Classic Mini History (1959-2000)
Article by Mark Trotta
One of the most recognized cars ever produced, original Mini production started in 1959 and was an instant success. It's front-wheel drive, transverse engine layout influenced a generation of car makers, and became one of the best selling cars in Europe. The UK subcompact developed into several versions, including wagon, pickup truck, and of course, the Mini Cooper.
Morris Mini History
The Mini was originally developed out of Great Britain's need for a more fuel-efficient car. In 1957, Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Company issued his top engineer, Alec Issigonis, to head up a team of designers. They started with a transverse engine and gearbox, which allowed front-wheel drive. This space-saving design was not new - it was first seen with the German DKW F1 in 1931.
With all four wheels "pushed out" to the far corners, interior space was maximized and a wide stance was achieved, which gave good balance and nimble handling.
Original engine size was 848cc, and through time increased to 1275cc. The transverse engine planted weight over the front tires, providing excellent traction and grip.
The Mini was built by the British Motor Company and originally marketed as both the Austin Seven and the Morris Mini-Minor. To keep costs to a minimum, construction included external door and boot hinges, and welded seams that were visible on the outside of the car. Sliding side windows were used instead of roll-up windows.
Production started with a two-door saloon in 1959, and a three-door estate was added in 1960. Subsequent models included a two-door van, two-door pickup, and convertible coupe. The sporty Mini Cooper debuted in 1961.
Original Mini Cooper
Shortly after the Mini was on the market, race car builder John Cooper realized the potential of the little car in competition. The 848cc engine from the Morris Mini-Minor was given a longer stroke, increasing displacement to 997cc. A pair of SU carburetors helped increase power from 34 to 55 horsepower. Adding to the performance package was a close-ratio gearbox and front disc brakes.
Read: Sports Car History
The Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper debuted in September 1961. To meet homologation rules for Group 2 rally racing, 1,000 units of the Mini Cooper were originally produced. The 997cc engine was eventually replaced by a larger bore, shorter stroke 998cc version.
Mini Cooper S
A more powerful Mini Cooper was offered in 1963. The new model "S" featured a 1071cc engine with a larger 70.61mm bore. Large servo-assisted disc brakes were added. 4,030 original Cooper S models were produced and sold until the model was updated in August 1964.
Cooper also produced two other S models. These were made specifically for circuit racing's "Under 1000cc" and "Under 1300cc" classes. The engines had displacements of 970cc and a 1275cc, respectively. The smaller-engine model was not well received, and only 963 were built when the model was discontinued in 1965. The 1275cc Cooper S model continued in production until 1971.
Mini Cooper In Competition
The Cooper S was very successful in competition. One of the better known race venues, the Monte Carlo Rally, was won by Mini's in 1964, 1965 and 1967. In 1966, first, second, and third-placed Minis were all disqualified after the finish, under a controversial decision that the cars headlights were against the rules.
Vintage Mini Identification
Enthusiasts and parts suppliers categorize classic Mini's as "Mark I" "Mark II" or "Mark III". This method is a convenient, but not an entirely accurate way of identifying variations of the original Mini car.
1st Series Mini (1959-1967)
In January 1962, the Austin Seven was renamed the Austin Mini. A new suspension design, called the Hydrolastic system, was seen on 1964 models. This created a softer ride, but was criticized for altering the handling of the car and also increasing cost.
One Million Mini's Produced
Up to this point, all models were equipped with a four-speed manual transmission. In 1965, an automatic transmission became optional on the standard Austin/Morris Mini and the Morris Mini SDL. Also this year, the one millionth Mini rolled off the production line.
Between 1960 and 1967, BMC exported about 10,000 left-hand drive BMC Minis to the United States.
2nd Series Mini (1967-1970)
A revamped Mini was launched at the 1967 British Motor Show, featuring a redesigned front grille and a larger rear window. In 1968, the manual four-speed gear-box now had synchromesh on all four forward ratios.
Original Mini production was in the United Kingdom, and also in Australia. The license for the Mini brand was also sold to Spanish and Italian companies. A variety of Mini models were also made in Pamplona, Spain, starting in 1968, by the Authi company. A total of 429,000 2nd series Minis were produced.
The Mini was withdrawn from the American market in 1968 because it could not meet newer U.S. safety regulations and emission standards.
3rd Series Mini (1969-1976)
The 3rd series Mini had several body modifications, including larger rear side windows and larger doors with concealed hinges. Sliding windows were replaced with roll-up windows. The Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969.
Starting in 1971, the original rubber suspension was back, and used until production's end. By 1973, alternators replaced generators on all Mini models.
Austin Mini/Rover Mini (1976-2000)
During the late 1970s and 1980s, new models were designed and released, largely playing on the original Cooper and Cooper S models. In 1980, it once again became the Austin Mini.
With competition from new, more modern mini cars, sales began to fall. 1981 was the original Mini's last year in the top-ten of Britain's top selling cars. In 1988, the Austin Mini became the Rover Mini.
Last Original Mini
After a four-decade run, the final original Mini, a red Cooper Sport, rolled off the production line at Longbridge in October 2000. Over 5 million classic Minis were sold during it's 41-year lifespan, making it the most popular British car ever produced.
In 1999, the Mini was voted second most influential car of the 20th century, behind Henry Ford's Model T.
Acquisition By BMW
BMW acquired Rover Group (formerly British Leyland) in 1994, selling most of it in 2000, but retaining the rights to build cars using the Mini name. In October of 1999, the concept for a new Mini was unveiled at the Paris Auto Show.
The BMW Mini was introduced in 2001. Compared to the original Mini, the new Mini is much larger, but when comparing the new Mini with other modern vehicles, it's still considered a compact car.
Much like the original VW Beetle, the classic Mini lends itself to having different parts added or swapped from different years and models. There are dozens of Mini-based kit cars from small companies and individual enthusiasts.
Because of this interchangeability of parts, it's "Buyer Beware" when looking to buy an classic Mini. A less desirable model can easily be made to look like a more valuable model. For instance, a Mk III automatic 1000 can be made to look like a more valuable Mk III Cooper S.
Mr. Bean Car
A 1976 British Leyland Mini 1000 was the star car in the 1990s British TV series "Mr Bean".