British Motor Corp. launches its newest car, the small, affordable Mark I Mini, on Aug. 26, 1959. The diminutive Mini -- priced less than $800 -- went on to become one of the best-selling British cars in history.
Sir Leonard Lord, head of British Motor Corp. -- which was created after the merger of automakers Austin and Morris in 1952 -- wanted to produce a British alternative to small, fuel-efficient German cars that were growing in popularity when fuel prices spiked after the Suez Crisis in 1956.
The Mini was the creation of Alec Issigonis, who as chief engineer at Morris Motors had produced the Morris Minor, a teapot-shaped car that never seriously competed with Volkswagen's Beetle or Fiat's 500 or Cinquecento.
Mini development started in 1957 under a veil of secrecy; the project was known internally as ADO -- for Austin Drawing Office -- 15. After about two and a half years -- a short period at the time -- the car was ready for approval. Lord immediately signed off on plans to produce it.
The front-wheel-drive car was marketed under two names: Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. The two vehicles were the same except for their grilles. By 1962, they were both known simply as the Mini.
Issigonis' novel design, with the engine mounted sideways to take up less space, created a surprising amount of space for a small car: It was only 10 feet long but could sit four adults, and had a trunk big enough for a reasonable amount of luggage. The Mini was truly a "people's car," but its popularity transcended class, and it was also used by affluent Londoners as a second car to easily maneuver in city traffic.
A high-performance version of the Mini engineered by the race car builder John Cooper was released in 1961. The Mini Cooper became a status symbol overnight and a favorite of Mini fans and celebrities worldwide.
Amid a consumer shift to light trucks, Mini output ended in 2000 at the MG Rover Group factory in Longbridge, England, with 5.3 million Minis produced over time. A panel of 130 international journalists voted the Mini "European Car of the Century."
In 2003, under BMW ownership, the Mini Cooper was updated and reintroduced in the U.S. Production of the modern Mini in Oxford, England, began April 26, 2001.