Yes, I said it.
I love the original Mini, but it’s waayyy overrated. People love to mention it’s “revolutionary” front wheel drive/transverse layout, it’s “brilliant” packaging, it’s rally history, most successful British car ever, global icon, people’s car, fashion statement, glory days of England, John Cooper, blah blah blah. And the Mini was definitely a great car. But it’s wasn’t exceptional in ANY of the above ways.
Let’s start with the easiest myth to debunk: the revolutionary front wheel/transverse engine layout. Revolutionary, yes: this is a fantastic layout, and it is revolutionary, but it isn’t the Mini’s revolution.
That’s a Citroen Traction Avant. They made 759,123 of them. It was introduced in 1934. 25 years before the Mini. And it’s front wheel drive and unibody.
British people you will say. “It’s not transverse engine. Thus, the Mini DID cause a revolution.”
That’s a Saab 92, aka the four wheeled version of a frog. It’s powered by a transverse engine two cylinder two stroke. It’s also front wheel drive and unibody. It debuted in 1948, 11 years prior to the Mini.
“Yeah, but they only made 20,000 of them. They made 5,000,000 Minis” these same pedantic sticklers will say. “Thus, the Mini is the first mass produced front wheel drive transverse engine car.”
That’s a Lloyd LP400. They made 106,000 of them, which is a lot. They made more Lloyd LP400's than there are blue whales in the world, which is a completely bogus and statistic used out of the context of the aftereffects of whaling, which is something I’m ashamed to know so much about. Anyway, it was transverse engine and front wheel drive. It debuted six years before the Mini.
Our next myth- it’s brilliant packaging. Look at that car above- it’s a Renault 4. It debuted two years after the Mini. It serves to highlights a main flaw in the Mini’s brilliant packaging- the lack of a hatchback.
That’s the original Mini’s trunk. It’s, quite honestly, pathetic. What can you put in there? A suitcase? One shopping bag? Two dead babies? Not great packaging.
That’s the Renault 4's hatch, presumably being used by the Pirate from “Tortilla Flats” to haul his firewood. There’s even a dog in the picture.
That’s the original Mini engine/transmission.Note that the transmission share oil in the sump, instead of the transmission being beside the engine like in most front wheel drive cars. This was not efficient to say the least.
That’s the Mini’s interior, supposedly able to sit four adults. Actually, it looks like it could . . . .if they were anorexic. Instead of adding ten inches in length and adding some extra doors, BMC decided that their small car should fight the BMW Isetta. Compared to microcars, the Mini has brilliant packaging, but compared the Citroen 2CV, Renault 4, Ford Cortina, etc, with which it actually competed, it didn’t.
Rally history: yes, the Mini was a fantastic rally car. But that horn is too, over tooted.
That’s a Peugeot 404 barreling through East Africa, which you have to admit is much tougher than Monte Carlo. The Peugeot also wasn’t a full on homologation special full of John Cooper upgrades. That doesn’t diminish the Mini’s rally success; it’s a legend, and deserves to be. But, it’s overhyped. Other cars had huge rally success, and people don’t feel the need to toot that horn (I just used that twice in one paragraph.) When was the last time you heard someone drone on about the Peugeot 404 and the East African Safari?
That’s a rally Porsche 911. Porsche won the Monte Carlo rally as many times as BMC.
And Alpine won it more times, with the A110 . . . ..
. . . . as did Lancia, with the
Fiat X1/9 Stratos. I won’t even mention the Audi Quattro. So the Mini’s rally success? Impressive, but overblown.
Next we come to the “most successful British car ever” statement. To be sure, the mini was very successful, with over five million made. But how do you define success? The Land Rover introduced thousands of people to cars; it’s estimated the 1/3 of the first car people ever saw was a Land Rover. The MG T Series introduced the concept of a production sports car to the world. The Austin 7 put Britain on wheels. If you go by production numbers, the Mini is the most successful. But success is all a matter of opinion. Part of the reason the Mini has so many sales is because it was made for 41 years; averaged out, they only made 131,000 Mini’s per year. They made an average of 375,000 Lada’s each year.
And saying the Mini’s a global icon is bullshit. Because worldwide, the Mini wasn’t that successful. It was successful in Japan for it’s “style”, but that was the only other market besides the UK that had major sales. It’s sort of like saying a Trabant is a global icon because it high sales, was unchanged for years, and was hugely popular in it’s home market. If someone told you that, you’d get laughed at.
The Mini wasn’t a people’s car. A people’s car, at least in my mind, is a car that puts the masses on wheels. In my mind, the following are people’s cars for their countries:
- VW Beetle- Germany
- Ford Model T- America
- Austin 7- Britain
- Fiat 600- Italy
- Subaru 360- Japan
- Lada Riva/2101- Russia
- Trabant- (East) Germany
- VW Santana- China
- Citroen 2CV- France
Yes, that’s the Austin 7, not the Mini. The 7 was truly the car that put Britain on wheels; the Model T of England. By the time the Mini was introduced, Britain already had a sophisticated and large motor industry; people weren’t buying their first cars ever in the Mini, and the Mini didn’t mobilize the masses for the first time. It wasn’t even the best selling car in Britain for many years.
However, there are two things which the Mini had which no other car had: a good potential as a fashion statement, and John Cooper. Cooper was true genius, and how he took an economy car and made it into a rally legend was truly brilliant. There’s also no arguing that the Mini was fashionable- it came to represent the best the Britain could be, that the English could make world class cars, that they were innovators- even if they weren’t. And considering much of what came out of Britain when the Mini was in production, they needed that.