The Mini Cooper was born out of a need for a nation burdened with fuel shortages. It became a giant in the hearts of owners and enthusiasts worldwide.
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Good things come from struggles. Because of the 1959 Suez Crisis, fuel was rationed in the United Kingdom making the ownership of large cars more expensive, while smaller imported cars were uncommon at the time. If there hadn’t been a fuel shortage in Britain during 1959, the Mini Cooper might have never been conceived. However, crises are often the mother of invention and hope.
To save Britain’s transportation needs from this crisis, Leonard Lord, head of the British Motor Company, created a tiny, cheap, and fuel-efficient economy car called the Mini with the help of designer Alec Issigonis. It featured a revolutionary laterally mounted engine and wheels mounted in the corners to maximize passenger space. Having the wheels mounted so closely to the corners gave the car excellent maneuverability. The Mini became such a huge sales success, not just in Britain, but worldwide. It quickly became a fashion icon.
The initial name was, in fact, not Mini – but the inelegant name of Mark I Mini code-named ADO 15. Upon launch, the Mark I Mini was marketed as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor.
Early Austin advertising and marketing materials used the name “SE7EN,” and no, that’s not a misspelling. British Motor Company also had the Morris Minor, with “Minor” being the Latin word for “smaller.” With a little badge engineering, the new car seemed to fit well into the Morris Minor automotive clan too. With the small addition of an abbreviated version of the Latin “Minimus” meaning “the smallest”, the name Mini namesake was born.
The Mini Mark II was supposed to be shorter and more potent than the Mk I, but it was not built because of management decisions at BMC. So instead of that, the Mk II was released, featuring a redesigned front grille which stayed with the Mini from that point on, a larger rear window, and other cosmetic changes. It was sold as the Austin and Morris Mini in most markets.
The Mini Mark III had a series of body modifications, the most serious of which was the oversized doors with concealed hinges. Also, the suspension was reverted from Hydrolastic to a rubber system for cost-saving purposes.
The Mini Mark IV had a choice of four inline-four-cylinder engines – 848cc, 998cc, 1098cc, and 1275cc. It was sold in a car, van, or truck body style.
The Mini Mk V sales started in 1984. The fifth version of the Mini was badged as an Austin until 1988 when the branding returned to only using the Mini name. This Mini was available with a 1.0L or 1.3L inline-four-cylinder engine and was only a two-door car. The Mini Mk V was similar to the previous Mk IV Mini.
The Mark VI launched with a new 1,275 cc engine with 62 horsepower. The new Mini also includes the HIF carburetor version and the single-point fuel-injected car in 1991.
Through the 1980s and 90s, the Mini had become a fashion icon, but received minimal updates. Its time was coming to an end. Both the standard Mini and sporty Mini Cooper S had the 1.3L inline-four engine. The Mark VII was the final version of the two-door Mini.
After BMW purchased the Mini brand in its Rover Group purchase of 1994, it already had some designs on what a new Mini could be. BMW ultimately sold off the Rover Group, but hung on to Mini. Frank Stephenson, a US designer for BMW, came up with an approved Mini Cooper concept. While cute, charming, and loveable, it wasn’t as original or groundbreaking as the first Mini. It did, however, establish the new MINI for a new generation of drivers while reminding them of the past.
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