The Mini is a small car that was produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The most popular British-made car ever, it was superseded by the New MINI, which was launched in April 2001. The original is considered an icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout (that allowed 80% of the area of the car's floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage) influenced a generation of car-makers.
Designed as project ADO15 (Austin Drawing Office project number 15), the Mini came about because of a fuel shortage. In 1956, as a result of the Suez Crisis which reduced oil supplies, the United Kingdom saw the re-introduction of petrol rationing. Sales of large cars slumped, and there was a boom in the market for so called Bubble cars, which were mainly German in origin. Leonard Lord, the somewhat autocratic head of BMC, decreed that something had to be done quickly. He laid down some basic design requirements: the car should be contained within a box that measured 10 × 4 × 4 feet (3 × 1.2 × 1.2 m); and the passenger accommodation should occupy six feet (1.8 m) of the 10 foot (3 m) length; and the engine, for reasons of cost, should be an existing unit.
Issigonis, who had been working for Alvis, had been recruited back to BMC in 1955 and, with his skills in designing small cars, was a natural for the task. The team that designed the Mini was remarkably small: as well as Issigonis, there was Jack Daniels (who had worked with him on the Morris Minor), Chris Kingham (who had been with him at Alvis), two engineering students and four draughtsmen. Together, by October 1957, they had designed and built the original prototype, which was affectionately named 'The Orange Box' because of its colour.
The ADO15 used a conventional BMC A-Series four-cylinder water-cooled engine, but departed from tradition by having it mounted transversely, with the engine-oil-lubricated, four-speed transmission in the sump, and by employing front-wheel drive. Almost all small front-wheel-drive cars developed since have used a similar configuration. The radiator was mounted at the left side of the car so that the engine-mounted fan could be retained, but with reversed pitch so that it blew air into the natural low pressure area under the front wing. This location saved precious vehicle length, but had the disadvantage of feeding the radiator with air that had been heated by passing over the engine.
Although they were slow at the outset, sales were strong across most of the model lines in the 1960s, with a total of 1,190,000 Mk I's being produced. The basic Mini never made money for its makers because it sold at less than its production cost. This may have been necessary in order to compete with its rivals, but it is rumoured that it was due to an accounting error. Some profits came from the popular deluxe models and from optional accessories, which included items such as seat belts, door mirrors and a radio that would be considered necessities on modern cars.
The Mini etched its place into popular culture in the 1960s with well-publicised purchases by film and music stars.