The Mini was a very slight, economical automobile that was produced by the British Motor Corporation. BMC and its successors manufactured the Mini from 1959 until 2000. The original Mini is a British icon of the 1960s. The original Mini featured a front-wheel-drive design that saved space, allowing eighty percent of the car’s floor space to be used for cargo and passengers. This design influenced an entire generation of automobile manufacturers.
The two-door Mini was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, and was manufactured in England, Australia, and later in Belgium, Italy, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Malta, South Africa, Uruguay, Yugoslavia, and Venezuela. There were several updates and variations on the original Mini, including a pickup truck, an estate car, a van, and the Mini Moke, which was similar to a Jeep. Among the different versions of the Mini were the sportier variations: The Cooper S and the Mini Cooper.
When the Mini was first introduced in August of 1959, it was promoted under the names Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. The Austin Seven was renamed to the Austin Mini for 1962.
The original Mini was equipped with a British Motor Corporation A-Series four-cylinder water-cooled engine. Since the Mini was a front-wheel-drive car, the engine placement departed from convention and was mounted transversely. The four-speed transmission was in the oil pan, lubricated by the engine oil. Nearly every small front-whee-drive car that has been manufactured since has used a very similar arrangement except that the transmission is in a separate enclosure and uses it’s own lubrication oil.
Sir Alec Issigonis had an associate by the name of John Cooper who owned the Cooper Car Company. Cooper designed and built Formula One and rally race cars. Cooper saw potential for the Mini as a competitive racing car. Initially, Issigonis refused to place the Mini into the role of a performance car. Cooper appealed to the management of the British Motor Corporation, and subsequently won his appeal. Issigonis and Cooper joined forces and the result was the Mini Cooper. The Morris Mini Cooper and the Austin Mini Cooper made their debut in 1961.
The original Morris Mini-Minor boasted am 848 cubic centimeter engine. This engine was given a longer stroke to increase its capacity to 997 cubic centimeters. This boosted the horsepower from 34 to 55. The car also featured a gearbox with a closer ratio, a racing tuned engine, front disc brakes, and twin Skinners Union carburetors (a sidedraught constant depression type carburetor). One thousand of these Mini Coopers were built to race in Group 2 rally racing. Rhodesian rally driver John Love was the first non-British driver to win the British Saloon Car Championship driving a Mini Cooper in 1962.
The Mini Cooper S was a more powerful version that was released in 1963. The Mini Cooper S boasted a 1071 cubic centimeter engine with a bore of 70.61 millimeters. It also had a nitride steel crank shaft and a strengthened bottom end. These advances allowed further tuning. The car also had servo-assisted disc brakes. There were 4030 Mini Cooper S cars built before the model was updated in August of 1964. There were two Mini Cooper S models that were built specifically for circuit racing. The smaller 970 cubic centimeter model was for the under 1000 cubic centimeter class, and the larger 1275 cubic centimeter model was designed for the under 1300 cubic centimeter class. Both of these models were also made available to the general public, but the model with the smaller engine wasn’t very popular and was soon discontinued. The 1275 cubic centimeter model was produced until 1971.
The Mini Cooper S was a successful rally racing car, winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, and 1967. The Mini Cooper S also finished first, second, and third in the 1966 rally, but they were disqualified by French judges for a variable resistance headlight dimming circuit in place of the dual filament lamps. The Citroen DS that was given the win in 1966 competed with illegal white headlights but was not disqualified. Pauli Toivonen, the driver of the Citroen, reluctantly accepted the trophy but vowed that he would never drive for Citroen again. The British Motor Corporation received significant publicity for the controversial disqualification.
The very last Mini, a red Cooper Sport, was built on October 4, 2000. It was presented to the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust in December of 2000. After all of the remaining Minis had been sold, the name ‘Mini’ reverted to the ownership of BMW. The BMW Mini is technically unrelated to the original BMC Mini but does have the front-wheel-drive, transverse mounted four-cylinder engine, and the “bulldog” stance of the original Mini.