Australia has enjoyed a close association with the Mini. Back in January, 1966, Australian production of the Mini commenced in BMC’s Australian production plant, sited in Zetland, outside of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. So where did the cheerful car marque originate?
Sir Alec Issigonis’s classic design ushered in a whole new era of front-wheel-driven cars. The very first Minis were basic, to say the least, and such things like wind-down windows and inside door handles were to become a luxury feature. The Mini was a reliable car in its day that was fun to own and drive. Even today, a good Mini stands out on Australian roads. They are Smart-looking, economical and handle well. When raced around the tracks, these cars held onto the corners like glue and consistently passed the bigger Jags, Holdens, Fords, Mustangs, Corvettes, Austin-Healeys, MGs, Triumphs and other more powerful cars.
In 1923, Sir Alec Issigonis arrived in England to study engineering. On the completion of his studies, he worked in a variety of jobs as an automobile engineer. In 1936, he coupled together with the Morris Motor Design Team (which would later become the BMC) as a suspension designer. During the Second World War, he commenced the design of a compact car, which became known as the successful Morris Minor. In 1950, Issigonis experimented with a Morris minor prototype that was driven by the front wheels. This idea was later used in the Mini. In 1955, Issigonis was nominated chief of Design by Leonard Lord for the BMC (British Motor Corporation).
In March 1957, Leonard Lord saw it necessary to create a compact car for the BMC. He ordered Issigonis to stop all his projects and to focus on the production of a compact car that used already existent parts of the BMC to reduce costs.
It was soon apparent that the design should incorporate a small dimension, but one that could carry four adults and their respective luggage. In order to achieve this, groundbreaking mechanical design was needed. The car was given independent suspension on all four wheels, a transverse engine with the gearbox built into the engine design, front wheel drive, and a radiator mounted to the left of the engine. This reduced the overall length of the car to a considerably short 3.05m. Width was a cosy 1.41m. Issigonis used the engine from the A-Series, which was previously used in the Austin A37 and the Morris Minor.
On August 26th of 1959, the Morris Mini Minor was shown to the press. What followed was a great wave of excitement within the press and public at large. The car was commercialized under the name of Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor, but later it was changed to the Austin Mini and Morris Mini. Perhaps the name Mini was seen as more appropriate as it matched the miniskirts (also short, compact and fashionable) that were also taking the sixties by storm.
The Mini is a light car with very little overhang at each end of the car, making it wonderfully balanced and beautifully stable. John Cooper saw the potential that the Mini had for racing. John was a friend of Issigonis and. John spoke to Issigonis about the possibility of building a Mini that would be race competitive. The thought of racing such a delightful car was all that Issogonis needed and testing was carried out. In October 1961, the Mini Cooper was born. Mini Coopers entered the market with front disc breaks and a 997cc engine, double carburetor, and a modified camshaft and header. This made the 55 bhpcar much more apt for the racing world.
The Minis were fast, and success quickly came Mini’s way. With the success came the need to make it to the top, so in 1963 the engine was increased in size to 1071cc. This provided a higher power rating of 70 bhp. This version was given the name; Mini Cooper S. The S stands for Special, and special it was. The Mini Cooper S took racing car drivers Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon to first place in the Monte Carlo Rally of 1964.
Again the engine of the Cooper S was increased to 1275cc and output was therefore beefed up to a further 78 bhp. Once again, The Mini Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally for the second and third time in 1965 and 1966 with Timo Mäkinen at the wheel. The 1966 race saw Mini finishing first, second and third. The French were furious, given the fact that the same British Team took first place in the prestigious Rally for a third time. They were poor sports who looked for any excuse to disqualify them. After many hours of lengthy searching, the judges found that the front lights used halogen bulbs consisting of too simple a filament. By that reason alone, the lights did not meet with French traffic regulations. The Mini Cooper S, which had ended up in first second and third places, was deemed to be disqualified. So, too, was Roger Clark in his Ford Lotus-Cortina who had finished in fourth place. With out further-a-do, first place was given to Citroën. This disqualification has been one of the most talked about scandals in the history of rallying.
However, in 1967, vengeance was sweet; Rauno Aaltonen won the Monte Carlo Rally once again.
Various developments, upgrades and facelifts have occurred for the Mini over the decades following the 60s. The most recent development for the Mini Marque has been the purchase of the Mini brand by BMW on the 18th September 2000. BMW has done a fine job of creating a Mini design that is still Mini all over. Along with the cute looks, the Mini Cooper packs a powerful punch and is a great handling, safe performer that accelerates from 0-62 mph in under 8 seconds.
There are other Mini models that are less widely known like the Riley Elf, Wolseley Hornet (luxury), the Mini Pick-up (commercial), the Mini Van (commercial), the Mini Moke (all terrain), the Austin Countryman (estate), The Morris Traveler (estate), the Clubman Estate and the Mini Clubman (this writer’s grandparents had a Mini Clubman with the old wooden window frames and the writer remembers being intrigued as a child by the moss growing inside the car).
In 1999, the Mini celebrated its 40th birthday. The Mini was elected as the world’s second “Car of the Century”, one of the greatest designs in automobile engineering and also was considered one of the classic designs of the twentieth century.
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