The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout (which allowed 80% of the area of the car's floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage) influenced a generation of car-makers. The vehicle is in some ways considered the British equivalent to its German contemporary, the Volkswagen Beetle, which enjoyed similar popularity in North America. In 1999 the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T.
This distinctive two-door car was designed for BMC by Sir Alec Issigonis. It was manufactured at the Longbridge and Cowley plants in England, the Victoria Park / Zetland British Motor Corporation (Australia) factory in Sydney, Australia, and later also in Spain (Authi), Belgium, Chile, Italy (Innocenti), Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates: the Mark II, the Clubman and the Mark III. Within these was a series of variations including an estate car, a pick-up truck, a van and the Mini Moke—a jeep-like buggy. The Mini Cooper and Cooper "S" were sportier versions that were successful as rally cars, winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times from 1964 through to 1967, although in 1966 the Mini was disqualified after the finish, along with six other British entrants, which included the first four cars to finish, under a questionable ruling that the cars had used an illegal combination of headlamps and spotlights. Initially Minis were marketed under the Austin and Morris names, as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor, until Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969 The Mini was again marketed under the Austin name in the 1980s.
Mark I Mini: 1959–1967The production version of the Mini was demonstrated to the press in April 1959, and by August several thousand cars had been produced ready for the first sales. The first Mini rolled off the production line on 26 August 1959.
The name Mini did not appear by itself immediately—the first models being marketed under two of BMC's brand names, Austin and Morris. The name Austin Seven (sometimes written as SE7EN in early publicity material) recalled the popular small Austin 7 of the 1920s and 1930s. The other name used until 1967 in the United Kingdom (and in Commonwealth countries such as Australia), Morris Mini-Minor, seems to have been a play on words. The Morris Minor was a well known and successful car, with the word minor being Latin for "lesser"; so an abbreviation of the Latin word for "least"—minimus—was used for the new even smaller car. It was originally going to be called the Austin Newmarket. 1963 Austin Mini 850 Mark IOne of the very first examples from 1959 is now on display at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire. The very first example, with the now iconic registration plate "621 AOK", is on display at the Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire.Until 1962, the cars appeared as the Austin 850 and Morris 850 in North America and France, and in Denmark as the Austin Partner (until 1964) and Morris Mascot (until 1981). The name Mini was first used domestically by BMC for Austin's version in 1961, when the Austin Seven was rebranded as the Austin Mini, somewhat to the surprise of the Sharps Commercials car company (later known as Bond Cars Ltd) who had been using the name Minicar for their three-wheeled vehicles since 1949. However, legal action was somehow averted, and BMC used the name Mini thereafter.
In 1964, the suspension of the cars was replaced by another Moulton design, the hydrolastic system. The new suspension gave a softer ride but it also increased weight and production cost and, in the minds of many enthusiasts, spoiled the handling characteristics for which the Mini was so famous. In 1971, the original rubber suspension reappeared and was retained for the remaining life of the Mini. Austin Mini Van, The Automobile Association livery Automobile Association roadside assistance BMC MinivanFrom October 1965 the option of an Automotive Products (AP) designed four-speed automatic transmission became available. Cars fitted with this became the Mini-Matic
Slow at the outset, Mark I sales strengthened across most of the model lines in the 1960s, and production totalled 1,190,000. Sold at almost below cost, the basic Mini made very little money for its owners. However, it still did make a small profit. Ford once took a Mini away and completely dismantled it, possibly to see if they could offer an alternative. It was their opinion though, that they could not sell it at BMC's price. Ford determined that the BMC must have been losing around 30 pounds per car, and so decided to produce a larger car – the Cortina, launched in 1962 – as its competitor in the budget market.
BMC insisted that the way company overheads were shared out, the Mini always made money. Larger profits came from the popular De Luxe models and from optional extras such as seat belts, door mirrors, a heater and a radio, which would be considered necessities on modern cars, as well as the various "Cooper" and "Cooper S" models.
The Mini etched its place into popular culture in the 1960s with well-publicised purchases by film and music stars.
Mark II Mini: 1967–1973
The Mark II Mini featured a redesigned grille which remained with the car from that point on. Also, a larger rear window and numerous cosmetic changes were introduced. 429,000 Mark II Minis were made.
A bewildering variety of Mini types were made in Pamplona, Spain, by the Authi company from 1968 onwards, mostly under the Morris name.
