An icon of swinging 1960s Britain, the front-wheel-drive MINI in all its forms has traditionally been a huge seller in the MINI-car market. The vehicle couples driving fun with a floor plan that maximizes space for passengers and luggage. The British Motor Corporation (BMC) produced the bite-sized MINI and its successors from 1959 until 2000.
Going MINI on the Beetle
Originally conceived in 1959 as competition for the Volkswagen Beetle, MINI quickly became one of the most influential car designs in history. By 1999, a consumer poll noted that the MINI was the second most influential car of the 20th century, just behind the Ford Model T. Nearly 1.6 million MINIs have sold in the U.K. alone.
MINI's distinctive two-door design by BMC's Sir Alec Issigonis also translated into worldwide popularity. In addition to British manufacturing plans in Longbridge and Cowley, multiple plants in Australia, Spain, Belgium, Chile, Italy, Malta, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia. Models like the MINI Mark I, Mark II and Mark III plus the Clubman and MINI Moke buggy caught on with consumers, while the Cooper "S" made a name for BMC at the Monte Carlo Rally between the years 1964 and 1967.
Initially, MINIs were marketed under two different names, either Austin or Morris. In 1969, however, MINI became its own brand name, a trend that would last until the 1980s, when the Austin name was reattached. The MINI became an international star during the year of the brand name change, as it appeared in the Michael Caine crime caper movie "The Italian Job."
MINI solution to the Suez Canal
The fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis prompted gasoline rationing in the U.K., and as a result, sales of large British cars slumped badly while small German cars like the Volkswagen Beetle became increasingly popular. BMC's creation of the MINI was a direct response designed to keep car buyers thinking domestic.
In addition to the size benefits and an innovative front-wheel-drive system, MINI's go-kart-like handling would also become famous.
Across the pond
From 1960 to 1967, BMC exported about 10,000 left-hand drive MINIs to the U.S. However, federal safety standards forced sales to be discontinued in 1968, as the MINI's wheelbase was considered to be too short. The A-Series, which was slightly larger, continued to be sold in the U.S. until 1972.
The new MINI
While production of the classic MINI ended in 2000, new brand owner BMW announced the MINI (aka BMW MINI or New MINI) as a successor. The MINI is larger than the original ? wider, longer and higher. BMW's rendition is classified as a compact car rather than a city vehicle.
Celebrating a golden anniversary
The year 2009 marked the 50th anniversary of the original MINI, and the British postal service released a set of limited edition collector's stamps in recognition of the original, egg-shell blue MK1 MINI. Various celebrations were held that year in the U.K.