Mini celebrates 35 years on road

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The Independent Online
THE BIGGEST little car in the world celebrated its 35th birthday yesterday as Mini-mania came to Silverstone. More than 30,000 of the legendary cars, and up to 120,000 people from all over the world, gathered at the racing circuit to mark the occasion.

Since its launch, 5,280,000 Minis have been built and owners have included The Beatles, Twiggy, David Niven and Peter Sellers. It is one of only three cars to sell more than 5 million and the only one still in production.

At yesterday's meeting, Rover unveiled a special edition, the pounds 13,495 Grand Prix Mini Cooper, of which only 35 are being made. Two other special anniversary editions have been produced - 1,000 models of the Mini 35 costing pounds 5,695 are being made and 200 of the pounds 7,995 Monte Carlo LE.

The basic shape and mechanical layout of the Mini have remained unchanged since the first models rolled off the production line. Allegedly sketched out on the back of a cigarette packet by Turkish- born designer Sir Alec Issigonis, the car was conceived in the post- Suez fuel crisis when miles per gallon became all-important.

Thirty months before it was launched, he simply scaled down his first design to a 10ft by 4ft by 4ft model and the Mini - his 'people's car' - was born.

Sir Alec's revolutionary design placed the engine crossways to save space, and roadholding was improved by each wheel being set at the corner. Early sales of the first pounds 496 Minis were slow but the car quickly caught the public imagination, becoming the trendy mode of transport in the swinging Sixties and winning Monte Carlo rallies. By 1965 the first million had been sold.

It received a spectacular advertising boost in the 1969 film The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine, in which souped-up Mini Coopers performed impressive stunts. Peak sales were in 1971 at 318,475 a year but dwindled to 20,000 last year and sales in Japan now exceed British totals.