Quintessentially British? – The Mini

There was a time when I was younger, back in the UK, that just about everyone had owned a mini at some point. They were everywhere. A small car designed to fit in a 10ft x 4ft x 4ft space, carry 4 people at highway speeds and sip fuel.

Following his success with the iconic Morris Minor, Sir Alec Issigonis’ design was an instant hit in 1959 and remained in production, largely unchanged until 2000. Over 5.3 million units were made and it became a British icon alongside Big Ben and the Union Jack.

The Mini is one of the most iconic images of post-war Britain. It symbolizes the swinging 60’s: Carnaby Street, youth culture, rock & roll, sexual liberation, and freedom for the common people.

What could be more British than that?

Well, it must not be forgotten that it was designed by a Greek refugee, Alexander “Alec” Issigonis, later knighted for his engineering/design work. Alec fled to Britain with his family from Smryna in Greece (now called Izmir in Turkey) during the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922.


My point of designing this simple art work was to bring to the fore the concept that we are all one people and you cannot predict who will do what for whom. In these days of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at the sea of refugees fleeing the Middle East, this is perhaps something we should reflect upon…



After nearly 70 years – the end of the True Landy?

I just heard today that TATA, the parent company of that classic British car marque Land Rover, will stop manufacturing the Land Rover Defender tomorrow. Admittedly, this had been announced some time ago but I had not seen it.

The Defender is the last of the “true” Land Rovers, and it’s a shame to see it go after 67 years of evolution. How ironic that it lasted nearly “three-score years and ten.”  It will be replaced by a more street-worthy vehicle carrying the same name but it will be interesting to see how it can bear the history of a vehicle that is so iconic and was once advertised as the road vehicle you can plough a field with. And if you don’t believe me try looking here  and then watching this excellent promotional video from the 50s.

I drove several Land Rovers over a prolonged time in the mid to late 80’s when I was working in the agricultural sector and I admit I loved their basic ruggedness and the fact they could go just about anywhere over the fields.  I even towed a small plot combine all over the UK with a 110 V8, at one point having to park this behemoth, with its appalling turning circle, in the center of Edinburgh each night as that’s where I was staying over the summer. Now that was an experience.

LandRover V8 and Hege 125B Combine
LandRover V8 and Hege 125B Combine

With the demise of this quintessentially British icon, much like the original Mini, I feel we are losing a bit of our heritage, but I guess the real Landy has had its day. Maybe it says more about how society has moved on – perhaps we are simply less rugged, or rather more refined, than we used to be.  It would have been an anathema to install air conditioning and electronic gadgetry in a Land Rover of old, after all the vehicle was designed so that the interior could be cleaned with a hose, or so I am told, but the new Defender will undoubtedly come with all the whistle and bells that today’s discerning, Hunter-welly-clad, Barbour-jacket-wearing clientele desire, neatly fitted into its monocoque, chassis-less design.
So, as part of my farewell to this Best of British post-war Engineering I am running a Land Rover image contest for fun this week under the auspices of the Quintessentially British Group that I curate. Why not take a look to see what people have entered?


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