Mini turns 55 and 'blows the bloody candles out'
The Mini has turned 55. Yes, the cheeky little British automotive icon that transcended social barriers and came to represent the carefree 1960s has hit its mid 50s – and, just like Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, also born in 1959, seems to get better and cooler with age.
The first Mini rolled off the Longbridge factory floor and into the market on August 18 1959, even its genius designer Alec Issigonis couldn’t have predicted the car’s long-term success and appeal. Initially available as both the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven, the car quickly became a motoring, motorsport and movie icon.
Its appearance in the 1969 movie The Italian Job was probably the Mini’s most memorable of the thousands of film and TV cameos, sparked no doubt by the car’s success during the 1964, 1965 and 1967 Monte-Carlo Rallies in the hands of Paddy Hopkirk, Timo Makinen and Rauno Aaltonen. Much of the car’s success could be pinned down to its compact dimensions, staggeringly low curb weight and peppy engines.
The classic shape was produced under seven distinct model changes during its lifespan, and the last one rolled out of the same Longbridge plant in October 2000. Both the very first and the very last Minis are now on display at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, just south of Birmingham.
The marque’s resurgence under BMW in 1999 saw the entirely new Mini arrived in showrooms nine months later. Designed by American penman Frank Stephenson, the new car was much bigger than its predecessor but it was, without a doubt, a Mini.
Since then, the car has undergone three generational upgrades, including the one which was launched this year. The 2014 car is based on an entirely new BMW chassis and is even bigger, longer and wider than the one it replaces. It is 100 mm longer, 44 mm wider and 7 mm taller than the second generation Mini and uses the UKL platform which is also used in the upcoming Clubman, five-door Mini hatch and the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer – a front-wheel-drive hatch designed to go head-to-head with the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.