Happy birthday Mini! On 26 August 1959, motoring history was made. Exactly 60 years ago, the first Mini was launched to the public and its creator, Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis (above), stood proudly alongside to show the world his – and the British Motor Corporation‘s – answer to the bubble cars. As we all know, the way we looked at small cars, and what they were capable of, changed in that one single moment.
The front-wheel-drive Mini could seat four passengers and their luggage and was capable of driving up what would become Britain’s motorway network (the Preston by-pass had been opened late in 1958, but most people will tell you that the motorway age really began with the opening of the M1 in November 1959) at its future speed limit of 70mph. It was clever, it was cheap and, in short, it was a revolution.
What fewer people will tell you is that the day of the Mini’s launch also marked the end of production of the line for the much-loved Austin A35. But then, the Mini represented the beginning of the modern era in UK car manufacturing, whereas the A35 was more like a very amiable evolution of an archaic (in comparison) concept. It might have been launched as the Austin Se7en and the Morris Mini Minor, but most people soon began calling Britain’s new mini-car by its rightful name, Mini.
Even Issigonis couldn’t have guessed…
For a while, the Austin Newmarket name had been considered for the ADO15 but, according to Rover historians, it was Lord Nuffield who actually came up with the name, Mini. According to Thirty Mini Years, the 1989 official Rover souvenir booklet to mark the car’s 30th birthday, Lord Nuffield, (who allegedly always referred to Issigonis as ‘that foreign chap’) was quoted as saying, ‘I have a hunch that “Mini” may well prove to be the catchword of the next decade.’
How right he’d prove to be? Mind you, it’s probably quite likely that even he would have not grasped just how much it would shape automotive culture for years to come. Where do you think the term supermini comes from? That generation of small cars, so epitomised by the Fiat 127 and Renault 5 (and, later, the Austin Metro), became frontrunners in a market sector that was named in deference to the 1959 original. The term’s still used today.
I’ve maintained on many occasions that Fiat’s front-wheel-drive solution of the transverse in-line four-cylinder engine and end-on gearbox was the more significant advance in automotive development than Issigonis’ transmission-in-sump arrangement. However, it’s probably equally true that Fiat engineering genius Dante Giacosa may not have so readily come up with this arrangement without a little inspiration from Issigonis. And, lest we also forget, had Issigonis had his way, we may have ended up with a front-wheel-drive Morris Minor replacement with the transmission arrangement used by Fiat – and copied by everyone else – more than a decade earlier.
You can watch how that came about in this wonderful Pathe film – The Incredible Seven.
Happy birthday Mini: its impact on me…
There’s one other point worth raising at this point – if it wasn’t for the Mini, this website would never have come into being. The Mini and its subsequent front-wheel-drive offshoots just seemed so modern, and forward looking. They were flamboyant and interesting in a world of grey porridge, and proved that us Brits were capable of buying characterful cars in large numbers – and, although I was a child of the 1970s, they still had a huge impact on me. So much so, that when I set about creating this website to debunk all those BMC- and Leyland-related urban myths, I chose the Mini as its starting point. It’s also – to me – the starting point of the modern car as a whole. And now it’s 60 years old!
So let’s toast the Mini’s 60th birthday and remember what a great, influential and fun car it was when it was unleashed on to an unsuspecting public. And just as much – let’s also not forget just how brilliant the original Mini is today. Thankfully, its vibrant social scene and excellent community will allow us little opportunity to do that!
To celebrate the Mini’s birthday, I’ve turned over the AROnline homepage to this marvellous little car. Here are some important Mini links if you feel like reading deeper into its fascinating history. Happy birthday Mini!
- How many Minis were really made?
- Essay: Minis kill!
- Mini development story – Part One
- Mini development story – Part Two
- Mini Clubman development story
- Mini Cooper development story
- Mini replacement: The Issigonis 9X
- Mini replacement: ADO74
- Mini replacement: ADO88
- Mini replacement: LC8
- The Mini Cooper RSP story
- Mini Convertible development story