Mini History & Variants (1959-2000)
The Mini is a small economy car made by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s.Its space-saving front-wheel drive layout – allowing 80 per cent of the area of the car's floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage – influenced a generation of car makers. The vehicle is in some ways considered the British equivalent of its German contemporary the Volkswagen Beetle, which enjoyed similar popularity in North America. In 1999 the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T.
This distinctive two-door car was designed for BMC by Sir Alec Issigonis. It was manufactured at the Longbridge and Cowley plants in England, the Victoria Park / Zetland British Motor Corporation (Australia) factory in Sydney, Australia, and later also in Spain (Authi), Belgium, Chile, Italy (Innocenti), Malta, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates – the Mark II, the Clubman and the Mark III. Within these was a series of variations, including an estate car, a pick-up truck, a van and the Mini Moke – a jeep-like buggy. The Mini Cooper and Cooper "S" were sportier versions that were successful as rally cars, winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times from 1964 through to 1967, although in 1966 the Mini was disqualified after the finish, along with six other British entrants, which included the first four cars to finish, under a questionable ruling that the cars had used an illegal combination of headlamps and spotlights.
On introduction in August 1959 the Mini was marketed under the Austin and Morris names, as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. The Austin Seven was renamed to Austin Mini in January 1962 and Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969. In 1980 it once again became the Austin Mini and in 1988 the Rover Mini.
Designated by Leonard Lord as project ADO15 (Amalgamated Drawing Office project number 15) and the product of the Morris design team, the Mini came about because of a fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Petrol was once again rationed in the UK, sales of large cars slumped, and the market for German bubble cars boomed. Lord, the somewhat autocratic head of BMC, reportedly detested these cars so much that he vowed to rid the streets of them and design a 'proper miniature car'. He laid down some basic design requirements: the car should be contained within a box that measured 10×4×4 feet (3.0×1.2×1.2 m); and the passenger accommodation should occupy 6 feet (1.8 m) of the 10-foot (3.0 m) length; and the engine, for reasons of cost, should be an existing unit. Issigonis, who had been working for Alvis, had been recruited back to BMC in 1955 and, with his skills in designing small cars, was a natural for the task. The team that designed the Mini was remarkably small: as well as Issigonis, there was Jack Daniels (who had worked with him on the Morris Minor), Chris Kingham (who had been with him at Alvis), two engineering students and four draughtsmen. Together, by October 1957, they had designed and built the original prototype, which was affectionately named "The Orange Box" because of its colour.
The ADO15 used a conventional BMC A-Series four-cylinder, water-cooled engine, but departed from tradition by mounting it transversely, with the engine-oil-lubricated, four-speed transmission in the sump, and by employing front-wheel drive. Almost all small front-wheel-drive cars developed since have used a similar configuration, except with the transmission usually separately enclosed rather than using the engine oil. The radiator was mounted at the left side of the car so that the engine-mounted fan could be retained, but with reversed pitch so that it blew air into the natural low pressure area under the front wing. This location saved vehicle length, but had the disadvantage of feeding the radiator with air that had been heated by passing over the engine. It also exposed the entire ignition system to the direct ingress of rainwater through the grille.
The suspension system, designed by Issigonis's friend Dr. Alex Moulton at Moulton Developments Limited, used compact rubber cones instead of conventional springs. This space-saving design also featured rising progressive-rate springing of the cones, and provided some natural damping, in addition to the normal dampers. Built into the subframes, the rubber cone system gave a raw and bumpy ride accentuated by the woven-webbing seats, but the rigidity of the rubber cones, together with the wheels' positioning at the corners of the car, gave the Mini go kart-like handling.
