Fifty years in the life of a national treasure

Rachel Shields traces the chequered journey of one of the first Minis to emerge from the Cowley production line in 1959

Margaret Flux couldn't even drive her new Mini off the forecourt at Fowlers garage when she bought it in August 1959, but that didn't dull the excitement she felt. For the 55-year-old housewife, that little blue car represented freedom and independence; the chance to get out of the small village of Gurnard in which she lived and explore the rest of the Isle of Wight, to drive herself around without having to rely on her husband.

Across the country, the Mini was soon to take on a much wider significance. Driven up the Kings Road by stars such as the Beatles and Mary Quant, raced around the streets of Turin by Michael Cain in the 1969 film The Italian Job and even implicated in the 1963 Profumo scandal, the car quickly became a symbol of the swinging Sixties – a national treasure and a testament to British design and engineering.

On Wednesday it will be 50 years since the first Morris Mini was produced at Oxford's Cowley plant, during which time the car has turned from a "no-frills" run-around into one of the best-known vehicles of all time. "They are very much a people's car, completely classless. Everybody has had a Mini," said Bill Bell of "Superstars of the 1960s drove them, so for very little money you could drive the same car as a millionaire."

Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis for the British Motor Company (BMC), the car's modest style did not deter buyers. With rope door handles, visible seams and a tiny 848cc engine – reduced from 948cc with a petrol shortage in mind, following the Suez crisis – the Mini was aimed at a post-war public that was feeling the pinch. While more than six million Minis have been sold in the past five decades, of the 20,000 Morris Minis produced in 1959, only 140 are known to remain today. One of these is the car that belonged to Mrs Flux, the 484th to be made.

After passing her driving test, Mrs Flux drove the car until her death in 1976. It later passed to her grandson Mark King, who went on to become the bassist in the band Level 42.

"It was the first Mini on the island, so it attracted a lot of attention," Mr King said. "I used to whiz around in it, but not long after I passed my test the car failed its MOT, because the rear subframe had gone, so we sold it."

The car's next owner, fellow Isle of Wight resident John Claughton, thought he would recoup the £30 he paid for the car – and make a profit – by selling it for scrap. "When I realised it was one of the really early ones I decided to keep it," Mr Claughton said. Having been repaired, resprayed and retuned – at a cost of £500, the price of the vehicle when new – for a time it became the family's main car.

Like many drivers of classic Minis, the car's current owner, Ian Sims, who bought the car from Mr Claughton for £6,700 in January this year, admits that the attraction of a 1959 Mini lies more in its value as a piece of British history than its prowess on the road. "It is diabolical to drive," Mr Sims said.

Although the thoroughly British brand was taken over by German car firm BMW in 2000, the new Mini, launched in 2002, stayed close to the style of the original. This year, a new electric "Mini E" is unveiled.

A Mini History

26 August 1959 The Mini, designed by Alec Issigonis, is launched by the British Motor Corporation.

1960 The Mini Van and Mini Estate appear.

1961 The Mini Cooper S, with a top speed of 99mph, is launched.

1965 One million Minis sold.

1969 The Mini's fame is cemented by a starring role in The Italian Job with Michael Caine.

2000 BMW takes over the Mini brand, after buying the struggling Rover firm.

2002 The new Mini is launched.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

    £16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

    £9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

    Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn