As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. After the oil crisis in the Middle East in 1956, European consumers were in need of small, fuel-efficient cars. Sir Alec Issigonis designed the first Mini to meet those needs, and ever since people have had a whole lot of love for the little car.

The Mini was first made public as the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Se7en in 1959. Upon arrival, the vehicle received initial praise from the press, but sales weren’t what the company hoped due to a number of issues, including water ingress, oil leaks and a mis-specified synchromesh, which affected gear changes among other, smaller issues. After eating some of the costs, BMC managed to get the car right and from then on sales soared. Other car manufacturers marveled at the low cost of the vehicle, and it’s speculated that BMC actually didn’t profit on many of the first Mini’s they sold.

The Mini was an innovative small vehicle.

In the wake of the oil crisis, sales of small displacement cars quadrupled from 1956 to 1957. The British Motor Corporation knew it had to get an enticing, small model out to consumers, so they hired Issigonis to design it. Issigonis’s car turned out to be the compact, gas-sipper that car buyers were looking for. It featured a 0.9-liter I4 transverse engine with an output of 37 hp and 45 lb-ft of torque, front wheel drive and wheels as close to the four corners of the vehicles as possible. Having the wheels out near the corners of the car provided plenty of room for passengers in the tiny car. The overall length of the vehicle was 120 inches, and it was 55 and a half inches wide. The dimensions and small engine helped the little car achieve a little over 36 mpg. These innovations had a major impact on automotive development throughout the world, and in 1999, the Mini was voted the European Car of the Century. It came close to winning the global contest, but Ford’s Model T clinched the title.

In 1961 the car was renamed the Austin Mini. That same year John Cooper, a British racing legend, dropped a 1-liter engine in the Mini and beefed up the brakes, making the quiet little car into a racing sensation. Cooper’s name was used on many of the subsequent models, and BMW still uses the Cooper name on their models today.

In addition to the Mini being a strong little racer – it won the prestigious Monte Carlo rally three different times from 1964 to 1967 – the car was also a great workhorse. Numerous versions of pickup trucks and station wagons were made over the years. The Classic Mini, as it’s called now, was in production all the way up to 2000. From there, BMW redesigned the car for 2001 and has been producing variations it ever since.

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