In an age prior to The Beatles, before ‘flower power’ took hold and ‘Twiggy’ was tree remnant, recalls Iain Robertson, the original Mini set tongues wagging, with its front-wheel-drive, mega-efficient space and mere 10-feet footprint.
While some greater things marking the sixties, seventies and so on would all play their vital roles, 1959 was a memorable year all the same. Following a revolution, Fidel Castro assumed his Communist dictatorship in Cuba. The 24-years old Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet to avoid an early demise. While Alaska became the USA’s 49th State, Hawaii became the 50th. The first US astronauts, including John Glenn and Alan Shepard were introduced to the world.
The average price of a new, 2-bedroom house was around £4,000, while a new car would cost around £750. Average earnings were £1,250pa. The Barbie doll was launched. While ‘Rawhide’, ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and ‘Bonanza’ were acquired TV programmes, ‘North by Northwest’, ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘Some Like it Hot’ were showing at the local cinemas.
Fuel shortages, following the 1956 Suez Crisis, were leading car manufacturers to produce ever more economical models. The Ford Anglia 105E, with its notchback rear window, was a prime example of a 997cc car designed to eke out extra mileage. Only one-in-three UK households owned a car. Of the 1.2m cars produced in Great Britain, no less than 568,971 were exported. UK new car registrations, which included taxi-cabs, had reached a peak of 662,443…a stark contrast with the c.2.2m of today. Imported cars had more than doubled over 1958’s figures, to 26,998 units. Other new cars hitting British roads included the Aston Martin DB4, the Austin Cambridge, Morris Oxford, Riley 4/68, Daimler SP250, Sunbeam Alpine, Triumph Herald and Rover 3.0-litre.
On 26 August 1959, British Motor Corporation (BMC) revealed a car proudly that captured the imagination of the world and created effectively the compact car segment, which had been populated (in the post-WW2 period) by fibreglass specialists like Fairthorpe, Trojan, Reliant and Lotus. No less than six decades later, BMW now marks the Mini’s 60th birthday and the extraordinary story of a one-time British innovation that went on to achieve iconic worldwide status, which BMW was only too willing to covet and now share.
The original Mini was a little diamond-in-the-rough. Bare metal panels proliferated. Stick-on vinyl interior trim peeled off too readily. Flock carpets soon rubbed raw and the exterior hinges and seams were a natural attraction for the rust bug. The sliding side windows, while saving space, also leaked. The car cost a mere £560 at its launch in either Morris Minor Minor, or Austin Seven forms. It had 10.0-inch diameter wheels, a transversely-mounted 848cc A-Series engine and, if driving through a puddle, or just pouring rain, its electrics would pack-in. However, we all loved it!
Kick-starting its 60th anniversary year, BMW is introducing a limited run of 500 very special and costly vehicles for its UK customers. Built at Mini Plant Oxford, the 60 Years Edition is the first of a number of celebrations planned for 2019, to champion the brand’s rich British heritage and BMW’s on-going dedication to innovate. Of course, it is worth highlighting that BMW needs a bit of a ‘smoke screen’, having shifted some Mini production to Austria and also Holland in recent times, aided by generous EU grants. Unlike Alex Issigonis’ original car in 1959, BMW has continued to stretch the boundaries of the Mini’s credibility, while trying to ensure that use of space, driving fun, style and individualisation remains at its core.
The new model simply towers over the original and requires around 50% more real estate upon which to park. Sadly, the latest BMW models are not as practical as the Issigonis cars. They feel significantly more cramped and interior space is compromised, especially if occupants are taller than six feet. In replicating the feel of the original Mini’s suspension, while the chassis dynamics of the current Mini hatchback are very good, the ride quality is too harsh and the steering far too heavy.
The Mini 3-door Hatch Cooper S 60 Years Edition (combined fuel consumption: 39.8-43.5mpg; combined CO2 emissions: 129-127g/km) will be offered exclusively with an automatic transmission in the UK, making acceleration from 0-60mph possible in just 6.7s, considerably quicker than the original but a lot less fun.
The exterior design features a new British Racing Green IV paint finish, with piano black exterior trim, a black roof and exterior mirror caps, special anniversary design bonnet stripes and model-exclusive 17.0-inch diameter light alloy wheels, finished in 60 Years Spoke two-tone. The 60 Years emblem completes the decorative aspects of the vehicle, placed uniquely on the left-hand bonnet stripe, side scuttles of the turn indicators and ground-wards LED logo projection from the driver’s door mirror. Further enhancing the exterior design and sporty character, every model in the UK will be sold with an additional set of Mini spot lamps fitted to the front radiator grille.
The limited-edition vehicle has a distinctive interior with model specific finishes that use the 60 Years emblem, including the steering wheel and front seats. The seats are finished with Mini Yours Leather Lounge in Dark Cacao with contrasting seat stitching and piping to match the exterior paintwork. It is an exclusive leather reserved for this model, as it truly needs to be, at the proposed retail price.
Navigation Plus pack is included, providing a larger 8.8-inch touch display, complete with Satellite Navigation, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, concierge service and wireless charging. In addition, a rear-view camera, folding exterior mirrors and front and rear Park Distance Control (PDC) can be found on the car as part of the Comfort Plus Pack. As with all Mini hatchback models, this 500-off version features a high level of standard equipment, including LED front and rear lights, intelligent emergency call, ambient lighting, automatic headlights with rain sensor and plenty more.
The limited run of 500 Mini 60 Years Edition cars will be available in the UK from March 2019 at BMW Mini dealers, list priced from £29,990. Despite enjoying strong worldwide sales performance for BMW, Mini is now plateauing in several markets.