SIXTY YEARS OF THE MINI
Sixty years ago - August 26th 1959 – the British Motor Corporation’s new small car was launched. It looked different to every other car on the roads, was immensely practical and was truly Tardis-like – tiny on the outside yet spacious on the inside. Its engineering and design were ground-breaking in many ways – front wheel drive, transverse engine, and Alex Moulton’s rubber suspension. Its designer, Alec Issigonis, saved even more space by placing the gearbox inside the engine’s oil sump. The ‘packaging’ of the car was outstanding – a full 80% of the space was available for driver, passengers and luggage whilst the powertrain, suspension and all ancillaries fitted into the remaining 20%.
The Motor magazine wrote that the new car “possessed a standard of road-holding and steering much more akin to a racing car than the popular conception of a family saloon” and their rivals at Autocar were also highly complimentary: “an outstanding and original small car” that “bristled with originality, yet there is nothing freakish about it.”
At the start it wasn’t even called a Mini. There were two almost identical variants – the Austin Se7en and the Morris Mini-Minor, so named in an attempt to bring some familiarity and loyalty to the new car that was completely unrelated to any of its BMC stablemates and indeed any car at all. The original names didn’t last. In 1962 you could buy an Austin Mini or a Morris Mini. The character of the car was such that in later years it was shorn of any parent brand and simply became ‘Mini’.
The Mini’s accolades would accumulate through its incredible forty year production run. It was the most popular British car of all time, and Autocar magazine named it their ‘Car of the Century’. Such was its classless appeal, the Mini transcended social structures. The Queen owned one. It was a favourite of Society darlings Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Conversely it became the first car of choice for many learner drivers and the Van version put Britain’s tradesmen and women on motorised wheels for the first time.
Alec Issigonis and Alex Moulton were great friends and daring collaborators. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s there were inseparable in design and engineering circles and their work changed car design for ever. Engine designer Chris Kingham, who had followed Issigonis to BMC from Alvis, noted that “the two of them sparked genius off each other – I don’t think either of them would have been so fruitful mentally without the other.”
The Alex Moulton Charitable Trust have a display of Mini-related artefacts, centred around Moulton’s own 1966 Mini Cooper S, in their new exhibition space. Visitors to our Open Afternoon – Tuesday 27th August – will be able to view this display. Keep up-to-date with events at The Hall on our ‘What’s On’ page.
You can read more about Alex Moulton and the Mini here.