Cars and me don’t get on. In truth, I have very little interest in them, apart from what they look like really. E Types, most Ferrari’s, and of course the Mini are always ones that seem to catch my eye. My love for the Mini in particular is wrapped up in my borderline obsession for all things from the era from which they came. Sixty years since its first appearance, it is still an enduring look. I mean, Mrs Mumper even owned one at one point!
Designed for the British Motor Corporation by Sir Alec Issigonis, it was manufactured in the UK at its Longbridge plant in Birmingham and at Cowley near Oxford, and introduced to the market from August 1959. BMC were following a trend that had begun after the Suez crisis of 1956, which resulted in a general shortage of fuel at that time, so cars became smaller. The Fiat 100 and the bubble car from Germany being just two examples.
Sir Leonard Lord the head of BMC put out a call to Issigonis to design them a car no bigger than 10 x 4 x 4 in size. By July 1957 Issigonis and his team had developed the prototype called ‘orange box’ so named due to its colour and shape. This was a radical, forward thinking design, being small but more spacious than it at first looked. Sir Len signed it off and it went into production with its official name being a play on the Latin word for ‘least’ – Minimus.
The press got its first look at it in the April of 1959 and by the end of that summer thousands of cars were ready for sale, with overseas orders for over 2,000 already on the books, therefore quickly becoming one of the best sealing cars in Europe. Production began with the two-door saloon from 1959, and then the three-door estate was introduced in 1960. BMC also eventually exported approx. 10,000 left-hand drive Minis to the United States from 1960 to 1967.
It won the Dewar Trophy in 1959 in both the design and production categories. Issigonis emphasised safety as part of the design. ‘I make my cars with such good brakes and such good steering, that if people get into a crash it’s their own fault. I don’t design my cars to have accidents’ he said at the time.
The Mini very quickly became an icon of the 1960s with many ‘celebs’ of the time owning one, Paul McCartney, Twiggy and Peter Sellers among them. The Mark II was introduced in 1967, featuring a few design tweaks and rapidly achieved sales of well over 400,000 in a short period.
Other models over the years included the ‘sporty’ performance cars, the Mini Cooper and Cooper ‘S’ from 1961, both of which went on to win countless rally car races all over the world including the Monte Carlo in 1964, 65 and 67. As a side note, the Cooper ‘S’ was also used as a plainclothes car by some British police forces.
1964 saw the Mini Moke – Moke being army slang for a donkey – being available. This jeep like model, was joined by the Mini Clubman from 1969.
‘They will be driven by Chris, Tony and Dominic. These chinless wonders will get you out of Turin faster than anyone else on four wheels. Remember that…’
In 1969, the cars memorably featured in the classic crime caper film ‘The Italian Job’ starring Michael Caine as Charlie Croker. In it, the cars in red, white and blue of course, are seen careering all over the fine city of Turin.
The Mini remained very popular in the UK right up until the end of the 1960s, and beyond, with two million sold by 1969, rising to three million by 1972, though in truth its rivals were beginning to overtake it. Sales eventually began to fall and it finally fell out of the UK top ten selling cars at the start of the 1980s.
1994 saw BMW acquire the rights to build cars using the Mini name and the last Mini produced, a Rover Cooper Mini Sport, left the Longbridge line in October 2000. Over 5 million cars were sold over a continuous stretch of 41 years in this country.
In 2007, a works rally ready model sold for £100,500.00 at Bonham’s the auction house, the highest price achieved for one so far.
The car remains a favourite of many of course, rightly so in my mind.
It picked up the award for ‘Car of the Century’ from Autocar Magazine in 1995 and was voted in at number one as the ‘Classic Car of All Time’ in Classic & Sports Car magazine 1996.
You won’t find me arguing with any of that.
The Mumper of SE5
Sign up to our newsletter and receive an exclusive promo code, latest news & Art Gallery Clothing offers.