Traction Engine Club of Ulster Ltd

The Mini @ 60

To celebrate Sixty Years of the Mini, the Mini Club are bringing a selection of Minis and Mini Derivatives to the show

In the mid 1950s the British Motor Corporation, as Britain’s largest car manufacturer, became very concerned at the increasing number of foreign mage small cars on British roads so it commissioned it’s chief design engineer to build a small car to compete with these imports.

Alec Issigonnis and his team set out to build a car that would comfortably carry four adults and their luggage using the least possible road space.

This was achieved by placing each of the four wheels in a corner of the car’s body with the BMC 848cc A series engine mounted transversely (across the car) to drive the front wheels. This also gave the car nippy performance and great handling.

The resulting Austin Seven/Morris Mini Minor was launched to great acclaim in late August 1959 and would go on to win a place in the hearts of anyone who would own or drive one over the next sixty years!

Over the next two years the Mini range would with useful van, pick up and estate models, plus the upmarket luxurious Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet.

Issigonnis had designed the Mini as an everyday transport for people needing a low cost, economical small car, but one man saw its potential as a small sports saloon car.

John Cooper was a race car builder that used modified versions of the Mini’s A series engine to power his championship winning racing cars. After demonstrating a modified Mini to BMC management they decided to put it into production and so the Mini Cooper was born!

The Mini Cooper was an immediate success with the public from its launch in September 1961 until UK production ceased in 1971 with the Mark 3S model.

The Mini Cooper was incredibly successful in Motorsport winning races and rallies across Britain and Europe, often beating bigger, more powerful rivals. It became a legend when Ulsterman, Paddy Hopkirk drove a 1275cc Cooper S to victory in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. A 1275cc Cooper S also won the event in 1965, 1966 & 1967, although the 1966 car was later (controversially) disqualified!

As the 1960s progressed so too did the popularity of the Mini at home and abroad. To cope with the demand BMC built Minis at its factories and partner companies around the world in countries such as Ireland, Italy, Chile, South Africa and Australia.

The British Motor Corporation merged with Leyland Motors in 1967 to become British Leyland Motor Corporation. The new company set about introducing new vehicles and withdrawing older vehicles with declining sales. For the Mini this meant the end of the poor selling Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet in 1969.

To replace them, the Mini Clubman range was introduced featuring revised frontal styling with the distinctive squared grille, wings and bonnet. There were changes to the interior with new seats and dashboard to make the cat more modern and upmarket.

The Clubman was available as a saloon or estate. A sports version of the saloon, the 1275GT would replace the Mini Cooper in the UK  as BLMC bosses had decided to end the Cooper partnership.

Mini sales remained healthy throughout the 1970s until BLMC introduced its new Austin Mini Metro at the end of 1979. As Metro sales grew and Mini sales declined the Mini range was reduced and in summer 1980 the Clubman saloons were discontinued with the estate continuing until 1982.The van and pick up continued until 1983.

Throughout the 1980 two Mini saloon models were available, the basic City and the better equipped Mayfair to satisfy the steady demand for Minis both at home and abroad.

To mark the little car’s twentieth birthday a Special Edition Mini was offered and based on its success a special edition Mini, usually around 1000 cars with unique paint colour and interior trim combinations were produced every year until the end of production.

BLMC became Austin Rover Group in 1982, morphing into Rover Group in 1987. In 1990 Rover Group delighted many car enthusiasts, and of course boosting Mini sales, by reintroducing the Mini Cooper with the 1275cc engine of course!

In 1994 the Rover Group was bought by BMW of Germany. The new management embarked on a project to design and engineer a Mini for the Millennium. This new Mini would be launched in 2001 with the end of the “classic” Mini production ending in 2000.

BMW divested Rover in a management buyout in 1999 but MG Rover as the new company was now called would continue Mini production and sales until the end of manufacture in 2000.

Austin Rover had intended to end Mini production in 1986, however steady sales and the fact that the Mini was making a profit kept production going.

Sadly the end of production occurred on the 4th October 2000 when a red Mini Cooper Sport became the last Mini to be made after 41 years and almost 5.4 million cars produced.

Given the availability of parts, including new body shells, that are available to repair and restore Minis, coupled with the car’s fanatical devotees all over the world, the story of the Classic Mini is far from over.

Allan Elder © 2019

David Heatley updated 08/05/2019