Initially an interconnected fluid system was planned, similar to the one that Alec Issigonis and Alex Moulton were working on in the mid-1950s at Alvis. They had assessed the mechanically interconnected Citroën 2CV suspension at that time (according to an interview by Moulton with Car Magazine in the late 1990s), which inspired the design of the Hydrolastic suspension system for the Mini and Morris/Austin 1100, to try to keep the benefits of the 2CV system (ride comfort, body levelling, keeping the roadwheel under good control and the tyre in contact with the road), but with added roll stiffness that the 2CV lacked. The short development time of the car meant this was not ready in time for the Mini's launch. The system intended for the Mini was further developed and the hydrolastic system was first used on the Morris 1100, launched in 1962; the Mini gained the system later in 1964. Ten-inch (254 mm) wheels were specified, so new tyres had to be developed, the initial contract going to Dunlop. Issigonis went to Dunlop stating that he wanted even smaller, 8 in (203 mm) wheels (even though he had already settled on ten-inch). An agreement was made on the ten-inch size, after Dunlop rejected the eight-inch (203 mm) proposition.
Sliding windows allowed storage pockets in the hollow doors; reportedly Issigonis sized them to fit a bottle of Gordon's Gin. The boot lid was hinged at the bottom so that the car could be driven with it open to increase luggage space. On early cars the number plate was hinged at the top so that it could swing down to remain visible when the boot lid was open. This feature was later discontinued after it was discovered that exhaust gases could leak into the cockpit when the boot was open.
The Mini was designed as a monocoque shell with welded seams visible on the outside of the car running down the A and C pillars, and between the body and the floor pan. Those that ran from the base of the A-pillar to the wheel well were described as 'everted' (lit., 'turned outward') to provide more room for the front seat occupants. To further simplify construction, the hinges for the doors and boot lid were mounted externally.
Production models differed from the prototypes by the addition of front and rear subframes to the unibody to take the suspension loads, and by having the engine mounted the other way round, with the carburettor at the back rather than at the front. This layout required an extra gear between engine and transmission to reverse the direction of rotation at the input to the transmission. Having the carburettor behind the engine reduced carburettor icing, but the distributor was then exposed to water coming in through the grille. The engine size was reduced from 948 to 848 cc (57.9 to 51.7 cu in); this, in conjunction with a small increase in the car's width, cut the top speed from 90 mph (140 km/h) to 72 mph (116 km/h).
The Mini shape had become so well known that by the 1990s, Rover Group – the heirs to BMC – were able to register its design as a trademark in its own right.
The popularity of the original Mini spawned many models that targeted different markets.
Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf (1961–1969)
Built as more luxurious versions of the Mini, both the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf had longer, slightly finned rear wings and larger boots that gave the cars a more traditional three-box design. Wheelbase of the Elf and Hornet remained at 2.036 m (6.68 ft), whereas the overall length was increased to 3.27 m (10.7 ft). This resulted in a dry weight of 638 kg (1,407 lb)/642.3 kg (1,416 lb) (rubber/hydrolastic suspension) for the Elf and 618 kg (1,362 lb)/636.4 kg (1,403 lb) for the Hornet respectively. Front-end treatment, which incorporated each marque's traditional upright grille design (the Hornet's grille with a lit "Wolseley" badge), also contributed to a less utilitarian appearance. The cars had larger-diameter chrome hubcaps than the Austin and Morris Minis, and additional chrome accents, bumper overriders and wood-veneer dashboards. The Riley was the more expensive of the two cars. The name "Wolseley Hornet" was first used on a 1930s sports car, while the name "Elf" recalled the Riley Sprite and Imp sports cars, also of the 1930s. The full-width dashboard was a differentiator between the Elf and Hornet. This dashboard was the idea of Christopher Milner the Sales Manager for Riley. Both the Riley Elf's and Wolseley Hornet's bodies were built at Fisher & Ludlow under their "Fisholow" brandname. Plates in the engine compartment on the right side fitch plate bear evidence of this speciality. Very early Mark I versions of both cars (e.g. press photo of 445MWL) had no overriders on the bumpers and a single piece front wing (A-panel and wing in one piece, no outside seam below scuttle panel) that was soon given up again, allegedly due to cost. The Elf's and Hornet's special bumper overriders first appeared in 1962. Early production Mark Is also had a combination of leather and cloth seats (Elf R-A2S1-101 to FR2333, Hornet W-A2S1-101 to FW2105) whereas all later models had full leather seats. Mark I models were equipped with single leading shoe brakes on the front.
