The reborn masterpiece of design is outselling expectations once again The 500,000th Mini rolled off the production line at BMW's plant in Britain at the end of last month, two years ahead of expectations. BMW expected to sell only 100,000 units a year when it launched its take on the British classic, but strong worldwide demand brought the half-million milestone ahead of schedule. More than 176,000 Minis were sold across 70 countries last year. And 111,142 units left the factory in the first seven months of this year, up 4 per cent compared with the same period of last year, indicating that the Mini should do even better in 2004. 'We have reached this achievement through the commitment and flexibility of the 4,500 employees at the plant. With Mini's continuing sales success, we are on schedule to produce more vehicles than the 174,000 built last year,' said Anton Heiss, BMW Group Plant Oxford managing director. The success of the BMW Mini is testament to the enduring appeal of a venerable design that was pencilled on the back of napkin over lunch by Alec Issigonis, working for British Motor Corp (BMC) in the 1950s. Mr Issigonis, who won fame in the industry for designing the Morris Minor, conceived of the Mini as a cheap, compact car, with room for four adults and luggage. The Mini that emerged from the BMC factory in 1959, amid a fuel crisis, was a ground-breaking concept widely acknowledged to be the granddaddy of the contemporary compact car. Mr Issigonis's most ingenious idea for the Mini was to transversely mount the engine to maximise cabin space, and use small wheels. In the decade that followed its launch, the practical car designed for the working-class man with a wife and 2.5 children became a fashion statement and successful rally machine. Tuned by John Cooper, the British pocket-rocket left bigger cars made by Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Saab in its wake as it raced to victory in the gruelling Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, and again in 1965 and 1967. (In 1966, all Minis were spuriously disqualified by French officials for having non-compliant headlamps.) Today's Mini, designed and built by BMW, has proven wildly popular in the United States, its second-largest market, where the automotive formula usually is bigger means better. Frank Stephenson, who oversaw the design of the new Mini, deserves some credit for this success for capturing the spirit of the car in a contemporary, more muscular package. The task was far from straightforward because the Mini had essentially not changed since 1959. To ensure the BMW Mini remained a Mini in essence, Mr Stephenson and his team imagined how the car's styling might have evolved over four decades.