Small Car; Big History
Don’t let this small vehicle fool you. For over 60 years, MINI Coopers have been making waves in racing, culture, and innovation.
Post-World War II left gas prices through the roof, inconveniencing the public, since many of the vehicles used were large, clunky, and lacked decent gas mileage. With all this on his mind, Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Company saw the opportunity to provide the public with a more sensible vehicle that was fuel-efficient but didn’t sacrifice space for passengers—but how? He turned to his top engineer, Alex Issigonis. Issigonis took on the challenge, unaware that his work would be historic.
Alex Issigonis came out on the other side of his work, having created a new wheel-placement for the vehicle. By pushing the wheels all the way to the corners and turning the engine sideways, he created more room inside for passengers and stabilized the turning capabilities. The Mini would launch in 1959, a unique creation that would encompass functionality while encouraging a laid back and independent lifestyle. This appealed to a variety of social groups, from hipster kids to race enthusiasts. Mini would leave a lasting mark on European culture.
More Than Just A Fun Ride
The general public loved the fun and efficient Mini Cooper, but they weren’t the only ones. Issigonis’s designs made the vehicle a noticeable performer on the track.
“Wheels at the corners meant a wide, go-kart stance and nimble handling. And the transverse engine kept weight over the front tires, helping provide great balance and grip.”
In 1961, John Cooper, a British racing hero, began tinkering with the Mini. Combining a powerful engine, better breaks, and a few more tricks, the Classic Mini Cooper 997 was born. A monster on the track, and a favorite of many. But it was a woman named Pat Moss who would really make the mark for Mini Coopers on the track. In 1962, she would cross the finish line in the Netherlands Tulip Rally, earning them their first motorsports victory, and challenging traditional gender roles in racing. This would only be the beginning for Mini’s racing career, going on to win multiple internal competitions, including 3 at the Monte Carlo rally between 1964 and 1967.
Mini Cooper wasn’t just a race car, a fun ride for the youth, or a sensible choice. Owners fell in love with the pint-sized versatility and fully embraced the spirit of the Mini. By 1969, over 2 million Minis had been sold worldwide. Inspired by the broad range of clientele, Mini Cooper released pickup and station wagon versions of the classic car, affirming its notoriety as a choice vehicle for everyone. Regardless of if you were a hardworking farmer, a racer, or a family, Mini Cooper could get the job done.
Getting to America
While Mini was taking the world by storm by the 1970s, the United States was missing out on the craze. Emission regulations implemented in the 1960s kept Mini Cooper from captivating the country like it had the rest of the world. The Classic Mini was sold from 1960-1967, and wouldn’t come back to the States until its reintroduction in 2002.
With decades of innovation, Mini Cooper continued to up their game. Their hard work would be fortified in 1999 when over 5 million Classic Minis had found their homes around the globe. In light of the impact the compact joy ride had made, a panel of 130 International automotive journalists voted it the “European Car of the Century.”
The same year, the manufacturer closed the chapter on the Classic Mini, ending production. But no tears were shed, as 1999 would give way to the concept for a new MINI. While they kept the details of the vehicle that made so many fall in love with it in the first place, the new MINI was the power-lifting brother of the classic car.
To this day, MINI models still resemble their older versions, paying homage to their history while still evolving. With the addition of ALL4 all-wheel drive, models with more seating and doors, and compact convertibles, the lineage of MINI rages on, creating something for everyone.