Birth of MINI during an oil crisis: From big things little things grow.


If necessity is the mother of invention, then it’s fair to say an international oil crisis in the mid-1950s is responsible for the birth of fuel-efficient and sustainable car design.

As petrol prices skyrocketed during the Suez Oil Crisis of 1956, the British Motor Company tasked automotive engineer and designer Alec Issigonis with creating a small, fuel-efficient car to compete with Germany’s ‘bubble-cars’.

Little did BMC know then, but the Morris Mini Minor that rolled off production lines in 1959 would become an icon of 1960s British popular culture – as the MINI – and influence a generation of car makers.

With an original sale price of £537 (about A$22,000 today), its engine and gear box came as one unit about the size of a shopping basket, and its wheels were the size of dinner plates. But it could comfortably fit four adults thanks to some clever engineering.

MINI's ground-breaking design included mounting the engine transversely, using front-wheel drive, and shifting the radiator to the left side of the car, saving on vehicle length and increasing passenger and luggage space by up to 80 per cent of the car’s size. Throw in flat pack panels, knock down kits and vastly simplified construction, and MINI’s distinctive style was born.

Christopher Weil, MINI’s Head of Exterior Design, says “what Sir Alec Issigonis sought to achieve with the classic Mini – has a special formula. It’s about a product whose every detail is well thought out and fulfils a purpose.”

The concepts introduced by Issigonis became the foundation for small front-wheel-car design that has spanned more than six decades.

These origins show innovation is in MINI’s very DNA. What started out as a need to counter a threat to the motor industry shaped an iconic brand that continues to deliver innovative and sustainable vehicles with the future in mind.