The Mini in the 1960s

Austin mini, early 1960s

The car that most people associate with the sixties, the Mini, was actually a product of the late fifties. BMC Chairman, Leonard Lord was disgusted by the appearance of bubble cars on British roads as a result of petrol rationing following the Suez Crisis in 1957. He asked top designer, Alec Issigonis, to design a car that was smaller than the Morris Minor, but nevertheless could seat four people in comfort. Unlike the bubble cars, it was to be in every way a "proper"car.

Issigonis' design was revolutionary. Instead of mounting the engine North-South (front-back) and driving the rear wheels, the Mini's engine was to be mounted across the car - East-West, and the Mini was to be front-wheel drive. This arrangement meant that the new car would be at least as spacious as conventional small cars of a larger size - such as the Austin A35 or Ford Anglia.

The Mini was launched in August 1959. It was initially available as an Austin Seven (or Se7en in Austin's advertising copy of the time) or a Morris Mini Minor. Neither of these names caught on and the car became known to the public as just the "Mini". The first Minis were basic by today's standards. They had sliding windows. Wind-up windows did not come until 1969. Rubber mats covered the floor of the basic model, although carpets were available on the deluxe variant. There was no dashboard as such, just a centrally mounted speedometer separated two parcel shelves either side. There was no heater on the basic version. A heater was standard on the deluxe version. However, at the time it was not uncommon for much larger and expensive cars to come without a heater or full carpeting.

The Mini took a year or two to really catch on with the public, but when it did, it sold extremely well throughout the decade. It was soon joined by the more sporting Mini Cooper and Cooper S - which won the Monte Carlo rally three times. There was also a Mini van and an estate car available with or without Morris Traveller style wooden framing, and two upmarket versions, the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet. These had wooden trim and leather seats. They also lost the Mini's distinctive external door hinges and were the first of the Mini range to have wind-up windows and the 998cc engine.

The Mini had a much broader appeal than BMC anticipated. Its small size made it ideal for parking in London. It was taken up by the rich and famous, as well as the ordinary. Coach builders, Harold Radford, took a basic Mini, usually a Cooper, and retrimmed the cars to incredible standards of luxury. Deep pile carpets, well-padded leather seats, wooden facia and cappings and special paint jobs made the Radford Minis stand out from the crowd. Pop stars and celebrities bought them. The ultimate Mini of the era was a Downton-tuned, Radford Mini Cooper - luxury and speed combined.

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles ★