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Alec Issigonis joined Morris in 1936. His first major project was the Morris Minor in 1948 (originally code-named mosquito in 1942), and should have made him far more famous then it did. He left in 1952 and went to Alvis. He was approached again by his old boss Sir Leonard Lord in 1956 to build a small car. Lord needed one, but he hated bubble cars, so set Issigonis the task. In March 1957, he decided to put every other project on hold, and asked Issigonis to build him a small car as fast as possible.

The project was code-named ADO15, ADO standing for Austin Drawing Office. The brief given to Issigonis was to build a car smaller than the Minor, providing the maximum passenger space for four people in the smallest possible vehicle. It had to be compact, economical and affordable. He had two restrictions though. He must use an engine that was already available from the BMC range, and he must have the car ready for production in two years. Issigonis didn't have any trouble deciding that the A-series engine was for him, already well established in the Minor, A30, Austin Healeys Frog-eyed Sprite, and destined for the A40.

He had wanted the Minor to be front wheel drive, but when Austin and Morris joined to become BMC in 1952, this is when Issigonis left the company. He decided that the Mini would be front-engined, front wheel drive. He looked at the space needed to take four passengers in comfort and decided on an overall size of ten feet long by four feet wide and four feet tall. With the engine facing North-South, he realised it would make the car far too long, so East-West or transversely mounted seemed like the obvious option. Obvious, but not simple. There was no room for the gearbox as the engine filled the space between the wheels. He decided to follow an idea that he had already sketched but not pursued and put the gearbox under the engine, more precisely under the crankshaft, in an extended oil sump, with the final drive unit behind it.

He decided to use the smallest wheels ever seen on a four seater car, just ten inches in diameter. This meant that he had to find someone to make tyres for him, Dunlop being that company. The suspension was a huge challenge also. He commissioned his old friend, Alex Moulton, to design the suspension, which he did, with a revolutionary idea of rubber elements sandwiched between metal cones. To cut production costs, Issigonis decided on external sills and external door hinges.

The first prototypes of the Mini were far faster than intended. They had also arrived far faster than expected. After Issigonis was given the go-ahead in March 1957, they had wooden mock-ups made by July. By October all of the engineering drawings had been completed, and the first two prototypes were driven. They were disguised with A30 grilles, and painted orange, winning them the nickname "Orange Boxes". The "Orange Boxes" were built with 948cc A-series engines, which produced about 37bhp, which gave a top speed of 92mph. This was seen as too fast, so the capacity was dropped to 848cc for production, bringing the horsepower down to 34bhp, and the top speed down to 72mph.

In July 1958, Sir Leonard Lord drove one of the revised prototypes, and after only a few minutes driving, ordered a move towards full production. By mid-June 1959, production was running at one hundred cars per week to allow a car for most dealers at Launch time. The launch date was brought forward from September to August 26, 1959.

The Mini was superior to all other small cars for many reasons. It was small, spacious, affordable, clever, reasonably quick, comfortable and handsome. Arguably, the Mini's main rival was the VW Beetle. The Mini made the Beetle look expensive and slow. The Beetle was 1200cc, which gave 34bhp, the same as the Mini's quieter 850cc engine. The Beetle was 4mph slower than the Mini, with a top speed of 68mph, and acceleration was roughly the same. A 1959 Beetle cost over 700, where as the Mini was 497 which was a huge difference back then.

The Mini didn't take off immediately though, with only 19,749 examples being made in 1959, and in 1960, it's first full year of production, only 116,677 examples were built. Maybe people were sceptical about the Mini, how could a car so affordable and small, be so clever?

minimeetnorth.jpg
Mini Meet North

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