Classic Cars: MINI

Thursday July 11, 2013 Written by ben

The cars we love aren't always the fastest, the flashest or the most powerful. This new section nods to cars that have an effortless, timeless cool. We thought we'd start small. And they don't come smaller than this.

Necessity is the mother of invention – and the MINI. The 1956 Suez Crisis caused petrol rationing around the U.K. and hence a need for more economical cars. So the British Motor Corporation fast-tracked a project that had been in development and the MINI was born.

The brief from BMC was pretty tight; it needed to measure 10×4×4 feet (3x1.2x1.2 metres) and use an existing engine. Designer Sir Alec Issigonis came to the party, creating a transverse mounted four-speed front-wheel-drive that allowed 80 per cent of the car's floorplan to be used for passengers and luggage. There were a few other little tricks too: the suspension used rubber cones instead of springs.

Its size, coupled with the fact that the wheels were positioned at the corner of the car meant that MINI handled like a go-kart in the best of ways. Released as the Morris Minor and the Austin Seven in 1959, it wasn't an instant hit but its reputation grew steadily. 

Like all successful projects, MINI had spin-offs – a van, a pick-up and the wood-paneled wagon. The sportier MINI Cooper and Cooper 'S' were successful racing cars, taking out the fabled Monte Carlo Rally four times. Australia even got a local version, the Morris MINI K. (Apparently the K stood for Kangaroo.)

Despite being manufactured in Australia, South Africa and Italy, the MINI was quintessentially British. No other car would have been raced through train subways by Michael Cainegiven a psychedelic paint job by George Harrison or modelled by George Best. In fact, MINI's so British that the storage pockets in the doors were reportedly sized to fit a bottle of Gordon's Gin.

This all explains why the MINI has become one of the best-selling cars in British history. And also why it's made such an impressive comeback. The seventh model in the MINI family, the MINI Cooper S Paceman is out and about, with a twin scroll turbocharged engine. And although it's tempting – we don't recommended driving one into the Italian subway.

Mini are supporters of Smith Journal.