Mini 1959-1968

March 1957

Alec Issigonis, together with a selected small team of designers, begins work on ADO15. This is the British Motor Corporation’s code name for its new small car project, prompted by the need for an economy model in BMC’s line-up after the previous year’s Suez (oil) crisis.

November 1957

The first prototypes are assembled and begin testing. Most elements of the Mini are already present: an ultra-compact powertrain consisting of an A Series engine mounted across the engine bay over the gearbox (soon turned round the other way, either to prevent icing of the carburetter or to enable smaller transfer gears to be fitted – you choose the story you wish to believe), two-box body design with outside seams (to make manufacturing easier, though many years later the special roller welders still required to assemble it would make it a more skilful and difficult job than on other cars), small 10 inch diameter wheels and amazingly space-efficient fully-independent rubber cone suspension, designed by Alex Moulton.

July 1958

Leonard Lord, chairman of BMC, gives the go-ahead to put the car in production, demanding that this be achieved within a year.

April 1959

The first post-prototype, pre-production Minis are assembled at BMC’s Austin plant at Longbridge, Birmingham. The car now regarded as ‘the first Mini’, an Old English White Morris Mini Minor registered 621AOK, is assembled a month later at the Morris plant at Cowley, Oxford.

August 1959

The new Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor 848cc saloons are unveiled to the press, amid tremendous acclaim for such a revolutionary, incredibly space efficient small car. The Ferrari designer Aurelio Lampredi, when lent a pre-production Mini by John Cooper to try out at the occasion of the Italian Grand Prix, soon returns utterly smitten by the car’s driveability and space and makes the comment “if it wasn’t so ugly, I’d shoot myself.” Over the next twenty to thirty years, the Mini is adopted as the overall template for small car design by major motor manufacturers.

January 1960

The Austin Seven and Morris Mini Van are launched. Mechanically similar to the saloons, the revised bodywork aft of the doors gives them a four inch longer wheelbase and makes them nine and a half inches longer overall.

September 1960

The Mini body range is further expanded by the introduction of two estate versions, the Austin Seven Countryman and Morris Mini Minor Traveller. The rear half of the body is stylised on each model by the use of cosmetic, non-structural (unlike the Morris Minor Traveller) varnished wood framing. Variants without the wood are manufactured for export from April 1961 and for the UK market from October 1962. Mechanically the estate versions are the same as saloons and vans.

January 1961

The second commercial Mini body style is launched – the Pick Up. Based mainly on the Mini Van, only the outer panels from the doors rearwards are new. While attracting a great enthusiast following - a cult, really - after its production demise in 1983, the Pick Up is destined to be built in smaller numbers than any of the other standard Mini body styles (production total 58000).

March 1961

The first Australian assembled Mini is completed. Australia will carry on building Minis, first in Sydney then Enfield, with increasing local content, until 1978. Overseas production of the Mini would soon spread to other foreign plants, either from completely knocked-down kits, locally made components or combinations of the two, including Leykor (South Africa), Innocenti (Italy), Authi (Spain), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Chile (plastic bodied versions) and Venezuela (ditto) amongst many others. Perhaps the best known of the foreign plants is the Leyland factory at Seneffe in Belgium, which would go on to produce very significant numbers of most variants of Mini saloon (including Innocenti models) and estates through the 1970s. Introduction of locally sourced content on overseas built Minis would spawn some very different versions to UK built models.

June 1961

The upmarket but short-lived Austin Super Seven and Morris Super Mini Minor saloons introduced. Not to be confused with the not quite so well equipped Super Deluxe models that replace them from late 1962, the Supers unveil to the world what the forthcoming Mini Coopers will look like. Retaining the standard mechanicals of lesser Mini saloons, they have duo-tone paintwork, extra brightwork (including overriders and corner bars), upgraded interior trim with brocade material option and a triple instrument fascia.

September 1961

The launch takes place of the Austin Seven Cooper and Morris Mini Cooper – the first in an illustrious line of Cooper variants. Developed by racing car manufacturer John Cooper, the cars marry the Super’s body and trim with a new twin carburetter 997cc A Series engine, revised gear ratios and front disc brakes.

October 1961

The very upmarket (leather, wood and wool trimmed) Riley Elf and its fractionally less well appointed sibling, the Wolseley Hornet, are introduced. Completing the range of volume production Mini body types and visually reinforcing their distance from other Minis, both have traditional upright radiator grilles and conventional ‘three box’ bodies with large (by Mini standards) boots. Mechanically, they are the same as standard 848cc Minis.

January 1962

The ‘Seven’ nomenclature is dropped from all Austin variants, to be replaced by the name the car is already universally known by: Mini.

January 1963

The Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet Mk II models appear, sporting the first in a very long line of 998cc A Series engines to be fitted in Minis.

March 1963

The Austin and Morris Mini Cooper S models are launched. They will become the best known and best loved Mini type of all. The first in a line of Cooper S Minis have 1071cc engines, further revised gear ratios and more powerful disc brakes than standard Coopers.

November 1963

A twin carburetter 998cc engine is introduced in the Cooper models, ostensibly to replace the 997cc unit, but in fact they run side by side in car production for two months before the 997cc variant is discontinued.