The Mini was arguably the star of the 1969 film The Italian Job, which features a car chase in which a gang of thieves drive three Minis down staircases, through storm drains, over buildings and finally into the back of a moving bus. This film was remade in 2003 using the new MINI. M
Mini Van (1960–1982)
A commercial panel van rated at ¼-ton load capacity. Built on the longer Traveller chassis but without side windows, it proved popular in 1960s Britain as a cheaper alternative to the car: it was classed as a commercial vehicle and as such carried no sales tax. A set of simple stamped steel slots served in place of a more costly chrome grille. The Mini Van was renamed as the Mini 95 in 1978, the number representing the gross vehicle weight of 0.95 tons. 521,494 were built. Despite this renaming, the motoring public continued to call it the Mini Van, as a result of which the class of vehicles known as minivans in other countries are referred to in Britain as MPVs.
Mini Moke (1964–1989)
A utility vehicle intended for the British Army, for whom a few twin-engined 4-wheel-drive versions were also built. Although the 4WD Moke could climb a 1:2 gradient, it lacked enough ground clearance for military use. The single-engined front-wheel-drive Moke enjoyed some popularity in civilian production. About 50,000 were made in total, from 1964 to 1968 in the UK, 1966 to 1982 in Australia and 1983 to 1989 in Portugal. The car featured in the cult 1967 TV series The Prisoner, and is popular in holiday locations such as Barbados and Macau, where Mokes were used as police cars. Mokes were also available to rent there as recently as March 2006. "Moke" is archaic British slang for a donkey.
Mini Pick-up (1961–1982)
A pick-up truck, 11 ft (3.4 m) from nose to tail, built on the longer Mini Van platform, with an open-top rear cargo area and a tailgate. The factory specified the weight of the Pickup as less than 1,500 lb (680 kg) with a full 6 imperial gallons (27 L; 7 US gal) of fuel.
As with the Van, the Pickup did not have a costly chrome grille. Instead, a simple set of stamped metal slots allowed airflow into the engine compartment. The Pickup was spartan in basic form, although the factory brochure informed prospective buyers that "[a] fully equipped Mini Pick-up is also available which includes a recirculatory heater." Passenger-side sun visor, seat belts, laminated windscreen, tilt tubes and cover were available at extra cost. Like the van, the Pickup was renamed as the Mini 95 in 1978.
A total of 58,179 Mini Pickups were built.
Mini Cooper and Cooper S: 1961–2000
Issigonis' friend John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company and designer and builder of Formula One and rally cars, saw the potential of the Mini for competition. Issigonis was initially reluctant to see the Mini in the role of a performance car, but after John Cooper appealed to BMC management, the two men collaborated to create the Mini Cooper, a nimble, economical and inexpensive car. The Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper debuted in 1961.
The original 848 cc engine from the Morris Mini-Minor was given a longer stroke to increase capacity to 997 cc, boosting power from 34 bhp to 55 bhp (25 to 41 kW). The car featured a racing-tuned engine, twin SU carburettors, a closer-ratio gearbox and front disc brakes, uncommon at the time in a small car. One thousand units of this version were commissioned by management, intended for and designed to meet the homologation rules of Group 2 rally racing. The 997 cc engine was replaced by a shorter stroke 998 cc unit in 1964. 1963 Austin Mini Cooper SA more powerful Mini Cooper, dubbed the "S", was developed in tandem and released in 1963. Featuring a 1071 cc engine with a 70.61 mm bore and nitrided steel crankshaft and strengthened bottom end to allow further tuning; and larger servo-assisted disc brakes, 4,030 Cooper S cars were produced and sold until the model was updated in August 1964. Cooper also produced two S models specifically for circuit racing in the under 1000cc and under 1300cc classes respectively, rated at 970 cc and a 1275 cc, both with the 70.61mm bore and both of which were also offered to the public. The smaller-engine model was not well received, and only 963 had been built when the model was discontinued in 1965. The 1275 cc Cooper S models continued in production until 1971.
Sales of the Mini Cooper were as follows: 64,000 Mark I Coopers with 997 cc or 998 cc engines; 19,000 Mark I Cooper S with 970 cc, 1071 cc or 1275 cc engines; 16,000 Mark II Coopers with 998 cc engines; 6,300 Mark II Cooper S with 1275 cc engines. There were no Mark III Coopers and just 1,570 Mark III Cooper S's.
