The Evolution of the Mini
For six decades, the legendary Mini Cooper has been a mainstay of motoring in Britain. Thanks to its practicality and iconic good looks, it's beloved by millions, and instantly recognised in a way that other brands could only dream of.
The story of the Mini can be traced back to the 1940s, when Father-and-son team Charles and John founded their Cooper Car Company. They built racing cars from their garage in Surbiton, starting with 500c single-seat racing cars for Formula 3, and moving on to create Formula One cars that would be driven by legendary drivers like Stirling Moss and Bruce McLaren.
The first Mini arrived in August 26, 1959. Technically called the Austin Mini Seven, it was the first car to feature front-wheel drive, which had significant implications for the driving experience.
A three-door estate version followed a year later, and then in 1962, the branding was tweaked, making the vehicle the Austin Mini.
John Cooper recognised the potential of the design for racing, and approached Alec Issigonis, the Mini's inventor, with a view to adapting it for performance. Issigonis was initially reluctant to agree to the project, but was eventually persuaded. The collaboration was a huge success, and the Mini Cooper's on-track exploits helped to propel the brand into the public consciousness. It's this heritage that makes the vehicle so beloved among motorists today.
The mark II mini arrived in 1967, and featured a redesigned grille and a larger rear window, as well as a host of minor changes. It wasn't until 1969 that the Morris and Austin names were dropped entirely, and Mini became a brand in its own right. This change coincided with the release of the Mark III, which featured larger doors and winding windows to replace the sliding ones.
In 1994, the Rover Group was sold to German behemoth BMW. As part of the deal, the manufacturer also acquired the mini brand name. While BMW would go on to sell other parts of the Rover Group, it clung onto the Mini name, releasing its own, chunkier version of the Mini in late 2000.
The new incarnation of the Mini had to adhere to modern standards when it came to crumple zones, and thus it wasn't quite as compact as the classic model. It did, however, retain the iconic shape, complete with ovular headlights. The second generation arrived in 2006, incorporating new fuel efficiencies, and was followed in 2008 by a longer-wheelbase version, called the Clubman. The third generation was unveiled in 2013, and sported more generous proportions. It's this trend toward size that's helped differentiate the classic models – if you want something that's truly miniature, you'll have to look for a well-maintained classic. If you're making the investment, then make sure that you devote sufficient funds to classic car insurance, as it'll give you the peace of mind you need when owning a classic.