Alec Issigonis' brilliant compact family saloon earned him a knighthood and is one of the most important automobile designs of the 20th century. Issigonis had already broken new ground with his 1948 Morris Minor, but the 1959 Mini featured a transverse 4-cylinder engine with side-mounted radiator, front-wheel drive, gearbox in the sump, 10-inch wheels and conical rubber suspension.
The driveline layout meant that the £496 Mini offered enough interior space for four adults, despite being only 10 feet long. Its 33hp, 848cc engine could manage 70mph, and 40mpg was possible when driven carefully. In one step, Issigonis replaced every sketchy three-wheeled microcar and Spartan motorcycle and sidecar with a proper family saloon.
Minis were originally badged as Austin Seven and Morris Mini Minor, but by 1961 they were all called Minis. The little cars had basic charm, with pull-string door openers, “bucket” door pockets, sliding windows, a shelf instead of a dashboard and a single big speedometer with integrated petrol gauge in the centre. The rear license plate was hinged so it could swing down, and the car could driven with the boot lid open to carry large objects.
About 945,000 Mini Mkl models were built between 1959 and 1967. Among the many body styles that found themselves on the Mini platform, one early success was the commercial van, with reduced sales tax as a commercial vehicle. It was 10 inches longer, with double rear doors, and many were fitted with side windows as a family carrier. The official estate version arrived as the 1962-69 Mini Countryman/Traveller.
One oddity that has survived quite well is the Mini Moke, best remembered for its role in Patrick McGoohan's TV series, 'The Prisoner', with a striped awning. Originally planned as a British Army Jeep, it was rendered useless by its tiny wheels, but it became a popular beach car in the sunnier parts of the world, and 51,000 were sold between 1964 and 1994, built in Australia and Portugal as well as the UK.