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Small wonder; The Mini turns 60 this week. In celebration, Philippa Gerrard looks back on six decades of a motoring icon.

Byline: Philippa Gerrard

There surely can't be anyone in Britain whose life hasn't been touched by a Mini.

Throughout its marathon 41-year original production run, the car became an icon of British innovation, a fashion accessory and a motorsport hero that also brought affordable motoring to the masses.

These diverse achievements were possible because of a truly inventive approach to automotive design.

Faced with a fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis and onslaught of super-economical German-made cars, Mini bosses tasked designer Alec Issigonis to make a sub-10-feet (3m) car that could carry a family of four.

The ingenious result utilised every inch of space.

Tiny 10-inch wheels were pushed into the corners of the car to make more room inside.

Instead of bulky conventional springs, the Mini used compact rubber cones.

Then the gearbox was placed in the engine's sump and the whole powerplant mounted at a right angle, so the cylinders were lined up sideways across the car to perfectly fill the space.

The result was launched to a stunned public in 1959.

The Mini was almost too radical for conservative Brits, and it wasn't until celebrities and racing drivers started to be seen in the car that it became fashionable.

One of those racing stars was John Cooper, who immediately realised that the Mini had huge potential in motorsport. After a few tweaks to increase power, the Mini Cooper was born.

Soon it had become a convertible, estate, van and pick-up, with millions of models selling each year.

In 1994, BMW acquired the brand, which marked the beginning of the end for the original Mini.

In October 2000, Mini production ceased for the final time.

Under BMW's supervision, modern Minis are technically unrelated to the old models, though do retain the classic transverse four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive configuration and retro bulldog stance.

Now known as MINI, a new generation of people have been introduced to the unique styling and impressive performance of the MINI marque which has been updated for the 21st Century.

Changes aside, the original cars are cherished classics that raise a smile wherever they go, while still dominating in classic motorsport.

Here, we explore some highlights from 60 years of the mighty Mini.

MORRIS MINI-MINOR Introduced to the public in 1959, the name Mini was not used from the beginning of production. Original promotional material favoured the name Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor. Minor is Latin for "smaller", so for the even smaller car an abbreviation of "minimus" which means "the smallest" was decided upon and Mini was born. Sales were not promising until the 1960s however, and it's rumoured that the MK1 edition was not profitable because it was sold at lower than cost price. Some say that it was in order to be competitive while others chalk it up to an unfortunate accounting error.

MONTE CARLO SUCCESS In January 1964, the Mini Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time. Its faultless run over country roads and mountain passes, ice and snow, tight corners and steep gradients laid the foundations for the underdog-turned-giant-slayer to cement itself in both the hearts of the public and the annals of motorsport legend.

Success continued in Monte Carlo for Mini in 1965 and 1967. Minis initially placed first, second and third in the 1966 rally too, though were disqualified after a controversial decision by the judges.

THE ITALIAN JOB Arguably the most famous of the Minis were the round-nose, 1969 Austin Cooper S getaway cars that starred in the Italian Job. These were the cars that really thrust the marque into the cultural limelight as plucky homegrown heroes, and affordable ones at that.

MINI BRANCHES OUT The early 1970s saw the introduction of the Clubman, closely followed by the Morris Mini Traveller and Austin Mini Countryman with their double "barn-style" rear doors. The Mini Van followed, along with the Mini Moke, a utility vehicle intended for the British Army and the Mini Pick-up.

HARD TIMES For all its apparent success, the Mini wasn't a beloved icon throughout its entire production life. The death of the '60s was when the rot started to set in - both figuratively and literally - and production dwindled steadily through '80s. What was once chic became an increasing relic. Mr Bean's outdated 1977 Mini symbolised this.

THE MINI REGENERATES Now produced by BMW, the new MINI has little to do with its predecessor. The retro hatches built from 2000 onwards sought to recapture that '60s joie de vivre, with a final design which came from Frank Stephenson, an American designer who would later lead the design of Fiat's rebooted 500.

MINI 60 YEAR EDITION You don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out how they chose the name for it, but in total just 500 of these three-door, limited-edition models will roll off the production line of MINI's Oxford plant to celebrate the 60th anniversary. They'll do it rather quickly, too, as the only engine available is the 2.0-litre turbocharged Cooper S form.

MINI ELECTRIC Unveiled last month, MINI's first-ever all-electric offering has a claimed range of up to 144 miles, going from zero to 60mph in seven seconds (though speed is limited to 93mph). Prices officially start at PS27,900 with first deliveries predicted for March 2020. The firm says 45,000 models are already reserved.

CAPTION(S):

SPACE CAPSULE: The Mini's pioneering design used clever innovations to fit a family of four and its luggage into the car's diminutive frame
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Press and Journal (Aberdeen,Scotland)
Date:Aug 21, 2019
Words:913
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