On the 26th August, we celebrated the 56th Birthday of the original Mini. The MK1 Mini was initially launched in the UK on the 26th of August 1959 and its legacy has proved pivotal in the design and development of automobiles and the motorsport industry.
Explore the history of one of Britain’s most prominent design icons with us and see how one engineer, managed to pioneer the future for the automotive industry – making headlines along the way….
Alec Issigonis, born in 1906 in Turkey always had an interest in engineering after moving to Britain with his parents in 1923, he chose to study engineering at Battersea Polytechnic in London before completing his education at the University of London External Programme. Alec’s passion for design shone throughout, although he claimed Maths was his greatest enemy and after completing his studies cemented his career, working as part of the Humber team throughout the 1930’s. In 1930 Issognis started racing an ‘Ulster’ Austin Seven, later modifying the front axle with his own penned design which lead to a position at Austin. Throughout the next decade Alex travelled between Austin and Morris Motors Limited working on ‘works’ cars and racing them, gaining recognition for a series of wins in sprints and circuits.
In 1952, Issigonis joined BMC, formed by the merger of both Morris and Austin and in 1955 Alec was assigned his dream role, to design new family of cars for commercial use. Influenced by fuel rationing and emphasis on economy, Issigonis designed a car which would prove perfectly practical for the current social climate and by 1957 the prototypes for the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven were manufactured, later to be released in 1959 and renamed in ’61 as the Austin Mini – complete with rubber cone system suspension designed by Alex Moulton, another iconic name which rose to fame as part of the Mini making team!
Issigonis’s design definitely broke conventions with a transverse-engine, front-wheel layout and exceptional small sizing, which utilised space efficiently. The Mini had re-invented the small car and styled it superbly – a landmark launch which would go on to be regarded as the best-selling car in British history. Today the spirit for the Mini is still as strong as ever with classic Mini models from times gone by being restored by enthusiasts of every generation.
We’ve seen Mini variants which shook the world…. including the Wolseley Hornet, Riley Elf, Mini Moke and the Mini Van – which all boasted the same quirky character of the original Mini with favourites like the Morris Mini Traveler, the Austin Mini Countryman and the Mini Clubman and 1275GT gaining the same positive response from motorists across the globe.
We’ve witnessed collaborations, which inspired us…most notably that of the late, great John Cooper, acclaimed for the Cooper Car Company, his engineering intellect and his significance in the golden era of Formula One. John Cooper had always seen the potential in the Mini to be a certified performance car and after John Cooper appealed to BMC management, Issigonis and Cooper collaborated to create the Mini Cooper – debuting in 1961 with the Austin Mini Cooper and the Morris Mini Cooper. Both models featured a racing tuned engine with increasing capacity and significantly more power. more powerful Mini Cooper, dubbed the “S”, was developed in tandem and released in 1963 – perhaps the most notable of Models after gaining three Monte Carlo Wins. The Mini Cooper manifested the true potential of the Mini and showed the world that this practical, small car had a lot to prove!
The time between 1959 and 2015 has seen the Mini meet some excellent achievements and re-instated it’s everlasting status as a design icon and a motorsport legend with each and every innovative development.
Thank you Sir Alec Issigonis!