In 1957, following the first major oil crisis, Leonard Lord, the great boss of the British Motor Company (BMC), commissioned Alex Issigonis to make a small car that would stand up to the German 'bubble cars'. Thus began the gestation of the popular Mini.
At that time, with the Suez Canal conflict, there were those who thought that the gas generator would return and those who tried to bet on electric cars. It was a confusing time, when while there was a popular craving for the car, the traditional big and powerful British cars were not being sold due to the high price of fuel.
Lord realized that German 'bubble cars', especially the Isetta made by BMW, sold well despite import barriers. He hated them, but he was aware that he had to face them with another small-format model. Hence, he asked Issigonis to develop a proposal.
Issigonis called John Sheppard, one of his minions at Alvis, and Jack Daniels, who had helped him create the Morris Minor. He also brought in Chris Kingham from the Alvis car company where he had also worked, as well as brought in two engineering students and four cartoonists.
In July 1957, they designed and built the original prototype, baptized among themselves the Orange Box -because it was that color-, although the project officially had the code XC9003. On the 19th of that month, Leonard Lord approved the project, which was renamed ADO-15.
The car was so small that they began to call it 'Box Soap' (soap box). But, despite its size, it offered good habitability and had many new solutions, not to say revolutionary. And it only took two years from the start of the project to the start of its serial production.
It was tiny: it measured only 3.054 meters in length and had a width of 1.41 meters and a height of 1.34 meters. How could you get enough interior space with these dimensions? Issigonis achieved this by designing every element of the car specifically.
The wheels were very small, just 10 inches, and were positioned at the corners of the car to prevent any intrusion into the interior space. He mounted the propeller transversely and since the gearbox did not fit below the engine, he simply placed it under the engine, in the crankcase. The radiator, for its part, was installed laterally. In this way, the car could be at least 40 or 45 cm shorter.
It was decided that the drive was front to dispense with the transmission tunnel to the rear wheels, which always disturbs the interior habitability. So that the suspensions did not take away space from the passenger compartment, a brilliant system was used: solid rubber studs, in which the elasticity of the rubber acted as a spring.
The engine had to be small, with low consumption, with modest power. Its initial displacement of 950 cc was reduced to 848 cc and the power went from 37 to 33 CV. Issigonis took preferential care of the total weight of the car, so that the first units marked only 580 kg on the scale.
The interior was reduced to the minimum expression, although the two big rigid bags in the doors stood out. Legend has it that Issigonis custom made them so he could mix his favorite drink wherever he went, the Dry Martini. The windows were sliding to allow the doors to be slimmer.
Another interesting element was the rear drumstick, under which objects could be stored. In addition, its structure joined the two body sides to gain rigidity and to be able to use a thinner sheet metal. The rear storage tray also helped.
Over time, the Mini would gain equipment and refinement in the finishes. In fact, it mounted Hydrolastic suspension and more powerful engines (1000, 1100 and 1300 cc). Sports versions were even launched with winglets to cover the wheels, since they had wider tracks. And there were special body versions: 'two-door family (Countryman and Traveler), van, 'three volumes' version (for the Wolseley and Riley brand) or the MiniMoke, a Jeep-type beach vehicle.
He was the king of rallies, even fighting with Porsche. He dominated his category in touring racing. The original Mini is one of the great engineering and architecture lessons of automotive history.