16 September 2019

More than an old car #117: Austin/Morris/Rover Mini

Most people will associate the words "classic car" to the VW Beetle, and also the Austin/Morris/Rover Mini as well! They are a key part of British culture as we know it, notably through Mr Bean, toys and T-shirts from London. I will try to summarise the wealth of information out there regarding this famous classic, but you can read up more if you are interested!

The Mini came about due to a fuel shortage caused by the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. Small cars, such as the Fiat 500, were favoured even in the UK. Leonard Lord, the head of BMC, detested the foreign cars and wished to introduce a 'proper miniature car'. His requirement was that the car should fit within a box measuring 3 m*1.2 m*1.2 m, and the passenger space should occupy 1.8 m out of the 3 m length. Alec Issigonis, a car designer in BMC, was appointed to come up with the design. He had been working on a few projects, one of which was a very small car called the XC9003. With the dictum by Lord, XC9003 became the priority and the Mini was unveiled in 1959.

Many features were designed to increase passenger space: sliding windows allowed single-skin doors to be fitted, increasing elbow room, and the boot lid was hinged at the bottom so that the car could be driven with it open to increase luggage space. There were legitimate concerns about passenger safety due to its size and it was partly the reason why the Mini was withdrawn from the US market in 1968. The Mini was initially marketed as the Austin and Morris Mini, and numerous versions were created throughout its lifetime. It was a strong seller in its native UK and eventually achieved great popularity worldwide, having been featured in films such as "The Italian Job" and great success in motorsport rallies.

Minis were powered by a variety of engines, and as mentioned previously, came in different styles. The blue unit is a Austin Clubman model, as seen by the more squarish frontal look. The yellow unit is a Morris Mini and the red one is a Rover Mini, although they look alike to the untrained eye. Rover Minis were powered by a 1,275 cc i4 engine while the other Mins had a 998 cc engine instead. As it was designed to be a family car, it was meant to be easy to maintain and work on. Its cuteness also endeared itself to women especially, who were more comfortable with smaller cars.

Production of the Mini ended in 2000, when its parent company Rover Group was broken up by BMW. A total of 5,387,862 cars were made and the subsequent Mini Hatch capitalised on the success of its predecessor. Minis were sold in Singapore by Malayan Motors from 1961, where it also contributed to the local motorsports community in the Singapore GP back in the early 60s and 70s. Even till today, there are quite a handful of Minis still on the roads and are perennial favourites at classic car shows along with the VW Beetle. Incidentally, there is one near my neighbourhood and I see it everyday, so I would believe they could also be hiding around yours as well!

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