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History of the Mini

The original Mini, built from 1959 to 2000, owns a whole cupboard-full of records that could fill many pages. Here’s just a selection:

  The largest production total of any British car, at 5.4 million

The longest production run of any mass produced British car at 41 years

The greatest number of different derivatives, factory built worldwide, of any British model - we haven’t actually counted them, but can you think of anything else that has had saloons, estates, convertibles, vans, pick ups, Mokes, warmed-up (Cooper), hotted-up (Cooper S) and superheated (ERA Turbo) versions, extended-boot luxury versions, extended-nose fashion versions, and even glass-fibre bodied versions (built in Chile and later Venezuela) ?

The greatest number of different kit cars and low production ‘specials’ based on the Mini subframes and running gear. We haven’t counted those either, but we’re confident that even the VW Beetle doesn’t come close.

Not everyone likes the 1969-80 ‘extended nose’ Mini Clubman and 1275GT models, but they appealed to enough people to help lift overall Mini sales to their all-time peak in 1971, when nearly 320,000 Minis of all kinds were sold worldwide. Total Clubman saloon, estate and 1275GT production over 11 years reached nearly two thirds of a million.

It could be said that the Mini had the longest ‘run-out’ period of any car in history. Sir Alec Issigonis had intended to replace it with his ‘9X’ hatchback design in around 1969, but BMC couldn’t, and then BLMC wouldn’t fund the investment. During the 1970s, various projects such as ADO 74 and ADO88 were designed to replace Mini, but even when ADO88 had finally evolved into LC8 (1980 Metro), no-one could actually bring themselves to stop Mini production. A termination date of 1982 was set, then postponed - and so it went on, and on. It was thought that safety and emissions legislation would prevent Mini from continuing at various times, but a way was always found. This effectively meant that Mini lived on ‘Death Row’ for a large part of its long life, being reprieved periodically. At any one time, there was therefore relatively little perceived incentive to develop it. Ironically, this is what helped to make it a classic, because the basic design purity was maintained - the last cars still being very obviously related to the 1959 original. (Although the bodyshell did change quite substantially after the MkI, with very few of the panels actually being interchangeable). Some of the most intensive development went on towards the very end of its life, with such things as multi-point fuel injection, airbags, front-mounted radiators and some amazing trim and option upgrades. Sir Alec Issigonis would have been astonished to see one of the last models for the Japanese market, with air conditioning and automatic transmission as standard - there wasn’t a single spare cubic centimetre under the bonnet !