Mini is celebrating its big 60th anniversary in 2019 and amid a collection of worldwide celebrations, Mini Australia marked the occasion at the 10th annual Motorclassica exhibition.
And what better occasion than this to examine just why the quintessentially British brand has endured for so long, and become the compact car specialist that it is today.
A true cornerstone of automotive history, the humble Mini was first designed in retaliation to fuel shortages in the United Kingdom. Sales of fuel efficient small cars boomed, prompting the British Motor Corporation to get creative and introduce a competitor to the likes of the Fiat 500, BMW Isetta and Messerschmitt KR200.
The Mini was first designed in 1959 and rushed to market shortly thereafter, quickly exploding in popularity and becoming the pop culture icon as we know it today.
One of the first models all of us would have noticed however was the Mini Cooper, created by British racing legend John Cooper by stroking out the engine, fitting a close-ratio gearbox and disc brakes. The Cooper was designed for performance rather than outright people carrying and set the scene for a David-vs-Goliath theme on the world’s racing circuit, thoroughly trouncing much more powerful rivals.
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Mini also should feel familiar to Australia, as they were made locally from 1961 onwards in the Sydney suburb of Zetland. Its popularity quickly grew Down Under thanks to its reliability and affordable price tag, growing from 20 models produced per day to around 100, climbing to third on the Australian sales charts in 1963.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of the Mini, and there’s a reason why its legend has stood the test of time to this day.
To help mark the milestone, Mini Australia invited Rauno Aaltonen, Bob Holden and Linda Devlinor to Motorclassica to share what made the brand so special.
From left to right: Rauno Aaltonen, Bob Holden and Linda Devlinor
Aaltonen, the legend of rally that he is, first came to the Mini brand in the early 1960s. Praising the Mini’s short, squat stance, Aaltonen moved to the Mini due to his disdain for long overhangs causing understeer, saying “it was like poison [for fast driving]”.
Conversely, the Mini presented a compact driving package that featured a wheel in each corner. Sure, it might have been underpowered in relation to other competitors of the era, however, where other teams had to tread carefully in terms of putting the power down (especially on gravel or snow during a rally), the Mini was able to zip out of a corner thanks to its lightweight body and tractable power delivery.
Mini cemented its reputation as a motorsport underdog through the 60s and 70s, famously winning the Monte Carlo rally in 1964 and again in 1965 and 1967. Closer to home, Rauno Aaltonen and Bob Holden won the effective Bathurst 1000 of the era, the Gallagher 500 at Mount Panorama.
More than motorsport, the Mini was embraced by all walks of life. On display at Motorclassica was a highway patrol Cooper S, a hunch-backed Cooper S Monaco and even a wood-panelled Mini station wagon.
The Mini carried on well into the 90s, when it was inherited by the BMW brand – which developed the idea into a new model in 2001.
From there, the humble hatch has spawned into a number of spin-offs over the past 20 years including a convertible, the estate-like Clubman, the high-riding Countryman, a Paceman two-door crossover and the Coupe and Roadster sports duo.
Mini Cooper S '60 Years Edition'
But, where to next?
If nothing else, future-wise, Mini wants to preserve the heritage it has built over the past 60 years while simultaneously slingshotting into the future armed with the latest electrified technology. A move toward electrified models will no doubt play a large role in the re-shaping of the brand, meaning a new era of Mini is upon us.
In 2020 we will see Mini’s first ever full-electric hatchback, while also staying true to its sports origins by intending the next Mini JCW GP for a mid-year release.
But for now, Mini bridges the gap between full-EVs and petrol powered cars with its Countryman S E plug-in hybrid which we drove after visiting Mini at Motorclassica. More on that soon…
Click through the photo gallery at the top of this story for more photos of Mini at Motorclassica 2019