The Mini Cooper is perfectly formed. At once innovative and quirky, its tiny frame has provided the ultimate challenge for world record attempts to cram in as many people as possible.
As a car, though, its technical achievements sent shockwaves through an industry that, in the 1960s, was obsessed with big, gas-guzzling US giants. As a design icon, it captured the spirit of the swinging 60s, providing the backdrop to the likes of Twiggy and The Beatles. Its creative aura has resonated through the years to its latest incarnation, and even as a template for products as far removed as Apple’s iPod Mini.
The design brief was a tough one. With a backdrop of oil shortages due to the Suez crisis, Sir Alec Issigonis was charged with creating a revolutionary small car that would transport people using as little fuel as possible – and take on the rise of the German bubble cars. Or, in the words of Issigonis’ boss, Sir Leonard Lord: “Wipe those blasted bubble cars off the road.”
The result was a design marvel. Issigonis changed car design forever by deciding to mount the engine transversely, with the gearbox under the engine. Tiny, ten-inch wheels formed a perfectly-created base, and the entire Mini was just over ten feet in length.
Yet the transformation from housewives’ dream to international icon took the intervention of rally champion John Cooper, who turbo-charged the design and led it to rallying victory. After that, everyone wanted one. From The Beatles, to Peter Sellers, Graham Hill, and even Enzo Ferrari – celebrities flocked to this quintessentially English motoring fashion accessory.
Its appeal is much like that of Apple’s iPod today. Small really is beautiful, and the impressive design feat of squeezing so much technology into a tiny object wooed a generation. It was cute, and oozed personality, with its diminutive form blessed with an approachable expression made up of headlights and grill. Interestingly, it proved incredibly customizable, too. With low-riders, convertibles, and a riot of body artwork available, it became the first car that was quickly able to be modified to express the owners’ tastes, rather than that of the car’s manufacturer.
The height of Mini’s coolness was its starring role in the 1969 movie, The Italian Job, which also starred Michael Caine. The movie – about a heist in Rome – was an international hit, and the getaway sequence, starring three Minis in red, white, and blue, was a showcase of the car’s design attributes. It’s still a classic, and the 2003 remake features the new, updated Mini models from BMW.
Like a favourite toy, the Mini has inspired endless alterations and interesting new uses. It soon became the de facto object – along with the phone box – for trying to squeeze as many people as possible into. It added charm and fun to an already classic product.
The last, original Mini stopped production in 2000. BMW was so enamoured by the brand and its potential that it set about revitalizing this design classic. Launched in 2001, the new, cheeky Mini, including the Cooper and Cooper S versions, is decidedly 21st Century, yet the original design still echoes thorough the bodywork.
Director – Aardman Animations, www.aardman.com
Every now and again throughout history you find people who take something familiar, look at it in a different way, and end up being laughed at by everybody. Occasionally though, some different thinkers hit upon something revolutionary, and a classic is born.
A combination of an engine turned sideways and innovative elastic suspension allowed the car to be relatively spacious inside, while being lovably cute and tiny on the outside. Cleverly, rather than let it be seen as merely a little car for shopping trips, highly-tuned Cooper versions were entered into the famous Monte Carlo rally. The cars won four years in a row – making it a man’s car, too – grrr.
This hipness was further increased when celebrities started to buy them. Among them, The Beatles, Peter Sellers, Enzo Ferrari, Steve McQueen, Twiggy, Marc Bolan, Clint Eastwood and… Eddie Van Halen – honestly! When the cars appeared in The Italian Job as stars in their own right, their iconic status was complete.
Once a car has built such character, it's virtually impossible not to keep on manufacturing it – and almost identical looking Minis ran off the production line for 42 years. There were minis on the roads when I was born – and it was one of the first cars my two-year-old son recognized – it’s difficult to imagine the roads without them. Look at ’em – they’re lovely.
Design director – Good Technology, goodtechnology.com
It’s not big. It’s not particularly clever. But it is so much fun and has so much personality it is impossible not to like the Mini – the smile it often raises is pretty much involuntary.
If you’re not generally prone to smiling at inanimate objects, the experience can be quite liberating! Which is appropriate, because the Mini is all about freedom. The Mini is one of those great but rare moments where the end design so perfectly meets a need – or more precisely, meets so many different needs – that the design takes on a life of its own.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, the Mini fits. It transcends class, doesn’t pigeonhole its driver, and has nothing to do with ego. Although another may have taken the name, this is the true people’s car.
Bootnote: Good Technology created the first Mini Web site.