January 1964

The utility bodied Austin and Morris Mini Moke arrives, with standard Mini 848cc mechanicals clothed in a most utilitarian, completely open, Jeep-like body. During development, BMC banks on military fleet orders which never materialise. Over its four year production life at Longbridge, just 15000 Mokes are built. It remains, however, another model raised to cult status by Mini enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, the Mini continues to assert itself in competitions. Through to the end of the 1960s, until unsurped by more modern cars, the Mini Cooper and Cooper S will dominate saloon circuit racing (in the hands of spectacular drivers such as John Rhodes and John Handley), but it is in rallying that the Cooper S makes its biggest public impact. This month, in the hands of Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon, a BMC works 1071cc Cooper S wins outright the revered Monte Carlo Rally.

February 1964

The Cooper S receives a new, larger, 1275cc engine – the ultimate Cooper S. Production of the 1071cc version continues, however, until August 1964.

June 1964

An ‘homologation special’ 970cc Cooper S is launched. Reaching a total production quantity of just 963 cars over a ten month production period, the 970S is only sanctioned as a means of qualifying the 970cc engine in a Mini Cooper for racing purposes. As such, it is the rarest production Mini Cooper and is much sought after.

September 1964

Hydrolastic suspension replaces the original rubber cone type on all saloon members of the Mini family, except for a small proportion of export cars (to countries where strict headlamp beam control regulations made it necessary to retain rubber cone suspension until components to further stabilize Hydrolastic suspension had been developed). The long wheelbase Minis – Traveller/Countryman, Van and Pick Up – will however retain rubber suspension throughout their production lives.

January 1965

A BMC works entered Cooper S driven by Timo Makinen and Paul Easter win the Monte Carlo Rally for the second time.

October 1965

Automatic transmission models are officially launched, after several false starts over the previous year. The auto option is restricted to non-Cooper saloons, Countrymans and Travellers, plus Elf and Hornet. The one millionth Mini is displayed at London Motor Show. While many realise the Mini is being made and sold at a loss, it is becoming incredibly popular after slow sales at the beginning of the 1960s. The classless appeal and cheeky appearance of the car results in it being seen everywhere, from tenement blocks to suburban driveways to Park Lane, Mayfair and Chelsea (no coincidence that these names will reappear many years later on Mini limited editions). It is destined to join the Mini Skirt, Beatles and Rolling Stones as an icon of the 60s.

January 1966

For the third year running, a BMC works entered Cooper S wins outright at Monte Carlo driven, as in 1965, by Timo Makinen and Paul Easter. Works Cooper S Minis come second and third overall, too, just to emphasise the hat trick of wins. The organising committee for the rally cannot believe that the Minis can so comprehensively trounce much more powerful cars and suspect the team are cheating. After several days of the most detailed scrutineering the Minis are disqualified on the basis of a minor lighting infringement. Stung by the injustice, the BMC team arrange a time trial at Monte Carlo between one of the winning Minis and a standard Cooper S borrowed from a local showroom. The standard car wins the trial comprehensively and the event is widely reported in the press, but to no avail. The disqualification stands and the BMC team return home with their cars. Makinen’s car is paraded to a wildly applauding and sympathetic public on stage at the London Palladium – the occasion is broadcast by TV around the country.

February 1966

Moke production, with the 998cc Elf/Hornet engine, commences in Australia. From 1968 through to 1981, Australia carries the torch for the Moke, and successively larger engined versions (1098cc from 1969 to 1975, 1275cc ‘Californian’ from 1971 to 1973) are introduced.

October 1966

The Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet Mk III appear, with new doors featuring wind-up windows instead of the previous standard Mini sliding windows and new concealed internal door hinges. It will be another three years before other Minis receive the same doors, although archive BMC engineering drawings show that the forthcoming Mini Mk II models were originally intended to have them.

January 1967

Making a very obvious point, given the previous year’s fiasco, a BMC works Cooper S wins outright yet again in the Monte Carlo Rally, this time driven by Rauno Aaltonen and Henry Liddon. Revenge is sweet, and this time there are no accusations of cheating. This year, the cars entered by BMC are running on a new design of lightweight magnesium alloy wheel. Manufactured by Tech Del, the ‘Minilite’ wheel and the many replicas that follow it are to have the closest of associations with sporting Minis from that point right through to the present day.

October 1967

The revised Austin and Morris Mini Mk II ranges are introduced, with the 998cc engine from the Elf and Hornet becoming optional in saloons and standard in estate models. Vans and Pick Ups continue unaltered with their Mini Mk I features, while Coopers follow the revised body styles of the standard Austin and Morris Mk II saloons. Sales of all Minis to the USA are officially ceased, due to forthcoming safety and emissions regulations. This robs the car of one of its most buoyant export markets, although sales continue in similarly-regulated Canada with increasingly uniquely equipped Minis until regulations force the car out of that marketplace, too, in 1980. BMC, having been for a year a part of British Motor Holdings together with Jaguar, announces a merger with the Leyland Motor Corporation (which includes Rover and Triumph) to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation.

January 1968

Mini saloon production at Cowley (Oxford) ceases; all subsequent Minis of all body types are built at Longbridge (apart from cars built or assembled from completely knocked-down kits in overseas plants).

August 1968

The Mini’s 3 synchromesh gearbox is replaced by a 4 synchromesh type in all manual models (actually, the introduction is phased across the models and is not completed until October 1968).