The Mini was born in 1959. The first British ‘little’ car, where other countries had the Fiat 500 and other such bubble cars, it was the mini that conquered Europe and came out top of its class. The Volkswagen Beetle enjoyed similar popularity in North America.
The ad men for the mini were clear to point out that little didn’t mean small and the early advertisements featured regular sized families with irregular amounts of luggage all of which could fit in the Mini – stacked neatly in the boot, in the bins of the passenger doors, under seats, with efficient packing the mini was a verified TARDIS. Originally aimed at the 1960’s housewife, the mini was the car to carry the kids and the shopping and still be able to squeeze into the smallest of parking spaces.
And a Mini is big on the inside. In your average motor you have the space consuming console between the two front seats where the gear box is – not with the Mini – it was revolutionary in the sense that it had the gear box underneath the engine optimized for space. Further, it had a transversely mounted engine- being sideways enabled the front to be shorter and making the outside shell smaller overall. The engine itself is worth dwelling on for a few words, arguably the most enduring engine in car history. The A-Series is one of the most common in the world, launched in 1951 with the Austin A30 and remained in production all the way through to the last Mini in 2000.
The Mini used a variety of groundbreaking manufacturing techniques – not just the aforementioned engine and gear box, but also the seams of the body parts were on the outside to keep costs down – imagine sewing three edges of two squares of leather together to make a rudimentary purse. It was these peculiarities that first highlighted the Mini for customization. The king of Mini customization is undoubtedly John Cooper - as Shelby was to the mustang John Cooper was to the Mini. In 1961 Cooper developed the first Mini Cooper, tuned to racing standards. Famously in 1964 Paddy Hopkirk won the Monte Carlo Rally in a Mini Cooper. Between 1964-1967 the Mini Cooper won the Monte Carlo rally three times. With its worldwide rally acclaim the Mini’s identity as the housewives choice had radically changed and on the back of its success Mini customization kits entered the market and with them opened up the potential of the Mini’s customization to everyone with a spanner and the disposition to get their hands greasy. A culture was born.
The Rat Look Mini
For over 40 years the British icon that is the Mini continued to engrain itself in our hearts and drives and more and more of the almost infinite customization options came to be. Arguably, the last Mini was sent out of the factory in 2000, and the Mini became the ‘Classic Mini’ when BMW took over and released the MINI (BMW would argue differently).
So after many years of customization no two Mini’s are the same. Every mini has its story. Long lost owners, accident scars, their own idiosyncratic customization. In the many veins of car customization that is prevalent nowadays, there is a mini version. – whether that be the rat look, Euro style, murdered out or the host of other weird an wonderful things people do to their cars – whatever that may be, there is a Mini expressing it.
by Woody Harringman
Edward 'Woody' Harringman is a mini owner and enthusiast. Cabinet maker by trade, rarely writes articles and is the younger brother of James Harringman, Editor of Silkworms Ink.