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Rods & Wheels E-Magazine
Issue 06:01:02 - January 09, 2006

A true survivor: 1959 Austin-Morris Mini

For almost 50 years, the "Mini" has survived as a superb small car with great performance. Its combined front-wheel drive and transversely-mounted engine gave the Mini-Minor a powerful niche in the auto market.

Developing the Mini

A man named Alec Issigonis developed the Mini-Minor in 1959. He and his team had already created the Morris Minor, but then the British Motor Corp. told them that the Suez Crisis and possible world-wide petrol rationing were a threat to the auto market. British Motor Corp. asked the team to create a minimum-sized, four-seater car, also minimum in price. It would use the BMC engine.

Issigonis turned the model's engine sideways and placed the transmission underneath to make the car even smaller. The car had tiny wheels (10 inches) with independent suspension by rubber cone springs. The Mini-Minor also had excellent handling, agility and steering. It truly was an amazing "wee" car.

A Moulton design called the hydrolastic system was added to the high-end Mini models in 1964. This suspension provided a soft ride but increased the car's weight and production costs. So, in 1971 this system was replaced with the original rubber suspension, which remained for the Mini's entire life span.

Racing success

The Mini began winning rallies, and when the Mini-Cooper S was developed, it was a consistent winner in size-for-size racing. It won the Monte Carlo Rally several times as well.

The Mini model eventually received a bigger engine and very small front-wheel disc brakes. The Mini-Coopers became so popular that more than 300,000 per year were produced in two factories alone: Cowley and Longbridge.

In the 1980s, the Mini-Cooper had larger wheels, wind-up windows and a redesigned interior. It sold steadily in the 1990s; more than 5 million were made. Today, there are New Minis that are heavier and bigger than the older models. From the 1960s, when music and movie stars showed off their Minis, to today, when people from all walks of life buy Minis, the car's appearance and performance have kept it in the auto race for many years.


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