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.
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.
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