By forcing the automobile industry to combine economy with creativity, the petrol crisis would give birth to one of the most innovative concepts of the sixties: versatility. A "mini" automobile that in no way compromised on comfort and technical requirements, it was loved by the stars and the masses in equal measure; with over five million models sold. It was also available in sporting incarnations which triumphed consistently on the rally circuit.
The concept of a small city automobile saw the light of day in 1922 with the Austin Seven, but it wasn't until 1956 that the idea was seriously revisited. As British automobile magazine The Motor put it in November 1956: "No one can say how long the oil shortage will last, but everyone must act in the best interests of the nation [...] there must be small automobiles". Two months later, Nasser, the Egyptian head of state, decided to nationalize the Suez Canal. Following a strong a British reaction, the Egyptians blocked the canal, cutting-off the gasoline supply to Great Britain. It was in this climate of petrol rationing that the superb ADO15 concept was developed for the Austin Drawing Office; project number fifteen, the code name for what would later come to be known as the "Mini".
Two great visionaries combined their talents to transform this concept into reality. The first was Sir Leonard Lord, the great CEO of the British Motor Corporation formed by the merger of the Austin and Morris automobile brands in 1952. The second was Sir Alec Issigonis, a brilliant engineer who had already created the Morris Minor In 1956. Issigonis was at that time working on two projects, the XC9001 and the XC9002; abandoned at the start of 1957 in favor of the XC9003, the concept that would lead to the ADO15 project. The design requirements were brief: a compact but spacious automobile, affordable but comfortable, with production to commence as soon as possible - nothing short of a tall order!
To be continued...