Today is the often overlooked St. George's Day. We of the British Isles are great at celebrating St. Patricks, St. Andrew's and St. David's Days but there really isn't much fuss made about England's own, St. George. So we wanted to at least mark the passing of this shyest of national days with a nod to old Blighty.
Like St. George, lots of the car manufacturers who are considered to be English, are not. One plucky car stands alone in its fierce representation of all things English, the truly iconic, classic Mini.
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The first Mini ever produced[/caption]
The legend was born in April 1959 when our hero was first revealed to the press by the British Motor Corporation, an amalgamation of Morris and Austin. By August of the same year it was in full production. Such was the global appeal of the car, the Mini went on to conquer the world and would be produced not only in England but also Australia, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Italy, Malta, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.
The tiny car's history is well documented and it's no secret that the designer of the classic Mini held dual nationality status, as a Greek national with a British passport. In 1956, the British Motor Corporation tasked Sir Alexander Issigonis with designing a smaller car that would have an equally small petrol consumption rate compared to other British cars in production at that time. It wasn't the current obsession with lowering our carbon footprints or reducing greenhouse gasses that was the impetus behind this mid 1950s drive to austerity. The Suez Crisis and Britain's involvement in the conflict in Egypt and Gaza had caused petrol to be rationed and as such, sales of larger, thirstier cars were beginning to decline. The forward thinking and patriotic vision of the Chairman of the British Motor Corporation, Leonard Percy Lord, 1st Baron Lambury KBE, ensured that Britain would not be left behind in the battle for automotive supremacy in this adapting market.
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BMW Isetta - Bubble car[/caption]
It is rumoured that Leonard Percy Lord had a strong dislike of the German bubble cars that were becoming increasingly popular at the time. 'Bubble Car' is a blanket term for tiny, economical, post-war micro-cars. They were incredibly popular in the 50s and 60s, mostly for the same reasons the Mini was born. The post-war economy and ensuing Suez Crisis had the populous watching their pockets like never before, particularly in relation to fuel, and the likes of the BMW Isetta and Messerschmitt (temporarily disallowed from making aircraft) were capitalising on the thrifty minded Brits. Lord was absolutely determined that his company was more than capable of producing a 'proper' miniature car and that Britain's roads would not be overrun with tiny Teutonic toys, not on his watch, and he put together a team that would change automotive history and the world, for ever.
Towards the back end of 1957, the first ever prototype Mini was complete. British Motor Corporation Project 'ADO15' (Amalgamated Drawing Office 15) was born and immediately dubbed 'The Orange Box' due to its distinctive colour. This prototype met all the basic design requirements laid down by Lord. The autocratic head of the BMC decreed that his new car should be contained within a box measuring 10 x 4 x 4 feet and the passenger accommodation should occupy six feet of the ten feet length. The engine should be an existing unit so as to cut down on costs. In order to get all this into such a small car was no mean feat and required some true out-of-the-box thinking. Issigonis and his team delivered in spades. Perhaps the most radical and fundamental design development that brought the Mini into existence, was the decision to mount the engine transversely and have it drive the front wheels. ADO15 wasn't the first ever car to use this configuration and a couple of marques including DKW and SAAB had experimented with the transverse set-up but to no real success. Issigonis' decision to mount the engine sideways ensured that the specified interior dimensions could be achieved more easily and nearly every small car since the Mini has employed a very similar layout.
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See just how much space there is inside the tiny frame[/caption]
In August 1959, the BMC branded and released the ADO15 under both the Austin and Morris names. If you favoured the Austin brand then you could now buy the new Austin Se7en. Fans of Morris bought the Morris Mini-Minor. Since its inception the Mini has been known by many names and been manufactured by BMC, British Leyland and Rover Group but since the birth of the 'Mini' marque in 1969, one name encapsulates all the iconography and heritage in one neat package. The rest, as they say, is history.
Initially, sales were fairly slow but as the 1960s got underway, this little world beater garnered popularity and sales improved year on year. In 1961 John Cooper developed the legendary Mini Cooper and by 1967 the Cooper S had won the toughest rally in the world, the Monte Carlo Rally, no fewer than four times (3 times officially as in 1966 the team was disqualified for non-conforming headlamp bulbs). By the end of the 60s, two million Minis had been sold. For some reason the tiny car, built for practical and austere reasons, was starting to become a true style icon and it became the height of fashion to drive a Mini. If you wanted to be a face on the swinging sixties scene, then you needed to be swinging in a Mini. All four members of the Beatles owned Mini Coopers, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees, Peter Ustinov, Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon, Mary Quant, Clint Eastwood, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, Brigette Bardot, Paul Newman, Christine Keeler, Jenny Agutter, Niki Lauder, Enzo Ferrari, Piero Ferrari, Elton John and Twiggy. All of them famous faces unofficially endorsing this revolutionary small car by being photographed in or with their new wheels.
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Steve McQueen with his S1275[/caption]
Throughout the forty year history there have been many variations of the classic Mini including the Cooper, Clubman, 1275 GT and Pick-Up and the success across the range has been astronomical. The quintessentially English car has become synonymous with triumph over adversity, of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, of plucky courage and a stiff upper lip. Nothing says England like a classic Mini or a red bus. Production ceased on 4th October 2000 and the tally of Minis produced ended at 5.3 million, with 1.6 million of them having been sold in Britain. BMW bought out the Rover Group in 1994 and by 2000 the German marque had decided to do away with most of the Group companies due to massive financial losses. As we all know by now, BMW held onto the Mini name and made plans to produce a new model. The new BMW MINI was launched in 2000 and has no real connection to the dragon slayer of years gone by. It has been a long time indeed since Britain had such an impact on the global car market and it may be a long time until anything makes anywhere near the mark that the Mini did.
Good examples of the Mini can command a very high price on today's market, far in excess of the BMW MINI counterpart. A quick Google reveals a 1964 Cooper S for sale on Autotrader
for £33,950. If you're lucky enough to own one of these beauties, make sure you look after it, it may look after you one day.