The Hype

The little car with the BIG heart
The Austin Mini Cooper S

Article text
The MINI is one of those special cars that gets to define the vehicle class it belongs to. What makes it even more individual is that it got to be awarded the “European Car of the Century” award. This week car photographer Tim Wallace paid homage to the little car with the BIG heart by shooting a very lovely and original Austin Cooper S. The mini is without any doubt one of those car models that is so recognisable and loved all over the world.

TheMini is the small car icon of the 1960s. It was produced by BMC (British Motor Corporation) starting with 1959 and was the first car to get the front-wheel-drive. This space saving solution influenced all the manufacturers, as nowadays FWD is the most popular drive-train layout. The new MINI was launched in 2001 and got to replace the legend with updates for the 21st Century. The revolutionary design of the Mini was created by Sir Alec Issigonis (1906–1988), considered a visionary in industrial transportation. It was intended as an affordable vehicle in response to the oil crisis. Along its production period it was built at the Cowley plants in the United Kingdom, and afterwards in Australia, Belgium, Chile, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela. The first Mini, called the Mk I had three important updates: The Mk II, the Clubman, and the Mk III. Sportier versions were the Mini Mini Cooper and the Cooper"S", that got to successful as rally cars. They even get to win the Monte Carlo Rally three times.

The Mini was designed as a result of the 1956 Suez Crisis, which reduced oil supplies, and forced the UK government saw to introduce petrol rationing. Obviously, the sales of large cars, with high fuel consumption dropped and the market for so called “bubble cars” boomed. BMC realized that they had to produce a small vehicle fast.
Issigonis, that was reputed as being very skilled in designing small vehicles was assigned to this task. Together with a small team of designers Issigonis got to produce the original prototype by October 1957. The new vehicle was using a conventional BMC four-cylinder water-cooled engine, but had the innovation of mounting it transversely with the the engine oil lubricated, four-speed transmission placed in the sump, and with FWD.

All of the small FWD cars developed since the 70s have used a similar configuration. Another innovation was the placement of the radiator at the left side of the car so that the engine-mounted fan could be retained, but with reversed pitch so it blew air into the natural low pressure area under the front wing. This saved a lot of vehicle length, but had the short coming of feeding the radiator with air that had been heated by passing over the engine.
Also the slinding windows in the doors allowed for storage pockets to be fitted in the space where a winding window mechanism would have been. A gossip says that Issigonis sized the resulting storage pocket to fit a bottle of his favorite gin. Another smart feature was the boot lid that had the hinges at the bottom, so that the car could be driven with it open to increase luggage space. The MK I models had a hinged number plate that dropped down to remain visible when the boot lid was open.

Another goal of the designers of that of keeping the manual labour costs as low as possible. The simple construction of the car included quirky welded seams that were visible on the outside of the car and also external door and boot hinges.

Tim - "For me personally the mini will always be a car that reminds me of my very early days driving, aged 19 I owned a Mini Cooper and absolutely loved that little car! It was not the smartest example of the model because back then money was tight and I even remember that to try and smarten it up a bit I gave it a new paint job, with a tin of black paint and a brush…lol.
The car never ever let me down and because it was so small and you sat so close to the ground in it, you really felt like you were doing about 100mph when really you'd be doing half that speed…. Corners at high speed were interesting and at times you did feel like you were in a space craft re-entering earths atmosphere, but the little car could really stick to the road and driving a Cooper was always a pleasure."

The First Mini in production version shown to the press in April 1959, and by August several thousand vehicles had been produced ready for sales.

The name “Mini” was not used form the beginning of production. In early advertising material was used the name “SE7EN”. An already famous Morris model at that time was the Minor, which is Latin for “smaller”. So, for the even smaller car the decided to use the abbreviation for the Latin word “minimus”, which means “the smallest”.
In 1964 the MK I got a new suspension design using the “hydrolastic” system. This created a softer ride but was criticized by many for being too expensive and altering the handling of the car. Starting with 1971 the original rubber suspension was back again, and used until production end.

The sales were not very promising after the launch, but the Mini became a hit through the 60s, with a total of 1,190,000 Mk I’s produced. It is being rumored that the MK I wasn’t profitable for BMC, because it was sold at a lower price than the production costs, in order to be competitive on the market. Some even say that was due to an accounting error. A thing is for sure though, that the MK I got its own place into the culture of the 1960s.

In the late 60s Issigonis had been working for a replacement for the original Mini. That was supposed to be shorter and more powerful than the MK I, but due to management decisions at BMC it was not built. Instead of that the Mk II was released, featuring a redesigned front grille (which remained like that from that point) and also a larger rear window among other cosmetic changes. The Mk II Minis was produced in 429,000 pieces.
The MK II got famous by being the star of the 1969 film “The Italian Job”, that featured a car chase in three Minis are driven by a team of thieves. The movie got a remake in 2003 that used the new (BMW produced) MINI.

If you would like to learn more about lighting and how Tim works to achieve his photography then please join us online at KelbyOne where you can review and enjoy all of our online video classes, each of which is around a 1 hour in duration.

KelbyOne with Tim Wallace Checkout our online classes here at KelbyOne