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Mini - Cars

The MOST British of British cars,

Years ahead of its time arguably the defining moment for 40 years of European cars,

Now given away to the krauts for a few crumbs

for Early Mini's see Austin and Morris for Late

Launched to a dumb-founded motoring press in 1959 the Alec Issigonis designed Austin 7 and Morris Mini Minor introduced a whole new concept in car design. The new cars were more or less instantly referred to as the Mini and seemed to capture the mood of the "swinging sixties", they seemed to almost break through the traditional class barriers that surrounded British cars in general, everybody wanted to drive a Mini.

The original Mini (1959Ė2000) was a revolutionary and distinctive small car designed for the British Motor Corporation (BMC) by Sir Alec Issigonis (1906Ė1988). It was manufactured in Birmingham, England.

Designed as project ADO15 (Austin Design Office), the first models were marketed with the names Austin Seven (often written as SE7EN) and Morris Mini-Minor in England. Until 1962, they appeared as the Austin 850 and Morris 850 in North America and France. The production model differed from the original prototype (affectionately named "The Orange Box") due to the addition of a front subframe, on which the engine was mounted, and by the engine being mounted with the carburettor at the back, rather than at the front, as in the prototype, due to carburettor-icing. This required an extra cog in the revolutionary gearbox, which reduced the top speed from an unprecedented 90 mph to a more manageable (for the time) 60 mph. The car suspension also featured the use of rubber cones as springs Ė a design adapted from Issigonis's home-built racer.

Issigonis' friend John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company and Formula 1 Champion in 1959 and 1960, saw the potential of the little car, and after some experimentation and testing, the two men collaborated to create a nimble, economical, and inexpensive car. The Austin Mini Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper debuted in 1962.

The original 848cc engine from the Morris Mini-Minor was increased to 997 cc, boosting power from 34 bhp to 55 bhp (25 to 41 kW). The car featured a racing-tuned engine, double SU carburetors, and disc brakes, uncommon at the time in a small car. 1,000 of this iteration were commissioned by management, intended for, and designed to meet the homologation rules of, Group 2 rally racing. The 997 engine was replaced by a shorter stroke 998 cc unit in 1964. By the time production of the Cooper model ended in 1967, 12,274 of these popular cars had been sold to the public. A more powerful Mini Cooper, dubbed the "S", was developed in tandem and released in 1963. Featuring a 1071 cc engine and larger disc brakes, 4,030 Cooper S's were produced and sold until the model was updated in August, 1964. Cooper also produced two models specifically for circuit racing, rated at 970cc and a 1275cc, both of which were also offered to the public. The smaller engine model was not well received and only 963 were built until the model was discontinued in 1965. Over 40,000 1275 cc Cooper S models were produced before this too was discontinued in 1971.

From 1967 to 1970, Issigonis had been designing a replacement for the Mini in the form of an experimental model called the 9X. It was shorter and more powerful than the Mini, but due to politicking inside British Leyland, which had been formed from the merger of BMC and Standard-Triumph, the car was not built. It was an intriguing "might-have-been;" the car was technologically advanced and many believe it would have been competitive up until the 1980s.

Updated 998cc and 1275cc models were produced after the introduction of the Mk. II body type in 1967. Production of the 998cc variant ended in 1969, with over 55,000 cars sold. The 1275cc variant soldiered on, adopting the slightly modified Mk. III body type in 1969Ė70, until January 1972. The Cooper company was quick to develop and sell a conversion kit for export models, which registered steady sales until 1975.

All early Minis utilized a conventional four-cylinder water-cooled engine, but departed from previous auto designs by mounting the engine transversely and placing the engine-oil-lubricated gearbox in the sump--all of this to allow for front-wheel drive, an elegant technical innovation ahead of its time. This compact engine design "pushed" the passenger space forward, creating a surprisingly roomy interior for a car with a diminutive overall footprint. Almost all small front-wheel drive cars built since the 1970s have followed this design model. To keep manual labor costs low, the Mini was assembled with quirky exterior welded seams. The early Minis also had an unusual suspension system that used rubber cones instead of conventional springs, leading to a rather raw and bumpy ride. This rigidity, and 10-inch diameter wheels at each corner, gave the Mini its famous go-kart handling. The suspension in the higher-end models was replaced by a hydrolastic system in 1964. The new suspension created a softer ride, but it also increased weight and production cost; in 19XX the original rubber suspension reappeared.

The Mini etched its place into popular culture in the 1960s with well-publicised purchases by film and music stars. Members of the Beatles and even Queen Elizabeth II owned one. Mini Cooper earned acclaim in Monte-Carlo rally victories in 1964, 1965, and 1967. It won in 1966 as well, but was disqualified. The Mini was also arguably the star of the 1969 film The Italian Job.

The popularity of the original Mini spawned many models that targeted different markets:

-1961 and 1969: The Wolseley Hornet (reviving a sports car name from the 1930s), also known as the Riley Elf. Intended to be a luxurious small car with a more substantial boot (trunk) and a slightly different front.

-1961 and 1969 (UK only): the Morris Mini Traveller and the Austin Mini Countryman. Standard two-door station-wagons with double "barn-door" style rear doors. The luxury models had wood inserts in the rear body. (This "half-timbered" styling is something uniquely and, according to some, bizarrely British.)

-The Mini Van and Pick-up. Commercial panel van and truck derivatives. Built on the estate-car chassis but without side-windows and with a flat-bed, respectively.

