Monday, July 15, 2013

Mini Minor, Mini Styling

Although millions were sold over a production span of more than 40 years and it is considered by many to be an iconic car, few of the original Morris Mini Minors ever made it to the United States.  So that makes it somewhat surprising that the new Mini brand launched by BMW has done so well here; not that many American knew about the original Minis.  A comprehensive Wikipedia entry dealing with the first Mini series can be found here, so we'll mostly focus on the car's styling.

The Mini was conceived as a basic car that would cost little to build.  Where it innovated was the requirement laid down by management that its length should be 10 feet (about 3 m) long and that the passenger area measure six feet (1.8 m) long, a large ratio at the time (late 1950s).  The design task was handed over to Alec Issigonis who conceived the idea of using front wheel drive and mounting the motor transversely, rather than in a fore-aft orientation as was the industry norm.

Mini buffs probably know if or to what extent stylists were brought into the project.  Given 1957 vintage body stamping capabilities in Britain plus the "package" mentioned above and the need to have the car cheap to build, the result was a crude, stamped-out general appearance.  The only evidence of styling input that I notice is in the grille, its surrounding area and the shape of the taillights.

So the Mini counts in my book as one of the few post-1950 mass production cars whose appearance was actually designed rather than styled.


A general view showing the awkward body panel joins, semi-exposed door hinges and other traits.

This rear view is positioned so the the sliding glass panels on the front door are visible; side windows did not crank down.

A better view of the front.  What struck me when I first saw Minis was how tiny their wheels were.  This was probably done for packaging reasons; larger wheels would have intruded too much into the passenger compartment.  But the result was definitely an aesthetic minus.  Automobiles generally look oddly proportioned if the height of the car is much more than about twice the diameter of the tires.

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