No automotive design has been more influential than the boxy, front-wheel drive platform revealed in 1959 by the British Motor Corporation.
It was code-named ADO15 but enthusiasts across the world know this car and its derivatives as Minis.
The distinctive shape was tiny yet offered enough cabin space to accommodate four adults, with a parcel shelf where the dashboard sat in conventional cars and deep storage bins in the doors. Its boot lid was even hinged to provide a larger luggage platform.
Early Mini engines were 848cc versions of BMC’s A Series design, mounted transversely and driving tiny 10-inch front wheels. The body was mounted on front and rear sub frames and the suspension used rubber cones in place of conventional springs
While attempting to appease its warring Morris and Austin dealer networks, BMC supplied a Morris-badged version called the Mini Minor while Austin’s equivalent was called the Seven. Protests erupted and in no time the cars – still carrying their respective brand emblems – would be known simply as Austin or Morris Minis.
It also took no time at all before Formula One constructor John Cooper discovered the Mini and saw its design as ideally suited to competition. Within a year, Cooper-enhanced versions had been produced, with a 135km/h top speed and disc front brakes.
By 1963, Cooper and BMC were pouring substantial quantities of time and cash into Mini Cooper development and the result was the Cooper S. Initially, these feisty little cars came with 1071cc engines and a top speed approaching 100mph (161km/h). Later models had 1275cc and would reach the ‘ton’.
Outright pace didn’t matter that much because skilled Mini drivers rarely needed to slow for bends and gave bigger cars a terrible time in circuit races. These included the local Bathurst 500 where Minis dominated the results in 1966 and remained Class winners well into the 1970s.
In rallying, the light, tough and manoeuvrable Cooper S was almost unbeatable, with several Monte Carlo rallies and other major events to its credit.
In Australia, the Mini was credited with wiping almost every other lightweight, low-cost car out of the market. Among the models unable to compete were Fiat’s 500 and the famous fibreglass Goggomobil.
From 1961, Australia built its own Minis and constantly made improvements to the design which would find their way into British versions. Local alterations included a larger 998cc engine, twin fuel tanks in the Cooper S for improved range and windup windows with quarter vents for extra ventilation.
Australia was a big market for locally made Mini vans which were used by a variety of tradespeople, for retail deliveries and also by the fledgling courier industry.
Local factories also turned out a Mini that wasn’t developed here but made Australia very much its home. The Mini Moke started life as a bare metal tray with canvas seats and a useless hood but developed into a smart city runabout that could also deal with farm tracks and beach trips.
In 1971, fifty years ago exactly, the shape of local Minis changed from the familiar ‘bull nose’ to a design that was longer and more sophisticated.
Badged as the Mini Clubman, this elongated derivative enjoyed reasonable success with people who kept faith with the front-wheel drive Mini design. However, it couldn’t match new, low-cost models from Nissan and Toyota or even Volkswagen’s revamped Super Bug.
As a last gasp, Leyland Australia developed an LS version with plush trim and a detuned version of the 1275cc Mini Cooper S engine.
There, local development ended and Australia did miss the final chapter of Mini history which commenced in 1984. That year saw a revamped Rover Group emerge from the mess that had been British Leyland and commemorate the Mini’s 25th anniversary with a Mark 4 version. Six years later, an updated Cooper was added to the Rover Mini range and remained in production until 1999.
Private imports ensure that Australia is home to lots of 1980s-90s Minis and they can be hard to insure. If you have one of these or any kind of Mini and need cover, Enthusiast Insurance www.enthusiast.com.au is a good place to start. Just a few minutes spent online with Enthusiast will produce a quick quote and very competitive premium.
Accept the quote and your insurance can commence immediately, with payments deducted monthly from your credit or debit card with no additional fee.