Why Did British Motors Make the Mini Pickup?
The history of the Mini centers around the personality of its creator, Sir Alec Issigonis, a British/ Greek engineer and designer who was the son of a wealthy shipbuilding engineer. Early in his career, he raced cars and was instrumental in designing front axles before moving into the automotive design world with Humbler and later Morris Motor Company. While working for Morris, he developed a small car called the Morris Minor, codenamed “Mosquito.”
Recruited by British Motors to design a new trio of sedans for the public, Issigonis began working on the concepts for a large, medium, and much smaller town car. The tiny version was initially rejected in favor of the larger designs, and the engineer spent months developing several prototypes, none of which were approved by BMC. Eventually, Issigonis returned to the drawings of the small town car and gained approval for a smaller bare, bones option. In August 1959 the car was launched as the Morris Mini-Minor and the Austin Seven, enabling the birth of the Mini. Over the years, until it was discontinued in 1981, the Mini would become the best-selling car with over 5 million units built.
The overarching design principle for the Mini was to build a car for the everyday man. The car was designed to do the basics well, move two occupants from point A to point B. Issigonis’s concept was a primary people mover that was all function and had virtually minimal form. The car was intensely practical if not anything else. Gone were luxury frills and the pomp and circumstance of larger sedans. The British nation was beginning to reject the frivolous pursuits of the wealthy as the plight of the impoverished in the slums of London and elsewhere was coming to light. Issigonis felt that his simple car might be a way for everyday families to break free of years of unemployment and poverty.
The car was an instant hit. It was very cheap to build and even less expensive to maintain only spurred its popularity. (The fuel tank only held 6 gallons).
Two years after the introduction of the Mini, a pickup truck version was presented. Local laborers who were quietly earning a living by performing light manual labor loved having the option to haul tools and small loads to the job sites. The tailgate folded down to level, which also provided the option for medium-sized loads, and the pickup had the option of a snap-on tarp should items need to be covered.
In addition, the small four-cylinder engine with 34 horsepower was adequate to move two people and equipment from job to job. It wasn’t long before owners discovered how nimble the Mini truck could be, moving in and around town. The car's steering was quick and agile, and the little truck kept all four wheels centered when going around a curve. The use of autos was exploding in burgeoning cities like London, which made the use of the Mini ideal, as drivers constantly darted in and through traffic to hurry to their destinations.
In 1981, the pickup truck version and the Minivan were discontinued. The Mini continued to be made as a coupe and sedan until 2000. BMW bought the Rover Group, which owned the British Leyland, and reserved the right to produce vehicles under the Mini nameplate. BMW has made a version of the Mini Cooper since.
Why Is the Mini Truck a Masterpiece?
There are several reasons to consider the everyman’s car a work of art.
Simplicity of Build
While you might expect that the word “masterpiece” might mean lots of complicated gadgets and precise machinery tuned to perfection, this truck is a classic because of its simplicity. There were two seats, a right-hand steering wheel, one speedometer gauge in the center of a black dashboard, and little if anything else. While Mini Sedans were more elegantly equipped with other amenities, the pickup was a stripped-down lesson in frugality. Stick the key in the ignition, shift into first, and drive. It was that easy. Even the steering wheel is slimmed down with two spokes, with no safety features (Seat belts and a passenger sun visor were options at an additional cost in early versions).
The Rarity of The Cars Still On the Road
These trucks are scarce. Over 20 years, only 58,184 were made, meaning less than 3,000 were rolling off the line every year. Many of the trucks were used in the daily performance of stiff working Brits, who used them as daily drivers and, frankly, drove the wheels off of them. Coupled with the rainy conditions that seem to frequent the English countryside, you can imagine that most of the trucks rusted beyond any hope of restoration. Enthusiasts estimate that less than 500 units have survived.
The Mini is Already a Classic
In 1999, an educational review of all the cars ever made tried to decide what car or truck had the biggest impact in automotive history. While the Mini didn't win the crown, it was the first runner-up. Think about that. Of all the cars made over the entire world throughout the years that cars have ever been produced, the Mini held its own (The Model T took first place. For the record, the Citroen DS and Volkswagen Beetle came in third and fourth).
Classics, like fine wine, only keep getting better over time. Just as there are likely no more paintings by Rembrandt that will likely be found, every Mini pickup has already been discovered. (I am not saying that it isn't possible that a pickup might be sitting in a barn somewhere - but it’s probably not likely).
The price for a fully restored Mini Truck fetches big bucks at the auction and will only continue to increase over time. (I present to you as exhibit A - the fact that Paul McCartney just sold his 1965 Mini Cooper S for roughly $264,000 a few years ago). Because the demand from collectors is so great, expect full-out knock-down-drag-out bidding wars if one should ever happen to make it to the auction block.
The History of this Truck Lends Itself to Classic
Think about the history of this truck and how for twenty years, it carried the hopes and dreams of everyday people, just like you and me. This truck was the little fighting pitbull protecting the underdog worker. When bankers, politicians, and royalty were counting their crowned jewels, this truck was moving the nation of Britain forward.
But that is not the most significant historical relevance of this car. If you drive a subcompact or compact car, you have the Mini to thank for it. One of the reasons that the Mini became the second most influential car in history is that it started the small car revolution. (Although, one might argue the same about the VW bug). As fuel prices have increased over the years, the need for a car that could go farther on a gallon of gas became apparent, and even more, became a necessity for survival. More and more car companies have taken their design and production cues from the foundational work laid by the Mini.
About THE AUTHOR
My name is Matt and I've been around cars all my life! I have owned and worked on many different classic vehicles, so I started this site to share my experiences. If you're new to classic cars, then this website is for you.Read More About Matt Lane