1. The Mini project began in March 1957 when BMC boss Leonard Lord demanded that he have a product to do something about “these bloody awful bubble cars.” By July that year the design office was building wooden mock-ups of Issigonis’ design and the first prototypes were built in October. Lord test drove one and his curt response was to tell Issigonis to “make the bloody thing.”
2. When trying to come up with a compact powerplant for the Mini one of Issigonis’ first ideas was a two-cylinder version of the A Series engine with an end-on-mounted gearbox. A prototype was built and certainly fitted the requirements for size and space, but its lack of power and refinement meant it could never be adopted.
3. Once the gearbox-in-sump design had been arrived at, the next issue was how to arrange the gearchange. A Citroën-style dash-mounted lever with a push/pull action was designed but was considered too quirky for the British market. In the end the early cars had a long, straight-gear lever running directly out of the gearbox. This was soon changed to a ‘cranked’ lever to produce a more traditional shift pattern before the final switch to a remote floor-mounted lever.
4. The name originally planned for the Austin version of the Mini was the ‘Newmarket’. As well as continuing the theme of Austins being named after English towns the name was appropriate for an entirely new sort of car. In the end it was decided to capitalise on the fame of the Austin Seven. This was sometimes rendered as ‘Se7en’ in early adverts.
5. Alec Issigonis was something of an autocrat in the BMC design office and his cars often reflected his personal habits and opinions. He was a smoker so the first Minis had no less than three ashtrays and the deep door pockets were allegedly designed to hold bottles of Gordon’s Gin upright as this was one of his favourite tipples. On the other hand, Issigonis disapproved of radios in cars so the Mini had no place to put one – later cars had their radios slung under the dashboard in the passenger footwell.
6. Issigonis had no time for designers or stylists, believing that anything done for style’s sake wasn’t worth doing at all. He told the famous Italian designer Pinin Farina that “your cars, they’re like women’s clothes – out of date in two years. My car will still be in fashion after I’ve gone.” The Mini was still selling well and receiving plaudits for its design a decade after Issigonis’ death.
7. The early Mini’s floor-mounted starter button was a weight-saving feature. It was positioned close to the main electrical loom from the battery to the engine bay, thus saving the need for the extra heavy-duty cabling that would be needed if the switch was mounted elsewhere.
8. Although the Mini’s A Series engine uses a conventional-looking cooling fan driven by the engine behind a conventional radiator it is unusual in that it pulls air across the engine and pushes it out of the compartment through the radiator, rather than drawing air in. This is because when the car is on the move an area of low air pressure is formed inside the front wheelarches, so air naturally flows through the front grille and out the sides.
9. The Mini used smaller wheels than any that had been previously used on a production car and Dunlop had to develop special tyres. The prototype Mini used by Dunlop claimed the second fastest wet-cornering top speed of any car on their test track that year – only the Aston Martin DB4 could corner faster.
10. Although now regarded as a huge British success story, sales of the car were initially slow. For all the rave reviews from journalists the low-income families it was aimed at were mistrusting of the car’s innovative underpinnings, while more aspirational buyers disliked its functional looks. The winter of 1959 saw the infamous problems with water leaks, flooded electrics, and ‘floating carpets’ arise, which also kept sales from taking off. However, the Mini’s essential design was too good to ignore and by the end of 1960 BMC couldn’t make them fast enough.
11. The Mini and its variants were sold under no less than eight brands; Austin, Morris, Riley, Wolseley, Innocenti, Authi, Leyland and, of course, Mini itself.
12. When it first went on sale in 1959 the Mini cost £497 for a basic version. The most basic model in the final range in 2000 cost £9495.
13. The Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf were luxury versions of the Mini with an added boot to make them true saloons. BMC also proposed an MG Mini. These would have used the restyled front end of the Hornet/Elf but with the normal rear body. At least one MG Mini prototype was built and it survives today.
14. The Mini Cooper is famous for its multiple rally and race wins but BMC’s first racing championship victory came courtesy of a standard 848cc Austin Seven when John Whitmore won the 1961 British Saloon Car Championship by nine points.
15. Although the Mini Cooper’s miniature front disc brakes were one of its selling features the pads had to be so small to fit under the 10-inch wheels that they were little better than the standard drums. It wasn’t until the Mini standardised on 12-inch wheels in 1984 that all the cars received front discs with proper stopping power.
16. The Mini estate and van variants’ distinctive twin rear doors were designed for production rather than practical reasons. The cars on the production lines at Longbridge and Cowley were so closely spaced that there simply wasn’t room to fit a single side- or top-hinged door without it hitting the car behind.
17. When BMC decided to release the Moke utility vehicle on the civilian market in 1964 it was one of the cheapest four-wheel vehicles on sale. It was exempt from most of the taxes and duties of the time since it had almost no standard equipment – only a driver’s seat and a single windscreen wiper. A hood and ‘storm sheets’ were optional. BMC helpfully provided upgrade packs allowing buyers to give their Moke a full complement of chairs and some weatherproofing while remaining within the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. Revenue & Customs quickly closed that particular loophole and the Moke was exiled to find success abroad.
18. The 1969 film ‘The Italian Job’ is the Mini’s most famous cinema appearance. BMC failed to grasp the potential of the film and gave the producers six Minis, with all the others having to be bought at cost price. On the other hand Alec Issigonis liked the film so much that he hired out an entire cinema so he could have a private screening. Not even his masterpiece of packaging could break the laws of physics, though – to carry off all the bullion stolen in the film in three Minis, each would have had to carry 1.5 times its own kerb weight in gold bars.
19. In Denmark the Mini was sold as the Austin Partner and the Morris Mascot, with sales of the latter continuing until 1981.
20. BMC’s deal with John Cooper included paying £2 per Cooper-badged car in royalties. The Cooper connection was one of the first casualties of British Leyland’s cost-cutting when the sporting Mini was restyled and renamed the 1275GT. Although free from royalty payments the lack of such a famous name noticeably hurt sales.
21. After being sidelined by incoming British Leyland management Alec Issigonis continued to work on a next-generation Mini, dubbed the 9X. Several working prototypes were made in 1969. The 9X was shorter and lighter than the Mini but had more interior space and required less than half the number of components to build. It was powered by an all-alloy OHC engine producing 60 horsepower per litre and had a ‘gearless’ continuously variable transmission. The 9X never made it into production because BL’s efforts were focussed on sorting out its ailing mid-range models while the Mini continued to be a bestseller.
22. British Leyland had several proposals for other Mini variants of cars based on the Mini’s platform. These included the Ant; a 4×4 vehicle with a transverse front engine and a drivetrain very similar to that which would eventually be used in the Land Rover Freelander. There was also the ADO70, which was an MG Midget replacement with a targa-style roof.
23. All Minis used the A Series engine (with capacities between 848cc and 1275cc). One reason for the engine’s longevity was its highly efficient cylinder head, designed by Harry Weslake. This featured unusual siamesed inlet ports that branched within the cylinder head itself so there were only two inlet ports for four cylinders. This meant that the late 1.3i Minis had only two fuel injectors but could still claim to have ‘multi-point’ injection.
24. One of the many limited editions of the Mini produced by the Rover Group in the car’s later years was the ‘Studio 2’. This was named after the design office at Cowley responsible for producing the company’s special edition models.
25. The classic ‘Cooper’ paintjob worn by the last Minis – red paint, white bonnet stripes, and a white roof – was never an official livery. BMC Works rally cars were red with a white roof, while the track-prepared cars were British Racing Green (as demanded by FIA rules) with white bonnet stripes.