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The Austin Mini 1959 – 2000 A Brief History

By James Groth for The English Car Company

Original 1959 Morris Minor Mini Mk 1

Original Mini 1959 in OEW

The Mini gave to the masses the personal freedom to travel about the UK at an affordable price, much the same way the Ford Model T and A of their era did in the US. This all came about due to the crisis caused by the blockage of the Suez Canal in mid-fifties. The blockage of the canal sent the cost of fuel soaring in England, bringing back memories of the shortages endured during WW ll.

Alec Issigonis with his Morris Minor Mini press showing in 1959

In response to this crisis a directive went out by the Managing Director, of Morris the company that was already building the Morris Minor, to Chief Engineer Alec Issigonis. His directive was for Issigonis to design another, car capable carrying four adults that was even more basic, fuel efficient and affordable for Commoners. Sir Alec’s creations would prove to be so ground breaking that he would be Knighted for his innovative design of the original Austin Mini and the Morris Minor, two automobiles recognized around the world as British icons.

Note the sliding front windows and hinged rear windows, both are cost saving designs.

Sir Alec thrived on these kinds of challenges. He came up with a design that allowed for maximum interior room by pushing the wheels out to their furthest. This also contributed to the Mini’s superior handling in corners and overall stability. To put Mini’s size in perspective the average American sedan runs 17 to 18 feet in length, a Mini is only 10 feet in length.

Putting things in perspective a Texas size and London Metro size

Perhaps Sir Alec’s most impressive design feature was the placement of the motor and transmission directly over the front wheels allowing for tremendous pulling power from its front-wheel-drive system. Sir Alec also mounted the engine traverse which lowered the Mini’s center of gravity further adding to the Mini’s handling prowess. Both of these innovations were Industry first’s for a mass production automobile. Sir Alec’s design would go on to become the most successful British car in history selling 5.3 million cars.

Cut away shows how motor and transmission are transversely mounted directly over the front wheels

#5 Original 1959 Mini note transverse mounted motor and transmission

The Mini which was introduce in 1959 and did not officially become known as a Mini until 1961. At introduction the car was called a Morris Mini Minor. In the US the car was introduced as the Austin 850 and Morris 850. The Cooper name came about from designer and race car builder of Formal One and rally cars John Cooper.

An example of the Mk1 Mini van

#6Early Mk 1 Mini Van

The Cooper Car Company started as a partnership between Charles and his son John in 1946. The racing world all took note when their mid-engined cars won the Formula 1 Championship, this included the Constructor’s and Driver’s titles in back to back years, 1959 and 1960. The idea of a mid-ship mounted race car also caught the attention of Colin Chapman and lead to the success of his Formula 1 Lotus Team, as all Formula 1 designers adopted this configuration.

A Mk ll Mini ready for spirited driving or a rally

#7 Mini ready for fun or rally

Sir Alec also raced Mini’s alongside of John Cooper and eventually became friends and established a business relationship. John Cooper’s contribution to the Mini was to increase the motor from 848cc to 997cc, adding dual carbs, a hotter camshaft and exhaust header. All this added up to 55 hp and necessitated adding disc brakes. With this performance package John Cooper and others went racing, and did the ever win.

A raced prepared Mini Mk ll burns rubber with its front-wheel-drive

#8 Mini Cooper S burns rubber with its front wheel drive

It was rallying and in particular the Monte Carlo events of the early 1960’s that established the pedigree of Mini Cooper S as a worth competitor despite being underpowered. The racing world had to take note when Paddy Hopkins was first overall in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.

With the pulling power of its front-wheel-drive Mini’s handle snow well

#9 Mini Cooper S Monte Carlo Rally

The1965 Monte Carlo event saw some of the worst snowy conditions to the degree that of the 237 entertains only 35 finished the event, three were Mini’s. Drivers Makinen and Easter finished first without a single penalty point.

Mini’s finished in the top three positions in the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally only to be disqualified

#10 1966-Morris-Mini-Cooper-S

1966 saw Mini Cooper S’ finish in the top three positions only to be disqualified for having headlight low beans that did not meet the homologation rules. Mini Cooper S repeated as the Monte Carlo winner in 1967 with Rauno Aaltonen at the wheel. These victories and others globally firmly established Mini as a force on the race track.

High-flying Makinen driving his Mini at the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally

#11 Makinen in 1967 Rally

Many of the most revered drivers of the era started or at one time successfully raced Mini Cooper S cars. The list includes these Formula 1 Champions: Graham Hill, Niki Lauda, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Jochen Rindt.

1967 Mk ll Austin Cooper S

The original design continued until the introduction of the Mk ll in 1967 with a redesigned grill and larger rear window being the most noticeable changes. The Mk ll was very well received and sold 429,000 units in just three years. This success enabled unique versions the original design to be built including the Mini Clubman and Estate and for commercial usage a 2-door van, pick up.

1973 1275cc Mini Clubman

#13 Mini Clubman 1275cc 1973

The 1970’s saw introduction of the 1275cc motor and limited edition models. These changes and model editions also changed its appeal and eventually the how the vehicle was viewed. Mini transformed itself from not only a mass transit vehicle but to a fashion accessory driven by celebrities and hipsters. Each member of ‘The Beatles’ were owners.

Exiting a Mini in a mini skirt could prove tricky

For all its sales success and race victories Mini earned the distinction of being named the “European Car of the Century”

A stunning example of a 2014 Mini Cooper S

In 2001 German car manufacture BMW introduced the all new Mini that has enjoyed a strong following and sales success world wide, that story will be continued on another page of this site…

A 2006 John Cooper Works Convertible

Specs

Weight

  • Unladen weight (lbs): 2513
  • Weight distribution, front/rear: 63/37 
  • Manual transmission (%): n/a

Engine

  • Liters/type: supercharged 1.6/transverse 4-cyl.
  • Bore/stroke (inch): 3.03 / 3.38
  • Max. Horsepower (hp/rpm): 163 / 6000
  • Max. torque (lb-ft/rpm): 115/4000
  • Compression ratio (:1) –  8.3:1
  • Fuel Grade: Unleaded

Transmission

  • Gear ratios: 6-Speed Manual
  • l/ll     :1 – 11.43:1 / 7.18:1
  • lll/lV   :1 – 5.40:1 / 4.41:1
  • V/Vl    :1 – 3.66:1 / 2.97:1
  • Final drive ratio :1 – n/a
  • R        :1  – 11.13:1

Performance

  • Drag coefficient (Cd): .36
  • Top Speed (mph): 135
  • Acceleration 0-60 (sec): 6.9

Tires, Wheels & Brakes

  • Tire dimensions: 195/55R-16
  • Wheel dimensions: 6.5 x 16
  • Material: Alloy
  • Front – vented (inch): 10.9
  • Rear – solid (inch): 10.2
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