Car Culture

The microcar with a mission: Mini celebrates 60th anniversary

The original Mini set out to challenge other European microcars, but it did much more.

Mini 60th Anniversary

Happy Birthday to the world's best-known microcar.

Mini

Few cars earn staying power in the minds of noncar people. You don't have to be a gearhead to conjure thoughts of the Ford Mustang, Ferrari supercars or Teslas. It's safe to say Mini rightfully earned its place as another automotive pillar.

As the brand celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, Mini took a look back on its history and reflected on where its been to understand how it will proceed into the future. The story started in 1959 when the first Mini debuted in Oxford, England, as a challenger to French and German microcars produced to counter the Suez oil crisis in the middle of the decade.

Sir Isaac Issigonis set out to create a mass-produced car with a transverse-mounted engine, and in fact, his Mini became the first mass-produced car to do so. Not to mention, engineers cleverly pushed the wheels to each corner to maximize cabin space and help pioneer the car's sprightly handling. Two years later, John Cooper of the Cooper Car Company joined the project to create the Mini Cooper S -- the sportiest of Minis offered. Throughout the 1960s, the Mini Cooper wasn't only an affordable city car, but a powerhouse in rally racing.

Across the Atlantic, Mini would be forced to shut its doors in the US as stricter emissions and safety regulations forced the car out of the market in 1967. It would be 35 years before Mini returned to these shores. Ten years later on its home continent, Mini sold its 4-millionth car in 1977, and in 2000, the figure grew to 5.3 million classic Minis sold.

Mini, part of the Rover Group for the majority of its life, found itself in BMW's hands come 1994, with BMW committed to Mini past the additional sale of Rover just six years later. Under a new roof, Mini returned to the US in 2002 with the Cooper line. Quickly, it found success along a resurgence of retro design. If you recall, this was around the same time Volkswagen hit a home run with its New Beetle.

What's in store for the brand's future? Electrification. Under BMW, Mini will help lead the charge (pun intended) for plug-in hybrids and pure battery-electric vehicles. The first of these vehicles will arrive in the form of the Mini Cooper SE when it reaches dealers early next year. Even without an internal-combustion engine, there'll be no confusion -- Mini staked its claim as an automotive icon millions of times over.

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