The first pictures of British Motor Corporation’s new mini-car were released in August 1959.
The compact four-seater, invented by Alec Issigonis, achieved roominess by placing the four small wheels at the corners and mounting the engine sideways in front, ensuring that 80% of the car’s internal space could be used by its inhabitants.
The interior was austere, with pull strings to open the two doors and sliding fitment of the front door windows. Instruments were also sparse.
The body design was essentially practical, with door hinges exposed and the styling minimal. The boot lid was hinged at the bottom, forming a platform for a surprising amount of luggage.
Launched just three years after the Suez Crisis, the car was also incredibly fuel efficient and initially cost around £500, providing cut-price motoring to first-time drivers.
It quickly also became something of a style icon, offering fashion designers, pop stars and even royalty a stylish and anonymous way of zipping around town.
Its rubber cone suspension (another space-saving development) meant the Mini boasted excellent road handling, which gave John Cooper the idea to create a racing version of the car, leading to Pat Moss (sister of Stirling Moss) and Ann Riley winning the Dutch Tulip Rally in 1962, and Paddy Hopkirk and Henry Liddon’s glorious triumph in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.
By the time the last of the original Minis was built in 2000, around 5.3 million of these little classics had rolled off the production line.
When the new Mini was launched in 2001, some believed the car was no longer British enough. It had, after all, been designed by an American for the German firm BMW.
But the new car offered more than a nod to the original, while its main factory is on the site of the former Morris factory in Cowley, Oxfordshire, where more than half a million Morris Mini-Minors were built between 1959 and 1968.