Sir Alec Issigonis’s concept of a small front-engined front wheel-driven car has touched 50. The half centurion has left behind such an indelible mark on the pages of automobile history books that its influence on the modern day small car just can’t be ignored. The Mini, that first revealed itself to the world on August 26, 1959, by the British Motor Corporation (BMC), was a compact car with a kerb weight of under 650 kg and an engine measuring only 850cc. With a modest power figure, the Mini with its cute looks and pretty good handling became an instant success.
So successful, in fact, that it became the preferred mode of transport for celebrities like Enzo Ferrari (who owned two), Paul McCartney, Steve McQueen, Spike Milligan, Aga Khan and several other rock stars and fashion designers.
It also became the central character in popular films like The Italian Job and The Bourne Identity among others.
The car itself spawned several variants like the Mini Moke styled to look like a dune buggy, the fast and fun-filled Mini Cooper and John Cooper Works, the Clubman estate and several other variants that expanded the Mini franchise even beyond the Pond. Despite severe parent troubles in its life, the Mini always tended to stay ahead of problems and won hearts. Then, in the mid- nineties, as BMW picked up Rover, the car got a new lease of life as the German automaker prepared plans for its revival. The revived Mini that was launched at the turn of the century proved to be an instant success, with the American market lapping it up like it was a clearance sale.
The Mini’s identity of it being a lightweight hatch changed to one that was heavier and bigger. Styling was modern but it still looked good. The second generation of the new Mini that now rolls out of its factories in Great Britain, too, has proven to be a success, albeit a modest one in comparison to its predecessor. To celebrate the success of the Mini over the last 50 years as an engineering and design feat, over 25,000 enthusiasts turned up at Silverstone, from 40 countries, in over 10,000 Minis from different eras. Mary Quant, the 75-year old designer famous for the mini-skirt, revealed at the event that the name was indeed derived from the much-loved car. Indeed, a fitting tribute to a car that came about to beat the Suez Canal fuel crisis of 1956.