The Mini Cooper S earned acclaim with Monte Carlo Rally victories in 1964, 1965 and 1967. Minis were initially placed first, second and third in the 1966 rally as well, but were disqualified after a controversial decision by the French judges. The disqualification related to the use of a variable resistance headlamp dimming circuit in place of a dual-filament lamp. It should be noted that the Citroën DS that was eventually awarded first place had illegal white headlamps but escaped disqualification. The driver of the Citroën, Pauli Toivonen, was reluctant to accept the trophy and vowed that he would never race for Citroën again. BMC probably received more publicity from the disqualification than they would have gained from a victory.
In 1971, the Mini Cooper design was licensed in Italy by Innocenti and in 1973 to Spain by Authi (Automoviles de Turismo Hispano-Ingleses), which began to produce the Innocenti Mini Cooper 1300 and the Authi Mini Cooper 1300, respectively. The Cooper name disappeared from the UK Mini range at this time, as British Leyland (as it was by then) supposedly did not want to pay John Cooper royalties for the use of his name, so it was not seen again on Minis for nearly 20 years.
A new Mini Cooper named the RSP (Rover Special Products) was briefly relaunched in 1990–1991, with slightly lower performance than the 1960s Cooper. It proved so popular that the new Cooper-marked Mini went into full production in late 1991. From 1992, Coopers were fitted with a fuel-injected version of the 1275 cc engine, and in 1997 a multi-point fuel injected engine was introduced, along with a front-mounted radiator and various safety improvements.
Mini Clubman and 1275GT: 1969–1980
In 1969, under the ownership of British Leyland, the Mini was given a facelift by stylist Roy Haynes, who had previously worked for Ford. The restyled version was called the Mini Clubman, and has a squarer frontal look, using the same indicator/sidelight assembly as the Austin Maxi. The Mini Clubman was intended to replace the upmarket Riley and Wolseley versions. A new model, dubbed the 1275GT, was slated as the replacement for the 998 cc Mini Cooper (the 1275 cc Mini Cooper S continued alongside the 1275GT for two years until 1971). The Clubman Estate took over where the Countryman and Traveller left off.
However, British Leyland continued to produce the classic 1959 "round-front" design, alongside the newer Clubman and 1275GT models (which were replaced in 1980 by the new hatchback Austin Metro, while production of the original "round-front" Mini design continued for another 20 years.)
Production of the Clubman and 1275GT got off to a slow start because the cars incorporated "lots of production changes" including the relocation of tooling from the manufacturer's Cowley plant to the Longbridge plant: very few cars were handed over to customers before the early months of 1970.
Early domestic market Clubmans were still delivered on cross-ply tyres despite the fact that by 1970 radials had become the norm for the car's mainstream competitors. By 1973 new Minis were, by default, being shipped with radial tyres, though cross-plies could be specified by special order, giving British buyers a price saving of £8.
The 1275GT is often incorrectly described as the "Mini Clubman 1275GT". The official name was always just the "Mini 1275GT", and it was a separate, distinct model from the Clubman (although it shared the same frontal treatment as the Mini Clubman, and was launched at the same time).
In 1971, the 1275 cc Mini Cooper S was discontinued in the UK, leaving the Mini 1275GT as the only sporting Mini on sale for the rest of the decade. Innocenti in Italy, however, continued making their own version of the Mini Cooper for some time. While the UK built 1275GT was not nearly as quick as a 1275 Mini Cooper S, it was cheaper to buy, run, and insure. It was the first Mini to be equipped with a tachometer. It also featured a standard-fit close-ratio gearbox. Performance of the 1275GT was lively for the time, achieving 0–60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.9 seconds, and the excellent midrange torque offered a 30–50 mph (48–80 km/h) time in top gear of only nine seconds. The bluff front, however, meant that the model struggled to reach 90 mph (140 km/h). The 1275 cc A-series engine could be cheaply and easily tuned, though the cheap purchase price and prominent "sidewinder" door stripes meant that this model developed a reputation as something of a "boy-racer special" during the 1970s and into the 1980s.