Both the Elf and the Hornet went through three versions. Initially, they used the 848 cc (51.7 cu in) 34 bhp (25 kW) engine (engine type 8WR) with a single HS2 carburettor, changing to a single HS2 carburettor 38 bhp (28 kW) version of the Cooper's 998 cc (60.9 cu in) power unit (engine type 9WR) in the Mark II in 1963. This increased the car's top speed from 71 to 77 mph (114 to 124 km/h) . Therefore, Mark II cars also came with increased braking power in the form of front drum brakes with twin leading shoes to cope with the increased power output. Both Mark I and Mark II featured four-speed, gearboxes (three synchromesh gears) with rod gear change, a.k.a. "magic wand" type. Automatic gearboxes became available on the Mark II in 1965 as an option. The Mark III facelift of 1966 brought not only wind-up windows and fresh-air facia vents, but disc brakes replaced front drum brakes, too. Concealed door hinges were introduced two years before these were seen on the mainstream Mini. The gear selecting mechanism was updated to the rod type, as seen on all later Mini type cars. Automatic gearboxes were available to the Mark III in 1967 again. Full-four synchromesh gearing was eventually introduced during 1968. 30,912 Riley Elfs and 28,455 Wolseley Hornets were built. Production ceased in late 1969 when British Leyland discontinued the Riley and Wolseley brand names.
Vehicle Identification – Serial Number Prefix Letter Code:
- First prefix letter – name: R-Riley, W-Wolseley
- Second prefix letter – engine type: A
- Third prefix letter – body type: 2S – 2-door Saloon
- Fourth prefix – series of model: 1 – 1st series, 2 – 2nd series, 3 – 3rd series
- Fifth prefix (used to denote cars different to standard right hand drive): L – left hand drive
Code example: R-A2S1-154321 (Riley, A type engine, 2 door saloon, 1st series, serial number "154321")
Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Mini Countryman (1961–1969)
Two-door estate cars with double "barn"-style rear doors. Both were built on a slightly longer chassis of 84 inch (2.14 m) compared to 80.25 inch (2.04 m) for the saloon.
The luxury models had decorative, non-structural wood inserts in the rear body which gave the car a similar appearance to the larger Morris Minor Traveller which had some of the look of an American-style 1950s Woodie. Approximately 108,000 Austin Mini Countrymen and 99,000 Morris Mini Travellers were built.
Mini Van (1960–1982)
A commercial panel van (in US English, a sedan delivery) rated at ¼-ton load capacity. Built on the longer Traveller chassis but without side windows, it proved popular in 1960s Britain as a cheaper alternative to the car: it was classed as a commercial vehicle and as such carried no sales tax. A set of simple stamped steel slots served in place of a more costly chrome grille. The Mini Van was renamed as the Mini 95 in 1978, the number representing the gross vehicle weight of 0.95 tons. 521,494 were built.
Mini Moke (1964–1989)
A utility vehicle intended for the British Army was built with a twin-engined 4-wheel-drive. Although the 4WD Moke could climb a 1:2 gradient, it lacked enough ground clearance for military use. The single-engined front-wheel-drive Moke enjoyed some popularity in civilian production. About 50,000 were made in total, from 1964 to 1968 in the UK, 1966 to 1982 in Australia and 1983 to 1989 in Portugal.The Moke was marketed in holiday locations such as Barbados and Macau, where they were also used as police cars. "Moke" is archaic British slang for a donkey.
Mini Pick-up (1961–1982)
A pick-up truck (technically a coupé utility by definition), 11 ft (3.4 m) in total length was built on the longer Mini Van platform, with an open-top rear cargo area and a tailgate. The factory specified the weight of the Pick-up as less than 1,500 lb (680 kg) with a full 6 imperial gallons (27 l; 7.2 US gal) tank of fuel.
