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It’s interesting to think that without the Suez Crisis in the late 1950s, a British design classic would never have been born. Never mind your Prius or hybrids, this is the first mass-marketed car which was designed to operate on smaller rations of fuel than other cars, while still doing everything the larger vehicles could (something you could never say of those German bubble cars which were around at the time) and why? Because Britain didn’t have any fuel to spare.

First released in 1959, the Mini caused an immediate sensation by being a proper four-seater, only smaller. Every consideration was given to the drive to create the largest amount of personal space in the smallest amount of actual space. So while other, larger cars paid lip service to their back seat passengers while jamming the driver’s seat all the way across the rear footwell (as anyone who has ever attempted to sit in the back of an MG can tell you), the Mini is genuinely roomy inside.

My mum had one when I was a teenager and playing drums in bands. I am here to tell you that despite appearances it is perfectly possible to fit a five-piece drum kit into the back of a mini, provided you do not put the drums into cases, and you have a relatively small bag for all the stands, and your drums only have skins on one side so that they can be put inside each other. Granted, you couldn’t use a Mini to take a sofa home, and the trunk wasn’t really big enough for a week’s shopping, but in every other respect, they remain TARDIS cars: bigger on the inside.

But what about the outside? Well again, the brief was to derive maximum efficiency, and therefore maximum fuel economy, so all extraneous curves and wings were excised, the rear-wheel drive was changed to front wheel, the panels were curved just enough to be aerodynamic but essentially leaving a box-shaped vehicle behind. This helped with handling, which was always a key feature, and it was low to the ground too.

Which also made them very cute. Movie star cute, as the Mini Cooper’s lead role in The Italian Job testifies. This is a nippy little motor that can go anywhere, and be tucked away afterwards in a lorry:

Since then, Minis have appeared everywhere, from the Austin Powers movies to every self-respecting mod’s car collection, usually with a Union Flag on the roof.

There are even stretch Minis, presumably for parents of teenage drummers who won’t leave the cases behind.

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Filed Under: Iconic British Things
By Fraser McAlpine