The MINI. It’s unlikely that there exists another vehicle of such universal recognition and popularity, yet with such an obscure, relatively-unknown history behind it. From whence did it come? Under what auspices did the first real MINIs appear? Who exactly makes the MINI? These are important questions and their answers lie in understanding the engaging, 60-year of backstory that underpins the car we know and love today. Read on and learn how the MINI’s winning combination of ingenuity and adaptation have ensured the longevity of a brand that lists the likes of George Harrison, Enzo Ferrari and (most famously) Mr. Bean, among its delighted customers.
Meet your MINI-maker
The beginnings of MINI take us to Surrey, England, and the birth of John Cooper, in 1923. An inquisitive, handy lad, John was familiar with automotive mechanics from an early age, helping to produce single-seat, one-off rally racers with his father. Suffering under an extreme fuel shortage brought on by the 1956 Suez Crisis, the father and son Cooper bucked the post-war trend favouring large, imposing vehicles and commissioned designer Alec Issigonis to produce a highly compact car using John’s innovative, space-saving, rear engine chassis.
Produced from a hastily-drawn prototype design sketched on a napkin, the vehicle that resulted from Cooper and Issigonis’ collaboration was to become an absolute game-changer. The car was completely successful, offering a fast, agile, compact, affordable option to English drivers, and went on to claim the coveted top prize at the 1964,’65 and ’67 editions of the renowned Monte Carlo Rally.
The Morris MINI
The 1960’s saw the debut of Cooper’s MINI and its variations under the auspices of the Morris badge. The years spanning from 1960 to 1969 witnessed production not only of the famous Austin MINI Cooper, but of the short-lived Morris MINI-Van, MINI-Traveller, and the utterly adorable 850 Pick-up, as well. A clash of vision between Cooper and Issigonis led the former to partner with machinist George Harriman in pursuit of a shared dream for the car to continue its development as a competitive racer.
Growing-up under British Leyland
In 1969, MINI came under the ownership of British Leyland and underwent a serious revamping. A newly designed radiator grille (which featured its own Clubman badge) now spanned the entire width of the car’s front end and was flanked by chrome-surround headlights. The redesign was intended to project a safer, more “grown-up” look. Appropriate, since the vehicle itself actually had grown: at 3.17 metres, the Clubman was roughly 12 cm longer than its predecessor. The interior had also undergone some pretty innovative changes, specifically to the dashboard which saw the replacement of the speedometer by two round instruments directly behind the steering wheel – and thus directly in front of the driver.
The 1970’s saw further expansion of the brand’s universe with the production of the Clubman Estate (1975-80) and the 850 Mark IV (1977-2000). Breaking new ground in 1978, the car became one of the first vehicles in the UK made available to disabled motorists through that country’s Motability scheme, greatly increasing personal independence and accessibility of transportation for many. With its revolutionary combination of agility, utility and a compact size, the MINI and its variants (under British Leyland) grew to span wide, diverse markets and attracted consumers from a range of demographics.
1994-present: BMW Group takes the reigns
BMW acquired the MINI brand in 1994 as part of larger deal under which the German automaker purchased Rover Group from British Aerospace. An extensive redesign effort was undertaken in 1998 as part of BMW’s mission to put the next generation of MINIs into production. In October 2000, the final original two-door MINI to be produced (the 5,387,862nd, to be precise) rolled off the production line at MINI’s Longbridge production facility, giving way to a new wave of BMW-created Hatch/Hardtop models that went on sale the following year, to immediate success. After years of largely decentralized, international production, BMW’s decision to return production of MINI’s engines to the UK was akin to a homecoming for the brand; the MINI was, once again, essentially British-built.
Keeping calm, carrying on
Despite changing hands a few times over the last 60-or-so years, MINI remains a brand with strong appeal and relevance for consumers. Under the auspices of BMW, it continues to play a defining role in the automobile market of the 21st century, epitomizing style, functionality, and practicality in the small-car market. Since 2001, our brand has grown to include the reinvented Clubman, the larger, five-door Countryman crossover (and its smaller three-door cousin, the Paceman), and the sporty Coupe/Roadster. Performance and quality are front of mind at MINI Edmonton, and we’re eager for you to discover how MINI’s decades of tradition and innovation are continuing to define today’s small-car market. Drop in or book a test drive and get acquainted with the diminutive dynamo that’s been keeping calm and carrying on longer than any of its competitors!