As with the Van, the Pick-up had stamped metal slots for airflow into the engine compartment. The Pickup was basic, although the factory brochure described a "fully equipped Mini Pick-up is also available which includes a recirculatory heater." Passenger-side sun visor, seat belts, laminated windscreen, tilt tubes and cover were also available at extra cost. Like the van, the Pick-up was renamed as the Mini 95 in 1978.
A total of 58,179 Mini Pick-up models were built.
Morris Mini K (March 1969 – August 1971) , Australia
Built in the Australian British Motor Corporation factory at Zetland, New South Wales, using 80% local content, the Morris Mini K was advertised as the "great leap forward". The Mini K ('K' standing for Kangaroo) had a 1098 cc engine and was the last round-nose model to be produced in Australia, originally priced at A$1780. The Mini K was offered in 2-door sedan and 2-door van body styles.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the British market received numerous "special editions" of the Mini, which shifted the car from a mass-market item into a fashionable icon. It was this image that perhaps helped the Mini become such an asset for BMW, which later bought the remnants of BMC as the Rover Group. It was even more popular in Japan, which took the lion's share of the circa 40,000 Minis produced annually in the early 1990s. It was seen there as a retro-cool icon, and inspired many imitators. The ERA Mini Turbo was particularly popular with Japanese buyers.
In 1994, under Bernd Pischetsrieder, a first cousin once removed of Issigonis, BMW took control of the Rover Group, which included the Mini, fitting an airbag to comply with European legislation.
By March 2000, Rover was still suffering massive losses, and BMW decided to dispose of most of the companies. The sell-off was completed in May that year. MG and Rover went to Phoenix, a new British consortium; and Land Rover was sold to Ford Motor Company. BMW retained the Mini name and the planned new model, granting Rover temporary rights to the brand and allowing it to manufacture and sell the run-out model of the old Mini. By April 2000, the range consisted of four versions: the Mini Classic Seven, the Mini Classic Cooper, the Mini Classic Cooper Sport and—for overseas European markets—the Mini Knightsbridge. The last Mini (a red Cooper Sport) was built on 4 October 2000 and presented to the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust in December of that year. A total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.
After the last of the Mini production had been sold, the 'Mini' name reverted to BMW ownership. The new BMW Mini is technically unrelated to the old car but retains the classic transverse four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive configuration and iconic "bulldog" stance of the original.
The last Mini to leave the Longbridge plant did so in 2012, when a 1970s 1275GT which was used by staff to travel around the car plant was recovered from the disused tunnels under the plant. The car was damaged by a storage container falling on it and had been left without an engine or gearbox for around 30 years before being recovered during work to infill the tunnels. This car was sold at auction in July 2013 for £1400.
- August 1959: Introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848 cc engine and 4-speed manual gearbox.
- 1960: Introduction of the Austin Seven Countryman and Morris Mini-Minor Traveller 3-door estates, both with 848 cc engine from the saloon models. 116,667 cars built in the first full year of production.
- 1961: Introduction of the Austin Seven Super and Morris Mini-Minor Super 2-door saloons.
- 1961: Introduction of the Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper 2-door saloon, both with larger 997 cc 55 bhp (41 kW) engine.
- January 1962: All former Austin Seven models now officially called Austin Mini.
- March 1962: pvc seat covers replaced cloth upholstery on entry level model ("basic Mini").
- 1962: "De Luxe" and "Super" designations discontinued. "Super de Luxe" designation introduced. Modified instrument panel now included oil pressure and water temperature gauges.
- March 1963: Introduction of the Austin Mini Cooper 1071 S and Morris Mini Cooper 1071 S 2-door saloons, both with larger 1071 cc 70 bhp (52 kW) engine.
- 1964: Introduction of the Mini Moke.
- April 1964: Introduction of the Austin and Morris Mini-Cooper 998, Mini-Cooper 970 S and Mini-Cooper 1275 S. 1275 S models have 1275 cc 76 bhp (57 kW) engine. Automatic transmission available as an option for the 998 cc Austin Mini-Cooper 998 and 1275 S. Previous Mini-Cooper 997 and 1071 S models dropped.
