RAC Cars News


Making The Mini Great

By raccars Published

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The Mini was and is a great, British car, and very few would argue that point. The original version has become an icon of British design and technical superiority and, for the new version BMW, sensibly chose to follow its blueprint closely.

Upon its release the Mini was innovative and ahead of its time, thanks to some of these ideas.

Drawn on a napkin

The charming tale that the original Mini was designed on the back of a restaurant napkin is, in fact, quite true. Alec Issigonis sketched the idea in a restaurant in 1956, from which drawings mechanical diagrams were extracted. One key point noted on this rudimentary sketch pad was Issigonis' stipulation that the car should fit within a box of 10x4x4 feet.

The Tardis

From the start, Issigonis wanted to create a car that was small on the outside but with plenty of space on the inside. Within its ten foot length it must be able to comfortably carry four passengers plus luggage. The clever design saw a 'wheel at each corner' stance and the engine and other mechanical components made as compact as possible, leaving 80% of the Mini's floor space available for passengers.

Rubber cone suspension system

Rather than the standard spring suspension set up of the time, the Mini used a rubber cone system which helped to free up space and gave the car the famous go-kart ride that became its trademark.

10 inch wheels

These tiny sounding wheels were all part of Issigonis' mission to free up space in the Mini for passengers - in fact he originally wanted eight inchers! Ten inch wheels sound tiny compared to the 15 or 16 inch wheels we're used to driving on today and, even then, needed to be made specially for the car by Dunlop.

Transverse layout

Once again in order to save space, there were only 18 inches left in the Mini for an engine and gearbox. To get around this, the Mini engineering team fitted the engine sideways and mounted the gearbox below it in the oil sump. This pattern was soon followed by other manufacturers and has become a standard way to free up passenger space in smaller cars.

Picnic baskets

Customisation options are nothing new when buying a car - the Mini came with an optional set of wicker baskets which fitted beneath the rear passenger seats, partly in order to compensate for the lack of space in the boot.

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