Many people had an original Mini as a first car. Many more have travelled in one. It’s a proper design icon, and a cultural one that symbolises Britain in the 1960s. Nearly every car-making nation has its automotive point of symbolism: Germany has the Volkswagen Beetle, France the Citroën 2CV, Italy the Fiat 500. Britain has the Mini. Alec Issigonis’s vision of a neat, compact and efficient design built to an affordable cost held great appeal on its introduction in 1959, and this revolutionary new car become a massive hit with the public once early problems, and potential buyers’ initial suspicion, had gone away. Many people in 1950s Britain had been riding motorcycles, perhaps with a sidecar attached. When the Mini arrived with its family-carrying ability and relatively low price, it tipped a lot of them towards their first car purchase.
It helped that the Mini transcended social class, then still a prominent part of 1960s British life. Anyone could be seen in a Mini without looking at odds with the car’s humble origins and minimum cost, from MPs to pop stars, from nurses to racing drivers. Among all this praise must also be mentioned the little car’s many failings. It took between 24 and 30 hours to build a Mini, but most looked like they’d been thrown together in 10 minutes judging by the lack of quality on the 1970s production line. And that’s if the production plant staff were working, rather than having long tea breaks or being on strike. The line remained almost unchanged over the years, with little automation and a somewhat chaotic assembly process that made the Germans and Japanese wince in disbelief. It’s one reason why the Mini never made a profit despite its five-million sales.
On 4 October 2000 the final Mini rolled off the Longbridge line, then under BMW’s ownership, to much fanfare. In 2019, as the breed’s 60th birthday is celebrated, huge number of Minis are cherished and often restored to a state considerably better than they ever were when new.