If ever there is a classic car that needs no introduction whatsoever, it’s got to be the Mini. It was popularised by the British Sitcom Mr Bean with his classic Yellow-Green Mini.
The Mini really lived up to its name, it was a small car but big enough to steal the hearts of many. It’s been featured in sitcoms like the Mr Bean series, movies like the Italian Job as well as the Bourne Identity featuring Matt Damon.
The Mini was first manufactured in 1959 and apparently, it was the very first car to ever have front-wheel drive with transversely setup engine. At a time when most car manufacturers were opting for rear wheel because they had not yet found a way to put power and steering on the same axle — the Mini broke new ground. Following closely to the Citroen D and the VW Beetle, it has won an accolade for being one of the most influential cars of the century! Production started in 1959 and ended in the year 2000 with more than 5 million Minis having been made.
It has a simple design, which was “cute” for lack of a better word. It had the standard chrome bumpers like every other car of its time. What made it different was the “moustache” grill upfront. Looks however, changed over the years but the vehicle basically remained a tiny 2-door 4-seater car. The interior was very plain with no radio or heating on earlier models. They were upgraded as time went on.
For a car its size, the design with rear-wheel drive meant the cabin would be very small and cramped so as to accommodate the driveshaft that would drive the rear wheels.
The front-wheel drive layout was therefore essential and as a space saving solution it eventually became the “it thing” for most modern cars.
The Mini was produced as a response to the 1950s oil crisis that saw the Brits rationing fuel. Most companies realised that they had to make smaller cars that were more fuel efficient as sales dropped for larger vehicles with bigger engines. A small car was then designed with a 4 cylinder water cooled engine which was transversely mounted. The funny thing is, as the first car ever to have front- wheel drive, they didn’t think much about electric cooling fans, they literally took an engine that was meant for longitudinal configuration and set it up transversely. That meant the fan would be driven by the engine and its radiator was on the left side and not upfront like normal cars, it was a bit weird but it worked and helped keep the car as short as it possibly could.
The mini was designed to be as cheap as it could be. The doors all had visible hinges with sliding windows on earlier models.
As a space saving solution, the sliding windows allowed for the door to have storage pockets. The car had to be small but big enough for adult occupants, the design therefore made sure that micro wheels were at each corner of the car so there could be more room inside. The wheels had to be very small too, 10 inch to be precise.
It has been noted that throughout its production years, the Mini was never comfortable. It had a bumpy stiff ride. For a low budget car not much would have been expected though.
It was never fast either until the Mini Cooper was introduced in the 70s. The 1275 Mini Cooper was rare but it was fast, it was created by John Cooper of the John Cooper company hence the name Cooper. The Mini Cooper was successful in rally racing.
The mini engine was a bit special. Special in the sense that it was almost a complete unit with its gearbox. The gearbox was incorporated into the engine sump and used the same oil as they engine.
With the oil crisis in the 60s they really went all out with the design of the Mini to make sure it was easy on fuel and wasn’t that much fussy when it came to engine and gearbox oils. The engine was a four-cylinder engine with cast iron block and head.