It was 50 years ago today, May 8, 1959 that you were born to your proud parents the British Motor Company (BMC) and Sir Alec Issigonis. You’ve come a long way since then, Mini. You’ve accomplished things that no one ever imagined you could. We’re quite proud of you.
You were developed in response to a fuel shortage in the United Kingdom; designed to be as small, practical and fuel efficient as possible. You were originally powered by a tiny, 898cc BMC A-Series water-cooled four-cylinder engine mounted transversely, driving your front wheels. Your suspension system utilized small rubber cones in place of coil springs which made you handle, famously, like a slightly larger go-kart (only slightly). You were released fifty years ago today and you became an instant hit.
Stories of your handling prowess attracted a manufacturer of Formula 1 cars, John Cooper. With the blessing of the BMC and the help of your pappy, Sir Alec, you were developed into a contender and named ‘Mini Cooper.’ Your Cooper iteration debuted in 1961 with a larger engine (997cc) with twin carburetors, disc brakes out front and a revised gearbox that featured closer gears for increased acceleration. An even more beefed up version of you hit the scene in 1963 as the ‘Mini Cooper S.’ Your engine grew again to 1071cc and you became a rally star.
You really made a name for yourself on the twisty, unpredictable roads of the Monte Carlo Rally in the mid 60s. You eclipsed many larger, more powerful vehicles on those mountain roads and you shouted to the world, ‘size doesn’t matter, it’s how you use it that counts!’ You inspired many unfortunately endowed men by winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and arguably in 1966 (you were unjustly disqualified for running an illegal headlight circuit). You took home another Monte Carlo trophy without incident in 1967.
If you weren’t already famous, well, in 1969 you hit the big time. You were the star of ‘The Italian Job’ next to Sir Michael Caine. Three Mini Cooper S’ were featured in this caper movie and slid their way around Italy in a phenomenal ten minute car chase that ranks among the highest ever put to film.
You were a hit. Not just in Britain but all over the world. You were produced in many other strange iterations: station wagons, beach cruisers, wooden panel vans. And you were produced largely un-altered until BMW purchased your name plate along with the rest of the Rover group in 1999. The last original iteration of you rolled off the line on October 4, 2000.
Two years later you appeared reincarnated and 100 percent brand new. The purist of your fans rejected your new earthly body and refused to even call you ‘Mini’ preferring ‘Bini’ (For BMW Mini) or simply ‘piece of shit.’ You were significantly larger, though still smaller than most vehicles on the road. Your forward motivation came in 1.4 liter naturally aspirated and 1.6 liter naturally aspirated and supercharged iterations. Your handling characteristics are still widely considered the hallmark in small front-wheel-drive cars.
You were, once again, a hit. Women thought you were cute and men tried their best to prove you were a badass by tossing you around orange cones at high rates of speed, careening through chicanes on race tracks around the world and modifying you for increased power and handling.
In 2003 you graced the silver screen again in a rewritten version of ‘The Italian Job’ that ironically enough had little to no connection to Italy. The car chase in that film was decent but nowhere near your epic performance in 1969. You should have won an Oscar or at least a Golden Globe.
In 2007 your second earthly body was reworked for the first time. Your face got a little screwed up in the process but most agree that you are even better than before.
Recently it was announced that your foster parents, BMW, have been working on an electric version of you. You’ve accomplished a lot, old friend, and it seems you’ve got a lot more in store for us. Who knows, you may even save the world.