Period photo of an early Mini racer Mk1 trackside.


In 1959, in the midst of post-war austerity and fuel shortage, Sir Alec Issigonis ingeniously turned a crisis into an opportunity. He addressed saving fuel as both an engineering and design challenge, which he solved through what became a trademark of Mini: the creative use of space.
Sorry No Gas' sign at a gas station in 1959.

Triggering the Mini development.

His transverse engine broke the rules of car engineering as we knew it. And his radical design eliminated anything that felt superfluous. When people ordered the first Mini, even heating was an option; Issigonis felt it wasn’t really necessary…Well, we reintroduced that later as a standard, and added quite a few more extras. And yet at MINI, we still believe in focusing on the essential.
Sir Alec Issigonis  – the father of the Mini.
X-ray image of a classic Morris Mini-Minor.
Issigonis’ creation was remarkable, but it really only became a Mini when he got a little help from his friend, motorsport pioneer John Cooper. Cooper took the prototype out for a spin and realised this fuel-saving people’s car cornered like no other. He convinced Issigonis to ready the Mini for the Rallye Monte Carlo. The rest is racing history. If Issigonis was a Minimiser, Cooper was something of a Maximiser: while the former focused on the essential, he was all about maximising the experience.
Motorsport pioneer John Cooper attending to the engine of a Mk 1 racer, trackside.
Sir Alec Issigonis (left) and John Cooper.
Of course, the first Mini didn’t re-invent the wheel. But it utterly revolutionised the idea of what an automobile could be. It broke rules. Its innovative suspension system gave it the famous Mini go-kart feeling our fans still rave about. Its exterior, created by an engineer who dared to think differently, was unmistakable and made the Mini an instant design icon. But perhaps most of all it was the productive tension between the approaches of Issigonis and Cooper, the dichotomy between the minimalist and the maximalist, which made Mini so unique. Which resulted in a bold, small car that saved on fuel, but not on driving fun. And that inspires us to this day.
A Mini Cooper racing in 1965.