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A Mini Milestone

The iconic Mini-Minor, which celebrates its half centenary next month, was a British industry triumph before inefficiency stalled its success, writes Andrew Roberts.

On August 26th 2009 the Mini celebrated its 50th birthday, an event inevitably accompanied by a flood of tabloid clichés referencing the Beatles, Carnaby Street, Peter Sellers, Swinging London and The Italian Job. The all-British Mini is now a comparatively rare sight on British roads but its influence on virtually every small car sold in the UK is unmistakable. The Mini's design legacy still holds strong after five decades but the fact that nearly all of its spiritual heirs are imported is another aspect of its heritage. If any vehicle has managed simultaneously to exemplify the best and the worst of the British Motor Industry, it is the Mini.

The story of the Mini's gesta- tion is told often but to pro- duce such a car in less than three years was a truly remark- able achievement. The original spur was the reintroduction of petrol rationing during the Suez Crisis in 1956, a move that resulted in the brief appearance of a range of dan- gerous but economical 'bubble cars'. In response, Leonard Lord, the chairman of the British Motor Corporation, told his chief designer to pro- duce a British version as soon as possible. The car that Alec Issigonis devised featured front-wheel drive with an engine mounted transversely, the gearbox positioned beneath the engine as part of an in-sump arrangement, and 10-inch wheels.

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