In a few weeks’ time you’ll be able to buy a brand new MINI, the fourth entirely new generation of car to wear this badge. Here are 15 of the classics to remind you just how far they’ve come since 26 August 1959. The first Mini was offered as an Austin or Morris, but throughout the years, the Cooper, Riley and Wolseley versions added names, and much appeal to Sir Alec Issigonis’ brilliant baby car concept.
We take a look at some of the most basic, sporting and luxurious Minis sold officially by BMC, Leyland and Rover dealers between 1959 and 2000. The shape may have stayed roughly the same over the years, but the marketing, prices, colours and performance, all perfectly reflect the times they were produced. Follow the progress of the Mini between 1959 and 2000 – which is your favourite?
1959: Morris Mini-Minor
On 26 August 1959, the Morris Mini-Minor was launched for the princely sum of £496. It was a basic little thing, lacking even interior door handles, but the engineering was absolutely incredible, with rubber suspension, transverse engine with gearbox in the sump, and rack and pinion steering. Thanks to clever packaging, this 10ft and a quarter inch car could safely accommodate four and easily exceed 70mph.
1959: Austin Se7en
At the same time as the Morris, one-time deadly rivals, and now BMC bedfellows, Austin launched the intriguingly-named Se7en. It was effectively identical to the Morris, aside from the badges, and the fact it was built in Longbridge, not Cowley. A radical car, wonderfully packaged – fundamentally changing both the automotive world, and what the rest of us thought of Austin.
1960 Van version launched
Interestingly, the first new body variation of the Mini was the first commercial version. It sat on a new 84in wheelbase – as opposed to 80in for the saloon – and in true van style, offered split opening rear doors. The front end styling was slightly different, using a simplified grille that had originally mooted for the car versions, and then dropped at the last minute.
1960: Mini Traveller and Countryman
In September 1960, BMC announced two new estate car versions of the Mini, the Morris Mini Traveller and the Austin Seven Countryman. Both these cars featured an external wooden frame, but unlike other BMC estates, these were for decoration and were not structural – effectivly using the tooling already created for the van version.
1961 Mini Pick-up
Interestingly, the Mini pick-up arrived on the market, just as sales of the Mini began to slow after the initial euphoria of the launch. Production of the Mini across BMC had slowed to 2000 cars a week, although this was still higher than most British cars at the time – but it clearly demonstrates that the radical Mini took a little time to capture the hearts and minds of British car buyers.
The Mini-Cooper arrived in September 1961 as the brainchild of F1 driver John Cooper – who identified the keen handling of this front-wheel drive shoebox. Little did anyone predict that the car would end up becoming motoring folklore, amassing countless rally wins, particularly in the Monte Carlo, where the Cooper performed remarkable feats of giant killing. Amazing to think that John Cooper only earned a £2 royalty on each one sold.
1961 Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet
Booted luxury versions of the Mini arrived in October 1961, and were good examples of when badge engineering could answer a question that very few people asked. Distinguished by their small boot and upright grilles, the ‘Shelf’ twins were actually more practical than the car they were based on. LJK Setright said they were designed, ‘…to appeal to those small minded snobs who found the idea of a Mini intriguing but the name of Austin or Morris offensive and the evidence of austerity.’
1969 Mini 1275 GT
The 1275GT arrived to replace the 998cc Mini-Cooper, and was a bit of a parts-bin special. It used Cooper S brake discs and a single carburettor 59bhp 1275cc engine, and wore lovely 10in Rostyle wheels manufactured by Rubery Owen. For many years, lambasted for (eventually) replacing all Coopers, but these days thanks to its bold colours, three-pack instruments and roomier engine bay, the 1275GT is attracting quite a following
1969 Mini Clubman estate
The new estate Minis received the same squarer nose – designed to look like the Maxi when you were squinting – of the Clubman and 1275GT in 1969. It marked a slight move upmarket for Britain’s smallest estate car – but it was still cheap, accessible, and a great deal of fun to drive. The forthcoming supermini generation would render it far less relevant as the 1970s progressed.
1969 Mini Mk3
The big change in 1969 was reserved for the Mini Mk3, although you’d be hard pressed to tell. It featured a new bodyshell and doors with wind up windows and internal hinges. And now all Minis were finally called Mini – no more Austin and Morris versions. Although conventional wisdom would suggest that this would be the beginning of the Mini’s twilight years, the Mini was selling better than ever, and remained in this form pretty much unchanged until the 1990s.
1984 Mini 25 special edition
Mini development to this point had been largely marketing led. New colours, trim and tweaks to make it quieter and more economical, but no substantial changes. The 25 followed on from the brilliant 20th birthday Mini 1100 Special – although this one stuck to the 998cc A-Plus engine. This model robbed the BL parts bin and saw the return of the 1275GT’s 8.4in front disc brakes and 12in wheels – shortly afterwards, this became standard fitment for mainstream Minis, over a decade after BL had first realised that this was cheaper than fitting 10in wheels
1990 Mini Cooper limited edition
In July 1990, the Mini Cooper made a big return to the new cars lists. Mechanical development was carried out by ERA at Dunstable, and it featured a catalysed 1275cc MG Metro engine. The limited run quickly sold out and a mainstream Mini Cooper was introduced the following September. It made a reappearance in a response to the sales of Cooper kits in Japan and also the management’s knowledge that the Mini was now a very real asset to the range which would sell in big numbers, especially overseas.
1991 and 1993 Mini Cabriolet
Following the revival in Mini fortunes in the late 1980s, Rover contracted Lamm Autohous to build 75 open topped versions to sell though 12 selected dealers. All 75 cars sold out within a month, and so the company developed its own version, with Karmann and Tickford, which was launched just over a year later. Price was high, but it sold steadily until it was phased out in 1996 – so far, production figures have not been confirmed, but it’s thought that fewer than 300 were made in total.
2000 Mini Cooper
Seeing the Mini out in style were a series of special editions based on the 1.3-litre Cooper, which now boasted a 1275cc catalysed engine, electric cooling fan, luxury interior and 13-inch Sportspack wheels. Longer gearing and these bigger wheels meant they were more than tolerable on the motorway – but these cars were still all about cities and mountain passes. The final edition was the Mini Cooper Sport 500, complete for four spotlights and a certificate signed by John Cooper – now highly sought after.
2000 The last Mini rolls off the line
The last Mini to be built in Longbridge was seen off by media and various personalities, and played out by the Quincy Jones composed soundtrack of the film The Italian Job. The final Mini was driven off the production line in CAB1 by production line supervisor Geoff Powell with singer Lulu in the passenger seat after a production run of 41 years, and around 5.5 million cars. The new one is going to have a lot to live up to.