The Storied and Stylish Impact of MINI

January 19th, 2016 by

Before there was the miniskirt, the minicomputer or Mini-Me there was the Mini Cooper, a legendary and iconic automobile that took Great Britain by storm in the late-‘50s.  It was named the runner-up to Car of the Century in 1999 – second only to Henry Ford’s Model T – and Best British Car of All Time.

The original car was designed by a Greek, Sir Alec Issigonis, in 1957 as a response to the Suez Canal Crisis that created a fuel shortage in the U.K. The British Motor Corporation (BMC) introduced it as the Mark I. It went through iterations as the AustinSe7en and the Morris Mini-Minor before becoming its own brand in 1961. What made the car revolutionary was Issigonis’ idea to save space by stacking the transverse engine and gearbox. It was the first car to retain a front-wheel-drive layout, and pushing the wheels out to the corners made the Mini roomier inside and gave it its legendary “bulldog” stance.

Racing legend John Cooper recognized the Mini’s potential as a race and rally car. With his tweaks, it was transformed into the Mini Cooper in 1961, and was a roaring success in the racing and rallying world, winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, ‘65 and ’67.

The standard two-door Mini symbolized the world’s love affair with all things British in the ‘60s. The Beatles drove their Minis around London, and fashion models posed next to and draped over them.

The only place that didn’t seem to be mad for Mini was the United States, where the pint-sized go-kart car’s bumper didn’t measure up to America’s chrome-clad giants. And when the federal government instituted emissions standards in the late ’60s, Minis were no longer welcome stateside.

By 1999, 5.3 million of the classic two-door Mini had been sold in many configurations. German automaker BMW bought Mini in 1994 along with Rover, Land Rover and MG. BMW sold the others and kept Minis rolling out until 2000, when it introduced the all-new, 21-inch longer model. Sure, it was bigger and heavier, but this new MINI retained the original’s style while stepping up acceleration, torque and efficiency. Computerization gave it a raft of safety features Issigonis and Cooper could never have imagined such as knee airbags and parking assist.

Besides its on-the-road fame, MINI is also a TV and movie star. Peter Sellers drove it in the 1963 hit, “A Shot in the Dark.” Three Minis co-starred in the 1969 action-thriller, “The Italian Job” with Michael Caine (and also in a re-make in 2003). “Mr. Bean” Rowan Atkinson kept TV audiences howling with his Mini-driving antics. Jason Bourne took full advantage of the MINI’s racing cred in “The Bourne Identity” and MINI rose to the comedic occasion in “Austin Powers.”

MINI is a favorite among the stars from Madonna, who wrote a song about it, to owners Drew Barrymore, Kristen Stewart and Katie Holmes. With their trademark maneuverability and safety and driver-assistance features, MINIs are superb on crowded and winding freeways. Plus, their efficiency helps keep the gas bills down – the commodity is still plenty expensive in California and Europe.

Fashion icons such as Donatella Versace and Roberto Cavalli have owned MINIs, as well. Even the great Enzo Ferrari (founder of the Italian supercar brand) had one. You can see who else has one on this Pinterest page. And just in case you think MINI is a “chick car,” the late, great Steve McQueen owned one back in the day, and superstar skateboarder Tony Hawk has his own MINI Countryman.


Posted in History, Lifestyle