By Paul Wimsett
What is the spark that brings a car into existence? Well, it’s probably the same as everything else. Someone is daydreaming and wonders “wouldn’t it be great if…?” And as the case with ideas, many of them go nowhere. And once in a while ideas really fly.
Take the Mini. It seems such an obvious design for a small car that we can’t imagine a time without it. But the problems with the small size meant that it probably needed a great deal of working out. The solution of a “transverse engine front wheel drive” seems like nonsense to most people, so let’s break it down.
Transverse engine – having the engine facing the same way as the way you’re traveling.
Front wheel drive – having the engine drive the front wheels only.
These seem rather obvious but the Beetle for example has an engine that is at right angles to the way you’re traveling – it does make sense in a smaller car – and there could be a world where a Mini would have a four-wheel drive, only it would probably cost more. It’s all about coming up with the perfect vehicle.
The best part of these features is that it allows more room for both the luggage and the passengers, space is a premium in smaller vehicles. Whether there was an “Aha!” moment with the Mini it is difficult to say, but creating the right engine and the right drive seems to be part of it.
Once you create a brand of car you can develop it. The Countryman is a new version of the Mini which is all about advanced technology and better use of space. Because of the shape of the Mini there cannot be endless supplies of space in a vehicle and technology can only improve the vehicle so far. But these are marketable ways of changing the brand and creating a better vehicle to drive.
Speaking of marketing…
The best thing to happen to the Mini was the 1960’s. The number of celebrities that seemed to come out in favor of the Mini – George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Steve McQueen, and Mick Jagger improved its reputation by miles. It didn’t seem to be about luxury travel, it seemed to be all creating a British car that got you from A to B.
There have been failures too…
The first being the Issogonis. Created in 1959 one of the points you’d notice is that it looks look like a small Ford car rather than a Mini. There were some problems with this type of car, not least the strange name. The most pressing would be that it was hard to get at the engine. Maybe this was due to reducing a fairly big car’s design into a small car-the engine just didn’t quite fit in the same way. But there are always pitfalls in car production.
It seems now that the Mini is impossible to replace in the affections of the public, in spite of the fact that it is now made by an Anglo-German company. Still, you can’t expect everything to stay the same.