It seems every country has its an iconic vehicle. Germany’s got the beetle, France has Citroen’s 2CV, and America the Model T. For our friends across the Atlantic it’s the BMC Mini.
British Motor Corporation introduced this iconic passenger car in 1959. Initially it was sold under the Morris and Austin brands but Mini would eventually become its own marque a decade later.
The aptly named vehicle was brought to market as the result of a fuel shortage. Britain and France’s involvement in the Suez Crisis of 1956 irked the king of Saudi Arabia and he suspended petroleum shipments to the European countries. Understandably this resulted in gas rationing, which put a serious damper on motoring in the U.K.
Fortunately, driving enthusiasts and the general public were soon treated to a revolutionary new car that put the wasteful consumption on notice.
Responding to the situation at hand, the folks at BMC conceived of the Mini. At just 10 feet in length it had a tiny footprint but it could still seat four adults. Fuel efficiency was equally remarkable.
It delivered these virtues thanks to some clever innovations. Like many cars before the Mini was front-wheel drive, but BMC’s big improvement to this layout had to do with how the engine was mounted. It was positioned transversely under the hood, meaning side to side rather than front to back. This allowed for as much interior room possible. It’s the same engine layout almost all front-wheel-drive vehicles use today.
Engineers also pushed the Mini’s suspension out to the corners of the vehicle, which further maximized interior volume. The result of the lightweight, low-slung design was go-kart handling, another virtue that helped cement its place in the automotive history books.