Sixty years after its launch, the Mini Cooper is still a polarizing little car: most people either really love it or somehow hate it. Many Americans were unfamiliar with MINI until its American launch by BMW in 2002 even though the car had been a pop culture icon in England since the 60’s. Whether you love or loathe it, whether you are a long-time MINI fan or just getting acquainted with its pint-sized charms, keep reading to learn how this cult classic came to be.
The original Mini was a result of a design challenge in from Sir Leonard Lord, owner of the Morris Company, to his top engineer, a man named Alec Issigonis, in 1957. After World War II, the English motor industry was facing a dilemma that may sound familiar to Americans today: cars had gotten large and fuel prices had gone way up. Issigonis worked with a small team of engineers to develop a solution. The MINI answered a call to create a fuel efficient car that was affordable for the masses.
The original 1959 model https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mini#/media/File%3AAustin_7_Mini_1959.jpg
The MINI was launched in 1959 (the Cooper surname would come about later) with innovations that have had a lasting effect on automobile design to this day. In order to make more passenger room, the wheels were moved to the extreme corners of the frame. Also, the engine was rotated 90 degrees (called a transverse engine) which distributed the weight more evenly above the wheels and increased stability. The combination of these practical design changeshad the added benefit of improving handling which has led to the Mini’s reputation as an exceptionally nimble car.
Transversely mounted engine in a MINI https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transverse_engine
Economical and stylish, the MINI took off. It’s British looks, affordability, and promise of fun, freedom, and adventure earned the car a cult following and made it an icon and symbol of the changing times. The Volkswagen Beetle found a similar audience when it made it’s way to American shores at around the same time. From celebrities to students, workers to politicians, the MINI drew fans from all walks of life. Enzo Ferrari himself, founder of the famous Italian luxury sports car brand, even owned a MINI.
The 1964 Morris MinI Cooper S https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mini#/media/File%3AMini_Cooper_S_1964_3.jpg
The MINI got an upgrade at the hands of John Cooper of the Cooper Car Company, which is how we get the familiar name. John Cooper was a British rally car racing legend. To Issigonis’ design, he added a more powerful engine, larger brakes, and sport-tuning which transformed the humble MINI into the MINI Cooper in 1961. The sportier version of the spunky little sedan became know for leaving its oversized competition in the dust. Among its numerous race wins, the MINI Cooper won the famous Monte Carlo Rally three times between 1964 and 1967. The increasing popularity and many trips to the winners’ circle gained the car more popular attention and a herd of MINI Coopers featured heavily in the 1967 British heist film “The Italian Job”. A remake of the film in 2003 helped to familiarize a modern American audience with the new MINI Cooper, released stateside by BMW in 2002.
The modern MINI clearly shares many traits with it’s classic predecessors. The 2019 model even has optional Union Jack taillights. Indeed the vast number of customization options helps to maintain the car’s fun and friendly personality. The MINI Motorsports Team keeps the racing legacy alive with souped up performance models competing all over the world. Today, under the direction of BMW motors, the product line has been expanded to include convertibles, a hybrid model, and even MINIs with seating for 5 adults. Plans for an all-electric model are in the works. Sixty years after the launch of an icon, the marque is still going strong.
The MINI Cooper Clubman with seating for 5 https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/BMW_Mini#/media/File%3AMini_Cooper_D_Clubman_(F54)_–_Frontansicht%2C_6._März_2016%2C_Düsseldorf.jpg
In 1999 the MINI was almost named the global Car of the Century (it got second place behind the Ford Model T).It’s original designer, Alec Issigonis was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1967 for his contributions to British car design. Through many years and under many names and under many owners, the MINI has already had several forms. Variations have included pick up trucks, jeeps, and even the MINI van. Withit’s distinct personality, worldclass pedigree, and popular appeal, we can only wait and see what the future holds for the beloved MINI.