- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Take 25,000 Mini automobile enthusiasts driving more then 10,000 Minis, add equal pints of English ale, and you’ve got a party! Mini’s 50th birthday to be exact.

“Miniacs” from more than 40 countries made the pilgrimage to the United Kingdom’s Silverstone, the famous English racetrack that was the birthplace in 1950 of today’s FIA Formula One World Championship.

The festivities that took place May 22-24 ranged from go-carting, Mini Driver Training and test-drives to a Mini United “Beauty Parking Lot” with stunning collector vehicles and of course, the race - the Mini Challenge.

In honor of its 50th anniversary in Silverstone, Mini showcased the upcoming Mini 50 Mayfair and Camden. These new models will be launched in the fall of 2009, and are named after boroughs of London: Mayfair is elegant; Camden is trendy and urban. To add to the groovy component, the Mini 50 Camden offers Mission Control, a system that communicates with the driver about weather conditions, safety and comfort settings and fuel level in the tank, and even warns passengers to buckle their seatbelts. These models have 175-horsepower, four-cylinder engines with twin scroll turbochargers and get about 46 miles per gallon.

To get a grip on why people are so addicted to the Mini, one needs to understand this unique British car’s history. It all started in the late 1950s.

Sir Alec Issigonis, a passionate automotive engineer known as the Father of the Classic Mini, was given the task by British Motor Corporation (BMC) to develop a truly innovative car to be smaller than all models built by the company to date. Seven months after Mr. Issigonis was assigned the project, he took his boss for a go-around at the plant in a prototype vehicle. The Father of the Classic Mini supposedly said, “I was really going like hell. I’m certain he was scared, but he was very impressed by the car’s road holding. So when we stopped outside his office, he got out and simply said, ‘All right, build this car.’ ”

In 1959, BMC revealed its revolutionary compact cars, the Morris Mini-Motor and the Austin Seven. These front-wheel drive four-seaters measured 10 feet in length and sold for the equivalent of $694 U.S. dollars. The Mini was perfect for a family of four, had “impeccable driving characteristics” with efficient 34-horsepower four-cylinder engines, generous luggage space and was adorable to look at.

In 1960, BMC added the Mini Van and Mini Estate, a version with glass windows. In 1961 they introduced the Mini Pick-Up, and six months later the Wolseley Hornet and the Riley Elf.

In 1961, the Mini Cooper was added to the fleet. It was named after John Cooper, a sports car manufacturer and well-known engineer who developed this small speedster. The original Mini Cooper had a top speed of 80 mph and an output of 70 hp. True to form, the Mini Cooper went on to wins in the 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1967 Monte Carlo rallies.

Skip forward several iterations to Mini cars starring in 1970s movies. Even in the 1980s when the company was only producing the Classic Mini 40-hp 1.0-liter, they were still popular. Of note: in 1986, the 5 millionth Classic Mini came off the production line.

In 1994, Mini joined BMW in presenting a concept of the Mini Cooper at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show. The Mini Cooper entered showrooms in 2001 in the form of a four-passenger, 115-hp four-cylinder. Larger than the original Mini, the Mini Cooper still maintained its compact nature and the design elements that made the Classic so endearing. The rest, as they say, is history, with subsequent models more powerful than the one before it, including the 175-hp Mini Cooper S. It’s no wonder that “Miniacs” are maniacs for the Mini.

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