-The Austin and Morris Mini Moke. A bizarre all utility vehicle, this Jeep look-alike was first designed for the British Army, but without a good ground clearance or four wheel drive, it proved unworthy for military use.

Sales were strong across most of the model lines in the 1960s, but the car never made money for its makers. It had to be sold at less than its production cost to compete with rivals. It is also rumored that due to an accounting error, the car was always incorrectly priced and each sale made a loss for the company.

In the early 1970s, under the ownership of British Leyland, the Mini was given a face-lift. The restyled version was called the Mini Clubman, and sported a modern, more square look. A new model, dubbed the 1275 GT, was slated as the replacement for the old Mini Cooper S. The Clubman Estate took over where the Countryman and Traveller left off. British Leyland continued to produce the classic 1960s designs, however. This was a smart move, as the new models were nearly universally panned, and faded away quickly.

In 1971, the Mini Cooper design was licensed in Italy by Innocenti and in Spain by Authi (Automoviles de Turismo Hispano-Ingleses), which began to produce the Innocenti Mini Cooper 1300 and the Authi Mini Cooper 1300, respectively.

In the late 1970s, Innocenti introduced the Innocenti 90 and 120, Bertone-designed hatchbacks based on the Mini platform. Bertone also created a Mini Cooper equivalent, christened the Innocenti de Tomaso, that sported a 1275 turbocharged engine.

Reports of the Mini's imminent demise surfaced again in 1980 with the unsuccessful launch of the Austin Mini-Metro (badging showed the word 'Mini' in all lowercase). In 1981 in New Zealand, the Mini starred in a "road trip" movie directed by Geoff Murphy called Goodbye Pork Pie. By this time, however, the Mini was beginning to fall out of favor in many export markets. South African, Australian, and New Zealand production all stopped around this time. In New Zealand, assembly lines switched to the newly popular Honda City.

Through the 1980s, the British market enjoyed numerous "special editions" of the Mini, which shifted the car from a mass-market item into a fashionable icon. It was this image that perhaps helped the Mini become such an asset for BMW, which later bought the remnants of BMC as the Rover Group. It was even more popular in Japan, where it was seen as a retro-cool icon, and inspired many imitators at major Japanese automakers.

A new Mini Cooper was briefly relaunched in 1990-1991, with slighter lower performance than the 1960s Cooper. It proved so popular that the new Cooper-marked Mini went into full production in late 1991. From 1992, Coopers were fitted with a fuel-injected version of the 1275cc engine, and in 1997 the multi-point injected engine was introduced, along with a front mounted radiator and various safety improvements.

In 1994 under Bernd Pischetsrieder, a nephew of Issigonis, BMW took control of the Rover Group, which included the Mini, fitting an airbag to comply with European legislation. By 2000, Rover was still suffering massive losses, and BMW decided to dispose of most of the company: MG and Rover went to Phoenix, a new British consortium; Land Rover went to Ford. BMW kept the Mini brand name and now sells a completely new Mini, technically unrelated to the old car.

Production of the original Mini outlasted its major competitors, the VW Beetle, the CitroŽn 2CV, and the Metro, at least in Europe. The final Mini rolled off the assembly line in October 2000. A total of 5.3 million cars had been manufactured.

A number of prototypes were produced for vehicles based on the Mini, which never saw production, but which were displayed at the British Car Heritage museum at Gaydon. These included the Twini, a re-engineered 4x4 Moke with two engines - one at the front, and another at the back, the Austin Ant, a second attempt to produce a 4-wheel drive vehicle, this time using a 4x4 gearbox, which was cancelled when BMC acquired Land Rover, and a two-seater convertible MG edition of the Mini, cancelled due to it being percieved as competition for the MG midget.

Launched in 2001, the new MINI (note capitals, sometimes unofficially called BMW MINI) is built in Cowley in Oxford, United Kingdom. Historically this was the Morris car plant. The new MINI has a Brazilian-built Tritec engine. Like the original, this is a transverse four-cylinder unit, driving the front wheels. The styling of the car, like that of the new VW Beetle, is deliberately reminiscent of the original. The car has been criticized for its poor space-efficiency compared with the original, but it has quickly become a sales success in Europe and (from 2002) in the US. It comes in 4 models: the MINI One, MINI One D (with a Toyota-built diesel engine), MINI Cooper, and MINI Cooper S. In the US market, only the MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S are sold. The car is featured in the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. New for 2005 production are the MINI Cooper (and S) convertibles, as well as a redesigned front and rear fascia for the hardtop models.

At the Geneva Motorshow 2004, BMW/MINI introduced a convertible model to be released in mid-2004. The car is available in 'One', 'Cooper' and 'Cooper S' versions worldwide (although the 'One' convertible, like its hardtop sibling, is not sold in the US). BMW have received a significant backlog of orders in the short period since its announcement.

The MINI Cooper/Cooper S won the North American Car of the Year award for 2003.

BMW will introduce a new MINI for 2006 on a reengineered platform. This architecture is shared with PSA Peugeot CitroŽn Group and will be more flexible. Additional MINI models, including a roadster and sport wagon, are likely. The Tritec engine will be replaced by a new BMW unit with an optional turbo rather than supercharging.

AutoWeek reports that a long-wheelbase version (reminiscent of the original Mini Estate) will also be produced. This may include a 5-door rear-hinged version similar to the Saturn ION Quadcoupe and Mazda RX-8.

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