£497 (Austin Se7en/Morris Mini-Minor in 1959)
Front engine, front-wheel drive
RANGE OF ENGINES
MOST POWERFUL ENGINE
76bhp (Cooper S Mk1)
100mph (Cooper Si)
BEST OVERALL FUEL ECONOMY
40mpg (Austin Mini Se7en/Morris Mini Minor Mk1)
NUMBER OF SEATS
The Mini not only provided cheap transport for everyone, it was a technical masterpiece, a dominant rally car, and, as Britain's best-selling car ever, a runaway sales success. Remarkably, the Mini was conceived by one man, Alec Issigonis, the brilliant engineer hired by the British Motor Corporation in 1956…just as the Suez crisis erupted. British drivers were rationed to 10 gallons of petrol monthly and so, suddenly, a new economy car became paramount.
Other cars had used front-wheel drive and transverse engines before, but none within such compact dimensions – the Mini was just 12 feet long. Issigonis mounted the gearbox under the engine instead of behind it, specified unique 10-inch diameter, space-saving wheels, and co-invented a compact rubber cone suspension system with Dr Alex Moulton.
The Mini's Interior space usage was astoundingly clever. There were door storage bins, the dashboard was pretty much a shelf with a speedo on it, and the bootlid dropped down flat to form a platform that augmented the tiny luggage space.
At £496, the first Minis were pretty much the cheapest cars on sale. Costs had been pared to the bone by fitting sliding windows and cable-pull door releases. The buying public was initially suspicious of the Mini, but soon grasped what a remarkable car this was. Its go-kart-like footprint gave joyful handling, its running costs were tiny, it was easy to park, and looked cute too. Nonetheless, no-one expected the Mini would endure unaltered for 41 years