Mini though the ages – the evolution of a motoring icon

As Mini introduces a new version of its much loved hatchback, we take a look back at its history
Mini though the ages – the evolution of a motoring icon

From dinky ‘60s car to a modern electric hatchback, the Mini has done it all. Pictures: PA

The word ‘icon’ is overused in the automotive world, but it’s most certainly suitable to describe the Mini. It’s been a true trailblazer in the small car class for decades, successfully evolving with the times as well.

From dinky ‘60s car to a modern electric hatchback, the Mini has done it all, while never losing its focus as being an affordable and fun car in the process.

With the British firm just revealing its new Mini Cooper, it’s time to take a walk back down memory lane and look back at the history of the Mini.

1959 – The original Mini 

The original Mini.
The original Mini.

In the late 1950s, fuel prices skyrocketed as a result of the Suez Crisis, and that meant that suddenly the idea of a gas-guzzling large car fell out of fashion. 

It prompted the Morris Motor Company to challenge its top engineer, Alec Issigonis, to create a small, fuel-efficient car capable of carrying four adults but at a low price that many could afford.

The result was the aptly named Mini – a true marvel in engineering and packaging. With the wheels pushed out to the far corners, the engine was put in the car sideways, helping to improve stability and free up more interior space. 

1961 – Racing success 

The 1961 racing Mini
The 1961 racing Mini

The public was a little baffled by the Mini at first, but it quickly grew a fanbase, and by 1962 the British Motor Corporation (BMC) had manufactured 200,000 examples.

Its popularity also came down to Mini’s success in racing. Its lightweight and agility made it a prime candidate for modifications, not least with John Cooper, a British racing legend. 

This led to the introduction of the Cooper, featuring a more powerful engine and other tweaks. An even hotter Cooper S would follow, with the Mini chalking up some impressive racing victories, not least three wins at the prestigious Monte Carlo rally. By 1965 the millionth Mini had been produced.

1970s and 1980s – the Mini would just keep plodding on 

The original 1970s and 1980s Mini
The original 1970s and 1980s Mini

It’s a testament to just how brilliant the original Mini’s engineering was that the firm just kept producing them as the years rolled on.

Helped by rising inflation and increasing petrol prices, demand for the small Mini was relatively sustained, with cumulative Mini sales passing three million and four million in 1972 and 1976 respectively, helped by the addition of new versions such as the Clubman estate and a pick-up.

1994 – BMW buys Mini and the final Classic 

The 1994 Final ‘Classic' Mini. 
The 1994 Final ‘Classic' Mini. 

Minis are produced Mini came under the Rover Group in 1986, and in 1994, BMW acquired the firm. Though it would also own Land Rover as part of the deal, this was sold to Ford in 2000, but BMW retained Mini and continues to do so to this day.

The original Mini would continue to soldier on, helped by lots of special editions, until 2000, when it was finally discontinued. More than 5.3 million classic Minis were produced.

2001 – The New Mini 

The 2001 ’new' Mini
The 2001 ’new' Mini

Reinventing a car like the Mini, especially when it was in production for more than 40 years, was always going to be challenging. But Mini presented its ‘New Mini’ at the 2000 Paris Motor Show, with production at the firm’s Oxford factory and sales beginning in 2001.

It was quite a lot bigger than the original, which proved controversial, but it sold well, with the 100,000th model being made just a year later. 

A Convertible version followed, as did sportier Cooper S and John Cooper Works models. A special edition ‘GP’ also arrived in 2006, with the rear seats removed and power increased to 218bhp, making it the most powerful Mini ever.

2006 – The Second New Mini 

The 2006 ’second' Mini
The 2006 ’second' Mini

Following the success of the New Mini, the firm didn’t deviate far from its proven formula with this second-generation model, which looked quite similar.

But it was larger, better equipped and featured new engines as well. This new model would also serve as the basis for the reincarnated Mini Clubman, introduced in 2007. 

This generation of model is also noteworthy as providing the setup for the ‘Mini E’ in 2009 – an electric Mini trialled for 12 months to evaluate the user-friendliness of EVs. Though it would be another decade before buyers could choose an electric production Mini, these prototypes helped pave the way for BMW to introduce its electric i3 in 2013.

2014 – The third innings 

The 2014 ‘third’ Mini
The 2014 ‘third’ Mini

In 2014, a brand-new Mini was launched. Though sharing a clear lineage with its predecessors, it was based around a new platform and was noticeably more modern to look at. 

A broad range of new engines were available, while it was also available with a range of new features, including a head-up display and LED headlights – both fairly advanced technology at the time.

Though revealed in a three-door guise, Mini would introduce its first five-door Hatch shortly after, helping to improve interior space further. In 2020 we saw the launch of the Mini Electric as its first EV, boasting a range of around 233km. In the same year, Mini also pulled the wraps off its latest John Cooper Works GP – an aggressive-looking 302bhp hot hatch that remains by far the most powerful Mini hatchback ever made.

2023 – A simplified, digital Mini 

The new Mini Cooper
The new Mini Cooper

Mini has just revealed its new Cooper, as it will now be known, rather than Hatch. Offered in just a three-door guide, it gets a modern, simplified design that makes it look quite different to the outgoing model.

The plastic wheelarch trim is gone, as are the questionable Union Jack rear lights, and in place is a modern-looking Mini that will exist for many years to come. 

Inside there’s a new circular touchscreen display and a simplified layout. Only revealed in eclectic guise so far – petrol versions will join the line-up at a later date – the Mini Cooper can now travel up to a claimed 400km on a charge, considerably more than its predecessor.

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