If you think of classic British motoring, then a handful of designs might spring to mind. Among them, surely, is the iconic Mini, whose chunky silhouette has set it apart from the competition for decades. But exactly how did this ground-breaking vehicle come to be so popular?
Even as far back as the 1960s, manufacturers were well aware of the power of the celebrity endorsement. But at the same time, celebrities didn’t need much persuasion to get behind the wheel of a Mini. Everyone from Paul McCartney to Lulu to Twiggy has gotten behind the wheel of one at some point or other. The decade was a period of tremendous cultural upheaval, and the Mini’s eye-catching design resonated strongly. The legend was finally cemented with its inclusion in The Italian Job in 1969.
The defining characteristic of the Mini, was, of course, its miniaturised form. Being smaller than the competition, it stood apart instantly. And the smallness didn’t just confer an aesthetic benefit; it also allowed for great manoeuvrability, which suited commuters in growing cities, and for excellent fuel-efficiency over long distances, which suited those long journeys, too. In fact, fuel-efficiency was among the BMC company’s primary concerns when designing the car, since the Suez Crisis had sent global oil prices skyrocketing, and customers were looking for a vehicle that would be cheaper to run.
One of the things that really drove the Mini’s popularity was the surprising amount of space offered by the interior. What was miniature on the outside seemed actually quite roomy on the inside. This was a consequence of clever design, which minimised the amount of space consumed by the engine – and a decision taken to sacrifice luggage space. The engine was mounted sideways, right up against the iconic ‘moustache’ grille, mated to the gearbox and connected to the front wheels.
The Modern Mini
Today, the Mini is an entirely different beast. BMW bought the ailing BMC as part of its ill-fated acquisition of the Rover Group in 1994, and would take until the turn of the millennium for the Mini brand to re-emerge under the MINI Hatch label.
As you might expect, there are significant differences between the old Mini and the new one. Most obviously, the German-made modern car is markedly chunkier. This is mostly for the sake of modern safety standards, and to meet the luggage-capacity needs of the modern motorist. There are also several variants to choose from, including a new version of the iconic ‘Clubman’, first launched in 1969. Despite the differences, BMW have succeeded in adapting the iconic look of the original for the modern era, and the Mini Hatch, now in its third generation, goes from strength to strength.