In 1959 the Austin/Morris Mini changed the face of motoring. Just 3 m (10 ft) long, it was the most efficient and effective use of road space ever seen. The apparent miracle of Sir Alec Issigonis’s design was to create a front-wheel drive, two-door, four-seat economy saloon that sacrificed nothing to exact steering, superb handling, and super-agile response.
At the time of its first launch, BMC (which included Austin and Morris, and marketed the Mini under both to keep the names before the public) lent a Mini to John Cooper, whose racing cars were then approaching the peak of their success (in several formulae, including two Formula 1 World Championships). He was immediately fascinated. By 1961 his ‘idea’ for a hot Mini had been researched, tested and produced — to a tidal wave of public and professional applause.
It was a social revolution as much as anything. The Mini Cooper, brilliant on the track and multi-winner of Monte Carlo Rallies, was the car of Britain’s about-to-be ‘swinging 60s’ elite. In London the unofficial race track was Belgrave Square (there was much less traffic than today). The manic screeching of tires at night is said to have only been tamed when a local policeman got his own Mini Cooper to give chase.
The Mini Cooper, and of course the even snappier Cooper ‘S’, have added to their legendary exploits with every incarnation. Like the Mini itself (and the MINI, as current owners BMW distinguish their versions), the Cooper has appeared in dozens of configurations, from economy to super-deluxe and back again. It has always guaranteed and delivered pure thrill; and that’s why so many people continue to admire and drive one more than fifty years on.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
997 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 85 mph (137 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) 17.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Customized Minis or Mini Coopers were stars in films like The Italian Job, A Shot In The Dark, and the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. Owners included Steve McQueen, Enzo Ferrari, Marianne Faithfull, all four Beatles, and Peter Sellers (whose Mini had wicker side-panels designed by the Rolls-Royce coach builder, Hooper). The Legend continues.