- 1965: Mini Cooper 970 S discontinued.
- October 1965: Automatic transmission now available as an option on standard Austin/Morris Mini and Morris Mini SDL.
- October 1967: Mark 2 range launched with facelift and upgraded equipment. Austin Mini range as follows: 850, 1000, Cooper 998 and Cooper 1275 S 2-door saloons and 1000 Countryman 3-door estate. Morris Mini range as follows: 850, 850 SDL, 1000 SDL, Cooper 998 and Cooper 1275 S 2-door saloons and 1000 Traveller 3-door estate. Optional automatic transmission available on all Austin models (except 850) and Morris Mini 1000 SDL saloon.
- September 1968: Manual four speed gear box with synchromesh on all four forward ratios introduced.
- March 1969: Launch of the Morris Mini K an Australian-only model manufactured in the Australian British Motor Corporation factory at Zetland NSW using 80% local content
- October 1969: Separate Austin and Morris badging now merged into Mini 850/Mini 1000 badging. Range reduced to: 850, 1000, Clubman, Cooper S and 1275 GT 2-door saloon and Clubman 3-door estate. Optional automatic transmission available on all except 1275 GT.
- April 1974: A heater became standard equipment on the entry level Mini 850 (having now already been included in the standard specification of the other models for some time).
- 1980: The Mini becomes the Austin Mini.
- 1988: The Austin Mini becomes the Rover Mini.
From the Mark IV onward, many special limited-production editions of the Mini were offered. These included models that were created to commemorate racing victories or to celebrate an anniversary of the Mini marque. Limited editions generally came equipped with a unique combination of interior and exterior trim and special decals. Examples include Mini 1100 Special, Mini Rio, Mini Mayfair, Mini Park Lane, Mini Italian Job, Mini Cooper RSP, Mini Flame, Mini Red Hot, Mini Jet Black, Mini Racing and the Mini Monza.
Concepts and unproduced prototypes
From 1967 to 1979, Issigonis had been designing a replacement for the Mini in the form of an experimental model called the 9X. It was longer and more powerful than the Mini, but due to politicking inside British Leyland (which had now been formed by the merger of BMC's parent company British Motor Holdings and the Leyland Motor Corporation), the car did not reach production.
A number of prototypes produced for vehicles based on the Mini but which never saw production are held and sometimes displayed at the British Heritage Motor Centre museum at Gaydon, Warwickshire. These included the Twini, a re-engineered four-wheel-drive Moke with two engines—one at the front and another at the back; the Austin Ant, a second attempt to produce a four-wheel-drive vehicle, this time using a transfer case; and a two-seater convertible MG edition of the Mini, cancelled due to it being perceived as competition for the MG Midget.
In 1992, a project considering possible improvements to the Mini was started. Codenamed Minki ("Mini" plus K-Series engine), it included a redesigned dashboard, a two-piece rear door or tailgate instead of a boot, fold down rear seats, Hydragas suspension and a 3-cylinder version of the K-Series engine with a 5-speed gearbox.
However, the project was cancelled by management within Rover, who decided that the cost of engineering the changes, and achieving compliance with modern crash testing standards, was too great for the production volumes that could be expected of an updated Mini.
In 1995 the idea to update the Mini again surfaced but this time with BMW management. As part of the process of deciding how to replace the Mini, a vehicle representing what the current Mini could have become, if it had been developed further over its production history, was commissioned. This resulted in the Minki-II, designed to house the 1.4L MPI K-Series engine with an extensive redesign inside, but without the original Minki's tailgate. The car had to be widened by 50mm and lengthened by 50mm to accommodate the new engine and gearbox, with Hydragas suspension and dashboard from a Rover 100. The Minki-II was used for Hydragas development work, this suspension being considered at the time for the R59 project, later to become the Mini Hatch.