The Mini Clubman and 1275GT were responsible for two motoring "firsts": they were the first vehicles to use a flexi printed-circuit board behind the dash instruments (universal nowadays, but technically advanced for 1969). Secondly, the 1275GT was the first vehicle to be offered with run-flat tyres; from 1974 this model could be ordered with optional Dunlop Denovo tyres on 12-inch (300 mm) diameter rims. In the event of a puncture, the Dunlop Denovo tyre would not burst and quickly deflate, but could continue to be used safely at speeds of up to 50 mph (80 km/h). This was a useful safety feature, although the increased road noise and relatively poor grip of this tyre meant that many 1275GT buyers ignored this option.
Throughout the 1970s, British Leyland continued to produce the classic 1959 "round-front" design, alongside the newer Clubman and 1275GT models. The long-nose Clubman and 1275GT offered better crash safety, were better equipped, and had vastly better under-bonnet access, but they were more expensive and aerodynamically inferior to the original 1959 design. The Mini Clubman and 1275GT were replaced in 1980 by the new hatchback Austin Metro, while production of the original "round-front" Mini design continued for another 20 years. At the end of Clubman and 1275GT production, 275,583 Clubman saloons, 197,606 Clubman Estates and 110,673 1275GTs had been made.
Mark III and onwards: 1969–2000
The Mark III Mini had a modified bodyshell with enough alterations to see the factory code change from ADO15 to ADO20 (which it shared with the Clubman). The most obvious changes were larger doors with concealed hinges. Customer demand led to the sliding windows being replaced with winding windows—although some Australian-manufactured Mark I Minis had adopted this feature in 1965 (with opening quarterlight windows). The suspension reverted from Hydrolastic to rubber cones as a cost-saving measure. (The 1275 GT and Clubman would retain the hydrolastic system until June 1971 when they, too, switched to the rubber cone suspension of the original Minis.)
Production at the Cowley plant was ended, and the simple name Mini completely replaced the separate Austin and Morris brands.
In the late 1970s, Innocenti introduced the Innocenti 90 and 120, Bertone-designed hatchbacks based on the Mini platform. Bertone also created a Mini Cooper equivalent, christened the Innocenti De Tomaso, that sported a 1275 cc engine similar to the MG Metro engine but with a 11 stud head, a special inlet manifold and used the "A" clutch instead of the "Verto" type. The most important feature was the utilisation of homokinetic shafts, avoiding the rubber couplings.
By this stage, the Mini was still hugely popular in Britain, but it was looking increasingly outdated in the face of newer and more practical rivals including the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Chevette, Chrysler Sunbeam, Fiat 127, Volkswagen Polo and Peugeot 104. Since the late 1960s, plans had been in place for a newer and more practical supermini to replace it, though the Mini was still the only car of this size built by British Leyland for the home market.
Reports of the Mini's imminent demise surfaced again in 1980 with the launch of the Austin Mini-Metro (badging with the word mini in all lowercase). In New Zealand in 1981, the Mini starred in a road trip movie directed by Geoff Murphy called Goodbye Pork Pie. The Mini was beginning to fall out of favour in many export markets, with the South African, Australian, and New Zealand markets all stopping production around this time.
Although the Mini continued after the Metro's launch, production volumes were reduced as British Leyland and successor combine Rover Group concentrated on the Metro as its key supermini. Indeed, 1981 was the Mini's last year in the top ten of Britain's top selling cars, as it came ninth and the Metro was fifth.
- Mark III (introduced in November 1969) had wind up windows with internal door hinges except for the van and pick-up models. The boot lid lost the original hinged number plate and its recess shape and a large rear colour coded lamp was fitted in its place, along with larger rear side windows.
- Mark IV (introduced in 1976) had a front rubber mounted subframe with single tower bolts and the rear frame had some larger bushes introduced. Twin stalk indicators were introduced with larger foot pedals. From 1977 onwards, the rear indicator lamps had the reverse lights incorporated in them.
- Mark V (from 1984): all cars had 8.4-inch (210 mm) brake discs and plastic wheel arches (mini special arches) but retained the same Mark IV body shell shape.
- Mark VI (from 1990): the engine mounting points were moved forward to take 1275 cc power units, and includes the HIF carb version, plus the single point fuel injected car which came out in 1991. The 998 cc power units were discontinued. Internal bonnet release were fitted from 1992.
- Mark VII (from 1996): was the final version, twin point injection with front mounted radiator. Full-width dashboard replaces the original shelf, internal bonnet release. Introduction of airbag on driver's side.