Britain's Famed 'Mini' Ends 41-Year Run

It’s the end of the road, and the end of an era, for one of Britain’s best-known and best-loved cars.

The last Mini — number 5,387,862 — rolled off the production line at the Longbridge plant in Birmingham and into history today.

Introduced in England back in 1959 as an inexpensive car that would accommodate four adults and little else, the Mini was a compact car that got fantastic gas mileage but was deemed a real oddball; auto writers said it would flop.

How wrong they were. Million of Minis dubbed “shoe boxes on wheels” were built, raced and owned by such luminaries as Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.

Small, sweet and sassy, the Mini became a classless symbol of the swinging Sixties — a set of wheels for princes, paupers and pop stars alike.

Practical First, Then Fashionable

It was originally built in response to European gas rationing in the wake of the 1956 Suez crisis. No one — not even the designers — expected its extraordinary popularity.

As its popularity grew, nicknames and urban tales grew around it. Souped-up Minis became known as “Ministrones” and driving schools using the car were called — what else? — “Miniscules”.

In the 1969 movie The Italian Job — a classic comedy starring Michael Caine — the Mini showed its unique versatility in a convoluted chase scene through the town of Turin.

Movie buffs will remember the scene where the Caine and his Cockney crooks escape the Italian police driving Minis through a shopping Piazza, down a subway, down the steps of a local church, (interrupting a wedding), over the roof of a stadium, up and round the famous Fiat Factory, and finally down through the sewers.

Candidate for Reincarnation

The Mini spent 41 years in continuous production. It had nearly 140 different models — one of the best loved, the Mini Cooper S, nicknamed the “pocket rocket” — was a multi-time winner of the Monte Carlo Rally.

The demise of the Mini is mainly the result of tough competition in the globalizing auto industry coupled with ever-tightening pollution laws and crash test requirements.

BMW is bringing out a brand new version of the mighty Mini, and while it is a look-alike of the original, it’s not quite as mini, having grown by more than half a yard.

It is far more sophisticated and industry experts say it has the potential to give the new VW Beetle a run for the money in the U.S. market.

But that’s unlikely to appease those mourning the loss of another motoring icon.