On Sunday 6 October, the Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire will be celebrating 43 years since the first MINI was produced in 1959. Hundreds of MINIs of all sorts and sizes will congregate at the Centre, home to the world's largest collection of British classic cars.
In 1959 the MINI was originally launched in two versions: the Morris MINI-Minor and the Austin Seven under the control of the British Motor Corporation (BMC), which had merged together the two great names in the motor industry, Morris and Austin, fifty years ago in 1952. It was the Morris version that first used the name "MINI"; Austin adopted the name later in 1961.
Such was the brand loyalty with the public that BMC decided to produce the same car but with individual badges, to satisfy both markets. And so it was that the Austin Seven (or Se7en as it was sometimes called) came to be launched at Longbridge at the same time the Morris MINI-Minor also rolled off the assembly lines at Cowley, Oxfordshire.
When the new car went on sale in autumn 1959, it was not an immediate success as it was not the cheapest car on the road at the time, at just under £500 (including Purchase Tax). It took a while for the MINI to become established in the market place. The first year saw only 20,000 cars produced. But by 1962 however the MINI had become a favourite with the jet setters of the swinging sixties, reaching the first millionth MINI in 1965.
Many different variations have been made over the years to complement all lifestyles. In 1960 the estate and van versions were produced, then a pick-up. In 1961 a luxury model was launched under the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf badges.
In 1961 the all-important launch of the first MINI Cooper took the little car into the completely new dimension of rallying. In 1963 the MINI Cooper S was launched with a more potent 1071 cc engine giving a top speed close to 100mph. It was at the same time the MINI Moke was launched, originally intended for military applications but becoming a popular utilitarian car. The MINI continued to develop, fulfilling all sorts of functions in all sorts of environments. In 1969 the MINI was given a complete overhaul and the Austin Morris names were dropped, MINI became a brand in its own right. Product improvements included wind down windows and concealed door hinges.
Eventually the original MINI made by the Rover Group ceased production at the Longbridge factory on 4 October 2000. In the de-merger of the Rover Group in 2000 by the owners BMW, the MINI was transferred to BMW Cowley, (which ironically was one of the original production sites of Morris MINI back in 1959). The new MINI was successfully reinvented by the BMW Group and went on sale in July 2000. So the little car, which had started life as a stop-gap-vehicle to overcome the shortage of fuel became an icon in its own right and has now taken a further voyage into the future, far beyond anyone could have imagined back in 1959.Published 27 September 2002