This article was provided by the Oregon Mini Society. The Oregon Mini Society was established in 1989, in Portland, and now has over 100 active members from southern Washington, Bend, Bandon, Brookings, and beyond. We thank them for supporting the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance. For more information visit www.oregonminisociety.com/
The year was 1956. The President of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in response to the American and British decision to withdraw funding for a new dam’s construction due to Egypt’s Communist ties. The international crisis that followed led to fuel shortages and gasoline rationing across Europe. Sir Leonard Lord, head of British Motor Company wanted to produce a British alternative to the tiny, fuel-efficient German cars that were cornering the market after the Suez Crisis. He turned to Alec Issigonis, a Turkish immigrant who as chief engineer at Morris Motors had produced the Morris Minor, a teapot-shaped cult favorite.
Mini development began in 1957 and took place under a veil of secrecy; the project was known only as ADO (for Austin Drawing Office) 15. After about two and a half years–a relatively short design period–the new car was ready for the approval of Lord, who immediately signed off on its production.
Launched on August 26, 1959, the new front-wheel-drive car was priced at around $1200 and marketed under two names: Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor. The two vehicles were the same except for each had a different radiator grille, and by 1962 both were known simply as the Mini. Issigonis’ design, including an engine mounted sideways to take up less space, had created a surprising amount of space for a small-bodied car: At only 10 feet long, the Mini could sit four adults, and had a trunk big enough for a reasonable amount of luggage. With a starting price of around $1200, the Mini was truly a “people’s car,” but its popularity transcended class, and it was also used by Princess Diana, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Star, Peter Sellers, James Gardner, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Enzo Ferrari, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Kate Moss and many more celebrities.
By the time production was halted in 2000, 5.3 million Minis had been produced. Around that same time, a panel of 130 international journalists voted the Mini “European Car of the Century.” A high-performance version of the Mini engineered by the race car builder John Cooper had first been released in 1961; known as the Mini Cooper, it became one of the favorites of Mini enthusiasts worldwide. In 2003, the Mini Cooper was updated for a new generation of buyers by the German automaker BMW. A poll by British motoring magazine Auto Express in April 2017 determined the 50 best British cars of all time has put the classic 1959-2000 Mini in the number one spot, edging out the Jaguar E-type and the Land Rover Series/Defender ranges. Those polled included unidentified members of the magazine’s staff, as well as 10 “expert” judges from the car manufacturing industry.
In 2017, the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance is recognizing Classic Mini’s with a special class. You can expect to see some amazing examples like Eric Newland’s Austin Seven. This car was one of the first Mini’s imported to Portland’s British Distribution for sale in the Northwest. Because of the gas shortage of 1973, Eric’s father, David Newland, purchased the vehicle to be used for inexpensive transportation back and forth to work. Eventually this little car was relegated to the side of the house gathering moss for nearly a decade despite several attempts by Eric’s mother to rid the home of what was in her opinion, an eyes sore. Eric convinced his parents in the late 90’s to take the car and began a ground up restoration. Eric’s passion for the Mini was greater than his mechanical abilities so he reached out to classic Mini specialist JET Motors of Happy Valley to complete the build. The finished car debuted at Mini Meet West 2015 in Abbotsford, BC and walked away with Best of Show and Best of Class.
There will be 12 beautiful and unique examples of the classic Mini so be sure to see them at the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance on July 16th, 2017.