Mini Mk I
The Suez Crisis in 1956 forced Britain to institute fuel rationing. Small cars immediately became a big business there, and the British Motor Corporation (BMC) responded by fast-tracking development of a tinier model. The Mini was born.
To keep the Mini small, BMC's Alec Issigonis turned the engine 90 degrees and fitted it transversely in the engine bay. Front-wheel drive also eliminated the need to run a driveshaft to the rear and allowed for more cabin space. While not the first vehicle to use this layout, the Mini's success popularized the setup, and it became the popular method for engineering front-wheel drive vehicles.
At launch in 1959, the Mini was only available with an 848cc four-cylinder engine, but Formula One constructor John Cooper thought the vehicle could work on the track. He convinced BMC to homologate a version with a 997cc engine in 1961, creating the Mini Cooper. The Cooper S, which came with a 1.071-litre powerplant, arrived in 1963.
Mini Mk II
The first-gen Mini was a huge success for BMC, which sold the car under the Austin and Morris brands, and the Mk II car arrived in 1967, boasting a few updates.
On the outside, the Mk II Mini still looked much like its predecessor, but subtle differences could be spotted if you knew where to look. The designers changed the grille's shape and added new trim along the top of it. The rear window was also larger, and the taillights had a more angular shape, rather than the original ovals.
The 848cc engine was still the entry-level version, but a 998cc powerplant was now available, too. The Cooper also featured a 998cc engine, and the Cooper S displaced 1.275 litres.
In addition to the iconic two-door body, buyers could also get the Mini as a station wagon, van, and pickup. There was even a tiny off-roader called the Moke. There were also two-door saloon variants called the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet.
Mini Mk III
Big branding changes hit the model lineup for the Mark III iteration in 1970, with the decision to ditch the Austin and Morris badges. From now on, the car would simply be the Mini.
In terms of design, the exposed door hinges were gone, and all models now had roll-up windows. The rear side windows were a little bigger, too.
The Cooper and Cooper S also bowed out during this generation. However, the 1275GT kept the torch burning for performance-loving Mini fans.
Mini Mk IV
Arriving in 1976, the Mark IV Mini models were largely identical to the previous generation. Under the skin, the front subframe sat on rubber mounts, and there was more sound deadening. Both measures were attempts to make the cabin quieter. To the casual observer, though, the giveaway that this was a Mk IV Mini was in the tail lights, which had gained reversing lights.
Mini Mk V
In 1984, the Mini received standard 12-inch wheels to replace the 10-inch pieces that dated back to the model's introduction. The larger size necessitated the addition of plastic wheel arch flares to cover the additional rubber. There were now 8.4-inch disc brakes up front, too.
Mini Mk VI
For the Mark VI, the Mini finally made a transition throughout the lineup to using fuel injection rather than a carburettor.
And although third-party firms had previously created drop-tops, this generation marked the first factory-built convertible Minis.
Mini Mk VII
In 1996, the original Mini experienced its final evolution. The model now featured multi-point fuel injection, instead of the previous single-point system. A driver's airbag was on the equipment list for the first time, too. Production ended in 2000.
In 1994, BMW acquired Rover Group, the company that controlled Mini at the time. It eventually sold off the rights to most of the company's marques, including Land Rover, but kept Mini in its back pocket.
In 2000, BMW introduced its modern take on the Mini. The base version in Europe had a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, while the Cooper received a 1.6-litre unit, and the Cooper S - marked out by its boy-racer bonnet scoop - had a supercharged version of this powerplant.
A convertible version joined the three-door hatchback in 2004.
In 2006, a second generation of BMW's Mini arrived. It looked similar to the German brand's first effort but was larger. The headlights were no longer integrated into the bonnet, but were instead incorporated into the front bumper.
1.4- and 1.6-litre engines continued to be available, but the larger units used a new architecture that BMW created with Peugeot-Citroën. The Cooper S now used a turbocharger, rather than the previous supercharger.
Unveiled in 2013, the third generation of the Mini grew even larger. Under the skin, the little hatchback shared even more with its BMW-badged cousins. The German brand embraced front-wheel drive, and the UKL platform under the latest Mini models is now also underneath vehicles like the X1 and X2. This also allowed both brands to share engines, too.
On a mechanical level, the modern Mini has little in common with the 1959 original, but the spirit of being a small, economical vehicle is still a vital part of the model's existence.
In the future, Mini will refresh its three- and five-door models. A new fully electric version is on the way, and an ultra-sporty John Cooper Works GP is on the horizon, too.
For the next generation, Mini allegedly plans to axe its three-door hatchback - a landmark move that would see the three-door Mini vanish for the first time since 2000.
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