Of course no list of practical, everyday classics would be complete without the good old Mini.
From its launch in 1959, the Mini brought private motoring to the masses of Britain by combining a cheap price with shoestring running costs and, perhaps its greatest design feature, internal space. The concept behind the Mini was to allocate as much space as possible inside the cabin for the passengers; forcing the wheels to the far corners and even rotating the engine through 90 degrees horizontally to make room for a tiny bonnet.
The Mini is everything you want in a car, nimble performance, nippy handling, a small size to fit into any parking space imaginable and maintenance that won’t break the bank. Built as a response to fuel rationing in the 1950’s due to the Suez Crisis, the car is drip-fed when it comes to fuel efficiency.
It’s for these reasons that the car became the true icon of British motoring and a symbol of all that is English. It truly does encapsulate the psyche and even the stereotypes of our island people; it’s quirky but understated, it’s small but it has a big impact, and with enough oil and grease will happily run forever in the face of all adversity (unlike the current Conservative government).
But why isn’t the mighty Mini at #1 you ask?
The problem is that the Mini does have a number of faults, some limited to certain models while others are endemic to the car in all its incarnations.
We’ll start with the pervasive problems.
The car is woefully underequipped. Early models had only one dial and later versions increased it to three. For the taller person the car is incredibly claustrophobic and space in the rear is a joke. The tiny boot at the back is far too small for even medium-sized items such as suitcases and space inside the cabin itself isn’t much better. The radio system is like something out of the Stone Age, the sideways engine makes maintenance troublesome, there’s no glovebox, no door pockets, the acceleration could be measured in days, they’re too small to be seen by larger vehicles and HGVs, the ride is oppressively uncomfortable and the safety is even worse.
As for versions, the earliest models from 1959 to 1968 you’d be incredibly hard-pressed to find; mostly because they’d largely rusted to dust by the mid-1970’s. British Leyland models from between 1968 and 1986, as well as the facelifted Mini Clubman, you shouldn’t touch with a barge-pole due to their mechanical faults, poor build quality and viciously rust-prone ways. By far the best of the breed are the latter day models built by the Rover Group between 1986 and 1999.
Aside from being produced with a touch more credibility, many internal features from the rival Metro range were carried over to improve the car’s refinements and bring it into the 1990’s. By this point, the Mini was less a mass-production car and more a fashion item, thus many limited edition variants were also created during this period. While these limited editions were largely restricted to just cosmetic changes and a few mechanical alterations, today they’re just as cheap to buy as the regular production Minis and can add a bit of flare to your merry little car.
Overall, the Mini was built to be an everyday classic; with thousands still used to trundle to and from work or drop the kids off at school 5 times a week. While you need to be wary of which versions you buy, with the general consensus being that later models from the 1990’s are by far the best, the cheap cost of buying and running these machines is the very reason why they adored from the start.
- Comfort – 5/10 – With such a low ride-height, bumps are easily transmitted
- Practicality – 8/10 – A car that was built for this purpose, though larger luggage items may be a bit hard to fit
- Reliability – 8/10 – Rover ones are the best of the bunch, but be sure to check
- Speed – 10/10 – For a car of its size, it’s one plucky machine
- Handling – 10/10 – Michael Caine would be languishing in prison if it weren’t for this!
- Looks – 10/10 – The very definition of old-world British charm
- Equipment – 6/10 – Later Rover models became collectors items and thus were built with more features, making them the best of the bunch
- Price – 10/10 – You could pick up a Mini today for peanuts!
- Value – 5/10 – But then you’d have to sell it for peanuts!
- Total – 72/90 – The very definition of tiny size but full on practicality.