From the Bookshelf: Diamond Celebration of a MINI miracle

This year sees the 60th anniversary of the first MINI (aka Austin Seven, Morris MINI-Minor) to hit the streets of Britain, the revolutionary product of its extraordinary designer Sir (knighted in 1969) Alec Issigonis. His international standing is justly deserved, especially for the sea-change he brought about with regard to how the industrial design industry had previously seen his ilk: ‘no longer was car design artistic icing on the cake; radical new ingredients were now being introduced into the mix’. With a notable bow to the preceding Morris Minor, the MINI’s front-wheel drive, transversely mounted four-cylinder engine, unitary power-train, rubber-spring suspension system, proportionately smaller wheels, and enhanced cockpit space – combined to wow when unveiled in 1959.

Andrew Nahum’s short but informative monographs on man and machine are a fine place to start, with the second edition incorporating BMW’s successful rebranding, under chief designer Frank Stephenson, in 2001. The fun of simply driving a MINI is apparent through Graham Scott’s slim, oversized paean with its larger-than-life quixotic photographs: the car positively jumps out of the frame! With its long production life through various ‘nom-de-plumes’ (1959-2000), the MINI has been consistently praised over the decades: Filby, with his chapter names such as ‘Chic MINI’ and ‘Alternative MINI’, and Golding’s more restrained approach, together talk up the deep affection of its early, often well-to-do owners.

The indomitable rally successes of the 1960s, through the MINI’s more powerful incarnation the MINI-Cooper (S), are well documented in Graham Robson’s ‘Super Profile’ which provides a straightforward overview of production and competition cars; literature concerning Rover’s assault with works-backed MINIs on the Rallye Monte Carlo in the mid-1990s is much rarer: Purves and Brenchley bridge that gap comprehensively.

The progenital MINI that inspired succeeding generations, including the Volkswagen Golf, Fiat Uno and Nissan Micra – all of MINI’s own derivatives are superbly catalogued in Chris Rees’ recent publication: the complete model listing is a sight to behold.

To paraphrase a quip from the assured Issigonis: ‘in pleasing yourself [with the design of a car], as a practical man you will please the world’. Safe to say that a lot of the world is pleased with the MINI alright.

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Andrew Nahum, 1988. Alec Issigonis. London: The Design Council.
Andrew Nahum, 2004. Issigonis and the Mini (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Icon Books.
Graham Scott, 1992. Mini: a celebration of the world’s ultimate small car. London: Hamlyn.
Peter Filby, 1981. Amazing Mini. London: Gentry Books.
Rob Golding, 1989. Mini: thirty years on (3rd ed.). London: Osprey.
Graham Robson, 1984. Super Profile: Mini Cooper and Cooper ‘S’. Sparkford, Somerset: Haynes.
Bryan Purves & Peter Brenchley, 2007. The last works Minis: the end of a legend. Dorchester, Dorset: Veloce.
Chris Rees, 2016. The complete catalogue of the Mini: over 500 variants from around the world, 1959-2000. Shebbear Beaworthy, Devon: Herridge & Sons.

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