Eeven now, the Mini stacks up as an exceptionally clever piece of design, and itís impossible to come up with something that made better use of the resources and space allocated to its dimimutive package.
It was the work which made designer Sir Alec Issigonis most famous, though in the early stages of the carís conception, through the mid 1950s, it wasnít necessarily his first priority. British Motor Corporation Chair Sir Leonard Lord had given Issigonis (long before he was knighted) the task of developing three levels of new-gen cars for the firm: luxury, family and economy.
With the Suez Crisis of 1956 came a real fear that oil supplies from the middle east would be curtailed (how little has changed over time). Suddenly, the light car with its implied fuel-efficiency became the big priority.
In 1959, the market was presented with the front-drive four Morris Mini Minor, aka the new Austin Seven, which was later to be accepted simply as the Mini.
Certainly Issigonis didnít have the current level of safety and other regs to jump over, which made the task of deigning a light and remarkably capable compact car somewhat simpler. Nevertheless it was an incredibly subtle and clever piece of design for its day and clearly influenced countless designs that came after.
Not only did it become the most popular British car ever made, with something over five million sales, but it was a stand-out motorsport platform. Even now, on the right day at Goodwood, for example, you can see them harrassing much bigger and more powerful cars in historic races.
Of course these days a healthy early Mini is no longer an economy car and good restored ones are valuable classics. Sir Alec would no doubt be a little bemused.