The Mini: a revolution on 4 wheels

The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout (which allowed 80% of the area of the car's floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage) influenced a generation of car-makers.

The vehicle is in some ways considered the British equivalent to its German contemporary, the  Volkswagen Beetle, which enjoyed similar popularity in North America. In 1999 the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T.

This distinctive two-door car was designed for BMC by Sir Alec Issigonis. It was manufactured at the Longbridge and Cowley plants in England, the Victoria Park / Zetland British Motor Corporation (Australia) factory in Sydney, Australia, and later also in Spain (Authi), Belgium, Chile, Italy (Innocenti), Malta, Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.

The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates: the Mark II, the Clubman and the Mark III. Within these was a series of variations including an estate car, a pick up truck, a van and the Mini Moke - a jeep-like buggy. The Mini Cooper and Cooper "S" were sportier versions that were successful as rally cars, winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times from 1964 through to 1967, although in 1966 the Mini was disqualified after the finish, along with six other British entrants, which included the first four cars to finish, under a questionable ruling that the cars had used an illegal combination of headlamps and spotlights.

Initially Minis were marketed under the Austin and Morris names, as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor, until Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969. The Mini was again marketed under the Austin name in the 1980s.

Designed as project ADO15 (Austin Drawing Office project number 15), the Mini came about because of a fuel shortage caused by the 1956 Suez Crisis. Petrol was once again rationed in the UK, sales of large cars slumped, the market for German bubble cars boomed. Leonard Lord, the somewhat autocratic head of BMC, reportedly detested these cars so much that he vowed to rid the streets of them and design a 'proper miniature car'. He laid down some basic design requirements: the car should be contained within a box that measured 10 × 4 × 4 ft (3 × 1.2 × 1.2 m); and the passenger accommodation should occupy 6 ft (1.8 m) of the 10 ft (3 m) length; and the engine, for reasons of cost, should be an existing unit. Issigonis, who had been working for Alvis, had been recruited back to BMC in 1955 and, with his skills in designing small cars, was a natural for the task. The team that designed the Mini was remarkably small: as well as Issigonis, there was Jack Daniels (who had worked with him on the Morris Minor), Chris Kingham (who had been with him at Alvis), two engineering students and four draughtsmen. Together, by October 1957, they had designed and built the original prototype, which was affectionately named "The Orange Box" because of its color.

The ADO15 used a conventional BMC A-Series four-cylinder water-cooled engine, but departed from tradition by mounting it transversely, with the engine-oil-lubricated, four-speed transmission in the sump, and by employing front-wheel drive. Almost all small front-wheel-drive cars developed since have used a similar configuration, except with the transmission usually separately enclosed rather than using the engine oil. The radiator was mounted at the left side of the car so that the engine-mounted fan could be retained, but with reversed pitch so that it blew air into the natural low pressure area under the front wing. This location saved precious vehicle length, but had the disadvantage of feeding the radiator with air that had been heated by passing over the engine. It also exposed the entire ignition system to the direct ingress of rainwater through the grille.

The suspension system, designed by Issigonis's friend Dr. Alex Moulton at Moulton Developments Limited, used compact rubber cones instead of conventional springs. This ingenious space-saving design also featured rising progressive-rate springing of the cones, and provided some natural damping, in addition to the normal dampers. Built into the subframes, the rubber cone system gave a raw and bumpy ride which was accentuated by the woven-webbing seats, but the rigidity of the rubber cones, together with the wheels being pushed out to the corners of the car, gave the Mini go kart-like handling that would become famous.

Initially an interconnected fluid system was planned—similar to the one that Alec Issigonis and Alex Moulton were working on in the mid-1950s at Alvis. They had assessed the mechanically interconnected Citroën 2CV suspension at that time (according to an interview by Moulton with Car Magazine in the late 1990s), which inspired the design of the Hydrolastic suspension system for the Mini and Morris/Austin 1100, to try to keep the benefits of the 2CV system (ride comfort, body leveling, keeping the roadwheel under good control and the tyre in contact with the road), but with added roll stiffness that the 2CV was very much lacking. The short development time of the car meant this was not ready in time for the Mini's launch. The system intended for the Mini was further developed and the hydrolastic system was first used on the Morris 1100, launched in 1962; the Mini gained the system later in 1964. Ten-inch (254 mm) wheels were specified, so new tires had to be developed, the initial contract going to Dunlop. Issigonis went to Dunlop stating that he wanted even smaller, 8 in (203 mm) wheels (even though he had already settled on ten-inch). An agreement was made on the ten-inch (254 mm) size, after Dunlop choked on the eight-inch (203 mm) proposition.

Sliding windows allowed storage pockets in the hollow doors; reportedly Issigonis sized them to fit a bottle of Gordon's Gin. The boot lid was hinged at the bottom so that the car could be driven with it open to increase luggage space. On early cars the number plate was hinged at the top so that it could swing down to remain visible when the boot lid was open. This feature was later discontinued after it was discovered that exhaust gases could leak into the cockpit when the boot was open.

The Mini was designed as a monocoque shell with welded seams visible on the outside of the car running down the A and C pillars, and between the body and the floor pan. Those that ran from the base of the A-pillar to the wheel well were described as 'everted' (lit., 'turned outward') to provide more room for the front seat occupants. To further simplify construction, the hinges for the doors and boot lid were mounted externally.

Production models differed from the prototypes by the addition of front and rear subframes to the unibody to take the suspension loads, and by having the engine mounted the other way round, with the carburetor at the back rather than at the front. This layout required an extra gear between engine and transmission to reverse the direction of rotation at the input to the transmission. Having the carburetor behind the engine reduced carburetor icing, but the distributor was then exposed to water coming in through the grille. The engine size was reduced from 948 cc to 848 cc; this, in conjunction with a small increase in the car's width, cut the top speed from 90 mph (145 km/h) to a more reasonable (for the time) 72 mph (116 km/h).

Despite its utilitarian origins, the classic Mini shape had become so well known that by the 1990s, Rover Group—the heirs to BMC—were able to register its design as a trade mark in its own right.

The cheapness, simplicity and easy availability of used Minis make it an ideal candidate for body replacement. There are hundreds of Mini-based kit cars from various small companies and individual enthusiasts. There are also numerous dramatically modified Minis such as a set of three street-legal cars made up to look like giant oranges as a promotion for the Outspan company (one of which is on display at the National Motor Museum), a Mini that was made to look like a half-timbered cottage, complete with thatched roof and windows with curtains. Some enthusiasts have drastically shortened or lowered their cars to make them yet smaller. There is also a "sprint shell" which has a lower roof and a small body chop, which dramatically reduces drag. Others make small versions of stretched limos, double-decker buses, monster trucks, motor homes and many other kinds of vehicles from used Minis.

Years after the Mini finally ended its production run, there are still ample third-party parts—both spares for restoration and performance parts for race tuning.

Given the low weight and good handling of the Mini it is also popular to do an engine swap putting in a modern, high performance engine like the Rover K Series, a Honda VTEC B16A2, a Suzuki Swift GTi, a rear mounted Yamaha R1 motorbike engine, or the Vauxhall 16v 2 litre c20 XE "red top" engine, amongst various alternatives.

Source: Wikipedia