Classless Mini cruises through 50 years of fun

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 August, 2009, 12:00am

The Mini is 50 years old this year. More than five million of the original classic Mini have been produced since the car was launched in 1959 and they have endeared themselves to owners worldwide.

A cult status soon grew up around the car: the Beatles owned them; Peter Sellers had one; Lord Snowdon enjoyed his; and fashion icon Mary Quant extolled its virtues.

The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine as a bank robber, used the Mini to load up the money and escape down the narrow streets of Turin.

A shade over three metres long and with a wheel at each corner, the Austin 7, or Morris Mini-Minor, as they were then known, was designer Alec Issigonis' answer to the Suez Canal-induced fuel crisis of the 1950s. The original Issigonis-designed Mini was launched on August 26, 1959 to great acclaim. Here was a small, affordable car, with a transverse engine and integral gearbox, and a then-strange hydraulic suspension. But, in no time, the Mini became a classless icon, with pop stars and actors all driving one.

For the man in the street, it meant economical motoring with space for the family and even their luggage, as the boot lid hinged at the lower edge allowing extra bags to be carried.

But the car gradually became outdated and, in 2001, a new Mini hit the streets: the BMW-produced MINI which became a standalone brand. The MINI is built at Cowley in Oxfordshire and production topped 1.5 million this year. An amazing achievement in the relatively short period the new car has been around.

Secondhand cars are affordable and a sensible choice. And the car, while no longer such a tiny miracle of engineering, can provide a lot of fun and excitement for new owners.

'MINI was launched in Hong Kong in 2001. Over the past nine years, MINI has become an iconic brand,' said Kenneth Wong, sales manager of distributor MINI HK. 'It is well known that the used car value of the MINI is one of the highest among brands worldwide, including the Hong Kong market.

'Buyers of a MINI usually look for a car with status and a unique character. Thanks to BMW's advanced technology the drivability of a MINI is extremely high. The 'at one' [with the car] driving feel is another unique feature of the MINI.'

Mr Wong said that there were no particular faults associated with the MINI. It had been on the road for more than eight years and had proved that it was a reliable car.

On which model to choose, Mr Wong said: 'It is difficult to tell because the used car value is based on a number of things, such as year, mileage, optional equipment and the condition of the car. Prices are about HK$120,000 to HK$240,000, depending on model, equipment level and general condition.'

Banking executive Hannah Goodwin, who has owned her MINI for about two years, said: 'The Mini is an amazing little car. It's more like a go-kart, really, but it is tremendous fun and totally practical.'