of 2000 a year seemed to be pie in the sky as the Mini craze seemed to bypass Chile. The Chilean Government then demanded a 45 per cent local content for the car, which as Chile possessed no indigenous steel industry posed a problem. The solution arrived at was to employ a glassfibre body, jointly developed by Pressed Steel Fisher and Peel Engineering in the UK. Production began in 1969 and ended in 1974. Craig Watson estimates that altogether around 2200 Minis were produce in Chile.
The most famous overseas producer of the Mini was Innocenti of Milan, first under licence then, from 1972, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Jon Presnell described them as CKD kits, but clearly the UK built cars bore little resemblance to Innocenti models like the Mini Minor and 1001.
Powertrains were imported from the UK, but much of the Innocenti Mini was locally sourced. Fortunately the annual production figures survive. First the traditional BMC-derived models.
So are the Innocenti figures counted as part of the official 5,378,776 total for Mini production? Were Innocentis considered to be CKD units by the BMC/BLMC record keepers? Does the official total only count all cars manufactured after May 1972, when Innocenti was absorbed into BLMC? This is probably around 138,000 cars.
Then there is the question of the Bertone-styled Mini 90/120 hatchback, which still used an A-Series powertrain and Mini floorpan. Are these counted in the official production figure of 5,378,776?
Innocenti Mini 90/120 Production
In April 1976, Alessandro De Tomaso bought Innocenti from British Leyland. Jon Pressnell estimates that 39,121 Mini 90/120 hatchbacks were manufactured under British Leyland ownership.
The other major European manufacturer of the Mini was Authi in Spain which, when production began in September 1968, was still ruled over by the dictator General Franco. There was not much in the Authi Mini that was imported from the UK. With protectionist trade tariffs making foreign imports expensive, local production of even the engine was a must. These are the annual production figures for the Authi Mini, which was assembled at Landaben, near Pamplona. I find it extremely hard to believe that the Authi Mini could be considered a CKD kit.
In the summer of 1973 Authi became a wholly-owned subsidiary of BLMC, so around 40,000 Authi Minis were produced under British Leyland ownership.
After the demise of Authi and the sale of Innocenti, Seneffe in Belgium became British Leyland’s premier continental car plant. Seneffe had been owned by Belgium’s Morris-MG importer and, from 1963, it had begun assembling cars. In January 1963 President Charles De Gaulle of France had rejected Britain’s application to join the Common Market, as the EU was then known.
This effectively locked BMC out of an expanding car market, as it faced high trade tariffs on its highly-acclaimed front-wheel-drive range, which rendered them price uncompetitive. The solution to alleviate this was to create an assembly plant within the Common Market, hence the purchase of Seneffe in August 1965. There would still be some tariffs to be paid as the powertrains were imported from the UK.
Seneffe was greatly expanded in the early 1970s and it cannot have been just to produce the Mini, which was already an ageing design with an expected limited shelf life. In British Leyland’s fantasy world of the early 1970s, one suspects Seneffe was geared up to supply Britain’s new Common Market partners with thousands of Allegros a week, as Longbridge’s capacity was apparently limited by its new paint plant to 4500 Allegros per week. If BLMC wanted to produce more it would have to be at a different location.
Seneffe Minis are probably counted as CKD kits and are incorporated in the UK production figures. Production figures for 1965 to 1970 are not available, but this is what we do have.
Interestingly, Austin-Morris claimed it had a shortage of Minis due to increased demand in the car’s 20th anniversary year (1979) and that more cars would have to be imported from Seneffe. The figures show that Seneffe production actually declined!
In addition to these figures we have around 1291 glassfibre Mini Cords assembled in Venezuela between December 1991 to early 1995. Between 1970 and 1972 Yugoslavia assembled from CKD kits 5354 IMV Mini 1000s.
IMV Mini Production
There were other countries that built Minis, like Ireland and Malta, for which there is no concrete data, but these were CKD kits and are probably counted as UK production.
Before I come to a general conclusion, how about some analysis of some of the individual years for which we do have a production breakdown? First of all I will add all the overseas production figures that I believe were not CKD kits and had high local content.
And this data does not include Australian production, for which there is no information. So how does this compare with the data the BMIHT attribute to overseas production?
The 1965 variance figure does seems plausible for annual Australian production.
If we add all the known figures together, this is what we get:
UK Models 5,023,681
Leyland South Africa 64,405
This is 440,309 more than the MG Rover total and 449,395 more than the BMIHT total. In fact the discrepancy does resemble the Innocenti production total.
And if we add the Innocenti 90/120 hatchbacks we get:
Total Minis 5,828,171
Innocenti 90/120 232,387
This essay is not meant to be the definitive article on the subject – far from it – and there will probably be a revision in due course, but all constructive feedback is welcome.
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Seven : 1970-1971 - 26 July 2020
- History : The Austin-Morris story – Part Six : 1970 - 5 July 2020
- Opinion : Happy birthday, Range Rover - 16 June 2020