Why do we love the Mini?

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1. Panic at the pumps

In Britain in 1956 petrol was rationed. For most people this was bad news, but British designer Alec Issigonis took it as an opportunity. He set about designing a new kind of family car that was small and cheap to run.

The car that he designed – the Austin Se7en – was also sold as Morris Mini-Minor. Within a few years, everyone was calling it the Mini and it had become a classic. Yet in its first year, sales were low. Explore how the car transformed the motor industry and became the enduring symbol of Britishness that it is today.

2. CLICKABLE: Designing a better car

Alec Issigonis thought that market research was ‘bunk’ and used his gut instincts to create the Mini. Click on this cross-section of his original design to watch Ant explore what he came up with.

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3. Time to transform transport

Click to see which problems the Mini was trying to solve in 1956.

Saving petrol

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Saving petrol

Petrol was prohibitively expensive. Rationing was in force because the UK lost access to its fuel supply route – the Suez Canal – after a diplomatic crisis.

Saving space

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Saving space

Following the post-war baby boom, UK family sizes were growing. Issigonis’s innovative design saved space to enable four passengers and luggage to be packed in.

Saving money

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Saving money

At £500 the Mini was one of only two British-made cars targeted at lower income families.

4. Capturing the nation's heart

Although the Mini had been revolutionary at the time, the British public still needed convincing. Some clever marketing – and a sprinkling of celebrity stardust – soon changed everything.

1/8: In August 1959 – just 30 months after Issignonis’s first sketch – the Mini was given a theatrical media launch. The Austin Se7en, as it was initially called, was packed with luggage and six passengers to showcase its space-saving capability.

2/8: Motoring journalists took the car for a spin and praised its design and handling. The Times was won over by its practicality, reporting "It really can accommodate four adults comfortably including the driver wearing a hat."

3/8: Advertising appealed to British women of the 1950s. Meanwhile salesmen also tried to win over women by pointing out the ease of parking, road handling and the affordable price tag.

4/8: Despite its clever marketing and praise, sales were initially slow. However, everything changed when the rich and famous were snapped inside the car. Princess Margaret was one of the first, pictured here in 1964.

BMIHT

5/8: Three years later when John Lennon was pictured in a Mini, the car became a pop culture symbol. The fun little four-wheeler became synonymous with the freedom of the swinging 60s.

6/8: The car achieved cult status when it featured in a classic chase in the 1969 film 'The Italian Job'. This reinvigorated interest in the Mini Cooper.

7/8: Sales continued to soar with the Mini exported to over 25 counties. Noel Edmonds joined the party, as Mini number 5,000,000 rolled off the production line in 1986.

8/8: Yet by the year 2000, profits had fallen again. When BMW bought the brand from Rover, they decided it was time for a redesign. The revamped Mini had many technical innovations, but retained the distinctive look of the classic car.

5. The Mini: Then and now

Explore the key differences between a 1959 Mini and a 2015 Mini

British Motor Industry Heritage Trust

Explore the key differences between the 1959 and 2001 Mini. Sources: Mini – An Intimate Biography, Mini website, and The Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders.

6. Cars that challenged the Mini

Click on the options below to explore the cars that competed in the showrooms from August 1959.

Fiat 600

Popular Italian import

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Fiat 600

Fiat made 1,000 cars a day in 1961 to meet demand. Although it was bigger than the Mini, it was seen as unreliable and production ended in 1969.

Ford Anglia

Designed for Brits

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Ford Anglia

The American-style car had a classic 1950s look, selling well for 11 years. But by 1968 production stopped and Ford focused on the Escort and Cortina models.

Volkswagen Beetle

Renowned for reliability

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Volkswagen Beetle

Adolf Hitler personally endorsed the Porsche-designed ‘people’s car’. After more than 70 years in production, the Beetle remains popular in Britain.