19 January 2001


The last batch of Minis

rolled off the production

line a few weeks ago.

Mike Williams took one for

a drive to revive some

old memories

THE Mini caused a sensation when it was launched in 1959. Clever use of front-wheel drive with the gearbox tucked away beneath a transversely mounted engine allowed space for four adults in a car only 10ft long. Moreover the low centre of gravity and small diameter wheels offered impressive cornering stability and helped the Mini to chalk up a long list of victories in some of Europes toughest rallies.

Now, after 41 years and a production run totalling more than 5.3 million, the Mini has reached the end of the road. The production line officially closed in October, but MG Rover Group had a stockpile of new Minis to satisfy demand for a few more months.

Taking the wheel of a Mini again after a 30-year gap brought back memories, but it also showed how outdated this 1960s icon has become. A four-speed gearbox was the norm for small cars when the Mini first topped the sales charts, but now its rivals offer the extra flexibility of five speeds. The boot is even smaller and more inadequate than I remembered, and the legroom front and rear is still as cramped as ever.

Some of the basic faults could easily be resolved. It would not be difficult to improve the way the front seats fold forwards for easier access for rear seat passengers, and even after 41 years, adjusting the side mirrors still involves opening the window and sticking a hand out in the rain.

&#42 Some improvements

Of course, there are some improvements. The ancient A series engine, first introduced on Austin cars in 1950, has been through a series of improvements which have taken the capacity from 848cc on the original Mini to 1275cc with electronic ignition on the last version.

Power output is up from 34 to 63hp, and this shows up in the 0 to 60mph acceleration figures which are trimmed to 12.2 seconds instead of a tediously slow 27 seconds. The original floor operated push-button has been replaced by a normal key operated starter, and a drivers airbag – unheard of in 1959 – is now standard equipment.

Another big change is the price. This years on-the-road price for the standard Mini is £8495, rather more than the £497 plus delivery, number plates and tax for a 1959 model.

With small wheels, a bouncy ride and not much ground clearance the Mini has few credentials as a farm car, but it comes into its own on a trip to town where small size, excellent all-round visibility and good manoeuvrability make light work of parking.

It has already established its place as one of the motor industrys classic designs and in an age when most cars seem increasingly bland, the Mini has real individuality and is actually fun to drive.

OK, so its not exactly a lugger, but lots of farms will have fond memories of one.

Mini shows its age in many departments, but it still has charm and character.

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