MINI COOPER, BIG STATEMENT
In the swinging sixties, everyone was living life in Technicolor — and in the U.K., the Mini Cooper was right in the thick of it. An icon of the decade, the car was introduced in response to the post-World-War-II Suez Crisis, which sent gas prices soaring. Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Company tasked his top engineer, Alec Issigonis, with creating a compact, efficient car that would appeal to drivers economically, aesthetically, and practically.
The result was the first Mini, launched in 1959 with impressive, historic automotive innovations. In order to make the car spacious enough for four adults, Issigonis pushed the wheels all the way to the corners of the car and situated the engine sideways. While giving more interior room for passengers, this also created more stability for tight turns — a feature that came into play in the Mini’s future racing career.
The distinctive two-door, box-like shape of the tiny car was baffling to Britain at first — but the country swiftly got on board. The one-of-a-kind design crossed borders between all groups. Widely embraced by everyone from mods to working class families to royalty, the Mini was a hit, and became an emblem of the time.
Another group particularly intrigued by the Mini: sports car racers. Racing legend John Cooper was inspired by the Mini’s nimble handling and ability to take tight turns in tandem with the balance and grip created by the placement of the transverse keeping weight over the front tires. In 1961, he took the Mini and tweaked it with a bigger engine and some other race-minded amendments, and soon, the classic Mini Cooper 997 was born.
Smaller than the racing sedans of the day in both size and power, the agility of the Mini Cooper made it a formidable opponent on the track. The Monte Carlo rally is etched deep in the car’s history, as it won thrice from 1964–1967, and frequently found itself in the winner’s circle at other international races as well.
By the end of the 60s, over two million Minis had been sold globally. New models introduced included pickup truck and station wagon versions, but the original two-door style remained the most popular. The next couple decades saw uncertainty for the brand as it changed hands, from BMC to British Leyland to the Rover Group, which was purchased by BMW in 1994, at which point development on an all-new Mini was begun. BMW sold the Rover Group six years later, but Rover maintained rights to the name, and introduced a larger version with mixed reception from fans but commercial success.
Today, Mini lovers can drive off in a convertible, classic hatchback, or Countryman, the biggest model yet. With over 10 million possible customization combinations, the distinctive car is also one of the most individual on the market.
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