Mini in the Sixties

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POSTED: August 3, 2021

I had a conversation the other day that arose when we passed one of the new Minis: the faux retro things that come in many shapes and sizes. My companion bemoaned the crass commercialisation of the now-not-so-recent revival and claimed that the manufacturers had undermined the core concept. They should have produced one mini “like they used to”.

As someone old enough to remember the mini first appearing I can say with complete certainty that this idea has no truth to it at all. The original mini either never existed or existed a long time after the fact. Let me explain.

In the 1950s the British motor industry contracted and consolidated. Several manufacturers merged to form BMC, the British Motor Corporation. In the late 1950s Alec Issigonis designed the then-revolutionary Mini and BMC launched it in two forms: the Austin 7 (reviving an old brand name) and the Morris Mini Minor. They differed only cosmetically, in terms of badges and upholstery.

The original Morris Mini Minor looked like this:

They became immediately popular and in an effort to expand their appeal Issigonis stretched them and BMC launched the Riley Elf (another old brand name revived) and the Wolseley Hornet. Both of these had boots at the back so they looked like “normal” saloon cars.

The Riley Elf looked like this:

Notice that it sports a proper boot at the back:

The nearly identical Wolseley Hornet looked like this (spot the different radiator grille):

They didn’t stop here though. The Mini van became the standard van for telephone engineers, and BMC tried (and failed) to sell the Mini Moke to the British Army before it became a cult item in The Prisoner and then faded from view. “The Mini Moke?”, you ask. It looked like this:

Only later did the original design become the only one available, and become available under the name Mini.