On August 26, 1959 a revolution happened. No, I’m not talking about Fidel, I’m talking about the BMC Mini, Sir Alec Issigonis’ Ur-car from which all transverse engined front wheel drive cars have followed, which went on sale 52 years ago. Starting with a price tag of less than $800, the Mini stayed in production for over 40 years. Many consider it the first truly modern post WWII design. Only 10 feet long from bumper to bumper, the Mini could hold 4 adults and their luggage in relative comfort. They looked past the wire pull door releases and the surfeit of painted metal on the interior. At the time, microcars were very popular and compared to them, the Mini was a Town Car.
Of course what made the Mini a legend among auto enthusiasts was its very un-Town Car-like go-kart handling, notwithstanding its tiny ten inch wheels. It was simply a blast to drive, even with engines as small as 848cc. That handling would lead to wins at the Monte Carlo rally, with Paddy Hopkirk at the wheel. The Mini appealed to a wide variety of people, from frugal folks looking for a “people’s car” to the wealthy like Paul McCartney and Ringo Star who had luxury Mini conversions by Radford. By the time production of the original Mini ended in 2000, over 5.3 million of them had been sold. The Mini brand was so well established that it survived British Motor Corporation, Austin, Morris, British Leyland, and Rover/Mini, being bought by BMW who revived the brand in 2002, making it more popular than ever.
The Mini pictured belongs to my brother, who has hoped to restore it since we were teenagers. When he bought it, a previous owner had used a Dymo label to emblazen “If God had wanted Minis to go 100 mph He would have given them bigger wheels” on the car’s heater, made by Smiths the same folks who made gauges. In the original Mini’s rather primitive trim, the heater unit was exposed under the dashboard. To be honest, more cabin heat was generated from the exhaust manifold just on the other side of the uninsulated firewall.
The original Mini sold for about $800 new in 1959. Last weekend at the RM auction in Monterey, a 1965 Mini Cooper S was hammered off the auction block for $52,250.