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Today’s Mini is, of course, very different to that first car. Under the ownership of the BMW Group, the Mini – or MINI, as it’s officially labelled – is bigger, and is just one of a family of related models. A family that will expand with this latest generation to incorporate versions that Issigonis (who died in 1988) would never have dreamed of.
But what was Issignosis’s vision, and why has the Mini enjoyed such an enduring appeal? Issigonis, born in 1906, was a talented engineer and designer who worked for Humber, Austin and, from 1936, Morris Motors Ltd. There he worked on a number of cars, including the Morris Minor. In 1955 he was recruited by the British Motor Corporation to design a family of new models.
The smaller of these took priority when fuel rationing was introduced to the Suez Crisis and development was accelerated. In August 1959 that small car was launched as the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven. It wasn't until 1961 that it was renamed the Austin Mini, and eight years after that Mini became a marque in its own right.
Issigonis’s design broke the mould, with its transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive layout and incredibly compact dimensions. It revolutionised the small car and became the best-selling British car in history, with a production run of 5.3 million units. Production ran until 2000.
In between, the Mini underwent numerous changes of name and engine, and detail upgrades were made to its exterior design. Different body styles were created too, but its fundamental character and layout were unchanged and it was the “standard” two-door model that had the most timeless appeal: the final model that rolled off the production line in 2000 didn’t look that different to the original 1959 car.
During its lifespan the original Mini was produced at various factories by BMC, then British Leyland and finally the Rover Group. The Rover Group was bought by BMW in 1994 and development on an all-new Mini started. At the 1997 Geneva Motor Show Mini displayed two concept cars that suggested a possible new design direction – the Mini Spiritual and Spiritual Too were three- and five-door models respectively, which aimed to re-interpret the original Mini’s brief in for the 21st century. These futuristic-looking designs were something of a red herring, but with its white roof and round headlights the retro-styled ACV30 concept car (based on an MGF and designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mini's win at the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally) was a glimpse of things to come.
When BMW sold the Rover Group in 2000 it retained ownership of the Mini name, and in 2001 it launched its take on what a Modern Mini should be. The new car was built at its plant in Cowley, Oxford, and although many fans of the original Mini mocked the newcomer's larger dimensions and faux-historical design, it struck a chord and proved to be a huge commercial success. Personalisation was a key part of the car’s appeal and thousands of different colour and trim options were offered. Buyers lapped it up and the average price of Minis leaving the showroom far exceeded their list prices.
Sportier Cooper models, a convertible and a quirky Clubman version with a rear-hinged side door followed, and an updated model with new engines, interior and all-new (but very similar) exterior was launched in 2006. Mini stretched the idea of what a Mini could be when it launched the Countryman in 2010. The “crossover” model was the biggest Mini ever, and was available with four-wheel drive. Unlike the existing models, it was built not in England, but in Austria. Despite more than a few snide sneers and comments, it has become a global sales success.
Now, the next generation of Mini promises to push the concept to new limits. As well as the three-door model revealed today, spy shots reveal that a five-door hatchback and even an estate will join the range. You can expect more variants to follow. Whether or not Sir Alec Issigonis would have approved of today’s Mini, the fact that the new car will inevitably be compared with the one he designed more than half a century ago is testament to just how much that original car is loved and revered.
* All vehicle images and car descriptions on this site are for illustration and reference purposes only and are not necessarily an accurate representation of the vehicle on offer.
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