In 1956, the Suez Crisis caused a sharp increase in fuel prices. The public wanted smaller cars that were cheaper to run. But Britain was losing out in this market to compact "bubble cars" manufactured in Germany.
The British Motor Corporation's designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, set out to create a compact car that could nevertheless carry four people in comfort. His revolutionary design positioned the engine transversely, driving the front wheels. The gear box was placed under the engine and shared its oil. The result was a small car with a remarkably spacious interior: the Mini was born.
THE FIRST CELEBRITY CAR
The first Mini rolled off the production line in 1959, costing a modest £469. It was nippy and nimble – a great city car. Soon, Swinging London's top musicians, models and film stars were driving Minis and demand for them began to take off. Mick Jagger, The Beatles, Twiggy, Peter Sellers and Lord Snowdon were all zipping around town in groovy Minis.
The Mini embodied the freewheeling spirit of the sixties. It also proved particularly popular with Britain's growing number of women drivers. BMC actively marketed the car to women and thousands responded, eager to express the financial independence that greater access to the world of work had brought them.
A sportier version, the Mini Cooper, was developed, creating even more excitement. In 1964, 1965 and 1967, Mini Coopers won the Monte Carlo Rally, cementing the car's reputation as one of the world's all-time classic vehicles.
The Mini's continental capers were far from over. In 1969, Michael Caine starred in The Italian Job, a glorious, British-made heist movie set in Turin and featuring three red, white and blue Mini Coopers careering across the city. Naturally, Caine was top of the bill but the real stars of the show were the Minis!