Fifty years of the Mini

I woke yesterday to the news that the Mini is set to receive a boost, as two new models are to be built at BMW’s plant in Cowley, Oxford. Up to 1,000 jobs might be created.

Our love affair with the Mini goes back to 1959. Versions of the original design, by Alec Issigonis, continued in production until 2000, and BMW launched the new Mini the following year. Our curator Andrew Nahum’s book on Issigonis tells the whole story.

My parents had a Mini and it’s my first memory of a car. My father’s over six feet tall and he says it was a real pleasure to drive, and my mother loved it too, having first seen it on the streets of Paris before it became commonplace here. My brother and I loved being driven in it as kids.

In the Science Museum collection we’ve got four Minis, but none are your standard off-the-line model. On show in Making the Modern World is this lovely sectioned exhibit, displayed at the 1959 Motor Show:

Sectioned Mini car, 1959 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Sectioned Mini car, 1959 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Then there’s our 1961 van version, in store out at Wroughton:

Minivan, 1961 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Minivan, 1961 (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Nearby is a Mini Clubman estate adapted by its owner, Edward Freeman, to accommodate his disability. He needed more headroom, but he didn’t want to raise the roof, as he felt it would look like a car specially for the disabled. The Mini’s design meant Freeman’s engineers could lower the floor instead. More room, but same roofline. It made a big difference.

Modified Mini Clubman estate, 1970s (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

Modified Mini Clubman estate, 1970s (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)

You can see those two at the Festival of Innovation on 12 – 13 September. Not on show, and I’m afraid without a picture, is a 1973 Mini crushed to a cube for recycling… a sad end for that one, but not for the Mini legacy, if the news is to be believed.

One thought on “Fifty years of the Mini

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