The 1956 Suez Crisis led to Petrol rationing in the UK. As a result, sales of large cars slumped, and the market for imported ultra-compact cars boomed. Leonard Lord, the then head of British Motor Corporation, responded with a brief to his designer Alec Issigonis: the car should be no bigger than 10×4×4 feet with the interior being 6 feet in length; and to reduce cost, the engine should be an existing unit. By July 1957, the XC9003 prototype was ready, and in April 1959, its production version was introduced as the Morris Mini-Minor.
Thus, was born one of the greatest British style icons ever.
Every aspect of its creation was determined by real-world functionality rather than aesthetics. Despite its purely proletarian origin, it has won the hearts of people belonging to every stratum of society; from Royalty to prominent artists in every genre.
The working-class Mini’s transformation into a car beloved by all classes of society was the result of two concurrent events. One was the cultural revolution of the 60s, which largely disregarded established norms of British society. The young nouveau riche celebrities it created embraced the Mini as it appealed to their sensibilities like no other.
The Mini also found acceptance among the conservative upper class of Britain thanks largely to one man, Lord Snowdon, husband of Princess Margaret. A friend of Mini designer Alec Issigonis, Snowdon was one of the first to buy the Mini. A family photograph taken in 1965 shows him with Princess Margaret and their son David on a tour of London in a Mini. Snowdon also paved the way for Issigonis to chauffeur his sister-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, through the park of Windsor Castle in a Mini. For the small working-class automobile, this was akin to a knighthood.
In the Britain of the 1960s, there were no greater influencers than the Beatles. Every member of the brand, born into working-class families in Liverpool, embraced the Mini. John Lennon ordered a Mini in 1964 – even though he didn’t have a driving licence. Historical photographs show drummer Ringo Starr with one of the Mini Cooper S models that took part in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally. There is one of Paul McCartney getting into his private Mini in 1967. Guitarist George Harrison was the proud owner of a Mini de Ville, refined by renowned bodymaker Radford. When the Beatles met in 1967 to shoot their TV film “Magical Mystery Tour” at West Malling Airfield in Kent, John Lennon was photographed racing across the airfield in a Mini painted in psychedelic colours.
David Bowie, impressed with Mini’s parking capabilities, firmly believed there was no other automobile designed so perfectly for city life. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original, Bowie designed a classic Mini in 1999 that reflected its entire surroundings – like a polished teapot made of British silver.
Legendary British actor Peter Sellers had a penchant for extravagant special versions of the classic Mini. Over the years, he acquired about a dozen bespoke Minis, including one he gave to his then-wife Britt Ekland as the contents of an oversized birthday cake; presented to her at the Radford showroom in London in 1965. His love affair for the Mini spilled onto the silver screen in 1964 when Inspector Clouseau, drove a rather unusual Mini Cooper in “A Shot in the Dark.”
Any mention of the Mini and Silver screen would not be complete without mentioning the 1969 cult classic “The Italian Job,” starring Michael Caine. It inspired a remake 34 years later, this time starring the second generation of the Mini. In 1966, the Mini appeared in three films that would also go on to achieve cult status. One was “Blow Up,” the other was the crime comedy “Kaleidoscope” starring a then largely unknown Warren Beatty in the lead role. The third was “A Cœur Joie” starring Brigitte Bardot. The French actress had a close connection with the Mini in her private life as well; photographs taken in 1980 show her accompanied by her dogs in a Mini Moke.
Across the Atlantic pond, Michael Nesmith, guitarist and singer of the American band The Monkees, had his own personal Mini Cooper S made by Radford. This extravagant and expensive one-off specimen had a folding roof, a wooden dashboard with additional instruments and a 100-hp engine.
This year, to mark the 60th anniversary of this truly exceptional British and global style icon, the marque has launched the “MINI 60 Years” limited edition of the current MINI 3-door and MINI 5-door in four engine variants. The choice of colours was also limited to just five: British Racing Green, Midnight Black, Moonwalk Grey, and Melting Silver in a metallic finish, along with Lapisluxury Blue in non-metallic. The bonnet stripes were given a distinct alteration. The 17-inch light-alloy wheels featured an exclusive two-tone scheme.
The edition’s signature “60 Years” logo graces the left-hand bonnet stripe, side scuttles of the turn indicators, door sill finishers, front headrests, steering wheel and on the LED logo projection which illuminates when the driver’s door opens. Standard equipment includes a sports steering wheel wrapped in leather, sports seats in exclusive Dark Maroon leather, exclusive ambient lighting, as well as LED headlights, fog lamps and rear lights in Union Jack design.
The 60th-anniversary limited edition Mini collection is now complemented by an elaborately restored one-off original Mini. It features the same colourful striped design as the recently unveiled “MINI 60 Years” Lifestyle Collection. Seeking to revive the fashionable panache and lifestyle of the wild sixties, the lifestyle collection has a distinctive, 60s-inspired look and feel but with contemporary aesthetics. The collection comprises a wide range of products from apparels to bags, luggage, accessories, kids’ items and more