Frankfurt to Bristol - Trouble was brewing in the late 1950s, as the Middle East conflict sent oil prices soaring and created a fuel crisis. With large, fuel-guzzling automobiles making little sense in an uncertain future, a challenge was issued by Sir Leonard Lord of the Morris Company to his head engineer, Alec Issigonis: Design and build a small, fuel-efficient four-seater that would be within the economic reach of just about everyone.
In 1959, the challenge was met and the original Mini was launched. Featuring clever engineering and design innovations, most notably, the sideways-mounted engine and all four wheels pushed to each corner. Apart from giving the small car added stability in tight corners, this also increased passenger space and gave it a unique exterior design.
The original brief was met, but the ‘small’ team behind the design of the Mark I could never have anticipated that a car, which was designed to move people in the most efficient manner possible, wasn’t just moving bodies, but hearts as well. The fun and cheerful little Mini became an icon of 1960s youth culture – an early indication of things to come for this innovative little people mover, which was originally born out of a crisis.
(Click HERE to read about a 'young' Countryman... and a driver who is young-at-heart)
Fast forward to 2019 and we’re planting our muddied feet on the festival grounds of this year’s International Mini Meet. We were in good company too, as thousands of Mini owners and fans from all over the world had descended on the English port city of Bristol to not just congregate, but celebrate the Mini’s 60th birthday.
(Click HERE to read about our Clubman JCW drive to the 2019 IMM)
Initially conceived in 1978 by German fans of the classic Mini, the International Mini Meet (IMM) has grown to become the world’s biggest annual event for the organised Mini club scene. Many fans of the marque traverse hundreds, and in my case, thousands of kilometres to partake in the festivities.
Think of it as a Mini equivalent of VW’s Wörthersee, except with the rolling hills of the British countryside... and weather, for company. Mini folk though, are a resilient lot who took the intermittent showers and strong winds that buffeted their little campsites in stride with plenty of laughter, good cheer and beer.
With customisation playing a huge part of the overall Mini ownership experience, there were many personalised vehicles on display. The repertoire included tall Minis, short Minis, Minis with attached beer dispensers, Mini limousines and even a Mini converted into a BBQ pit.
It was an explosion of automotive creativity, set against a festival backdrop complete with music, amusement rides and plenty of classic British grub. The rain and mud were a downer for some participants at the beginning – especially those in white shoes – but in the end, the relaxed atmosphere of the meet prevailed and a good time was had by everyone; some participants even engaged in a bit of off-road rally fun by sliding about in the mud.
For those unaccustomed to classic British weather, there were plenty of vendor tents to pop into for some shelter, but more importantly, choice parts and souvenirs were for the buying. Mini Spares, one of the largest vendors at the event, even rebuilt a car that was to be raffled away on the event’s last day. Sadly, this author did not manage to bag that brand new old Mini. I did however, manage to buy a limited edition 1/43 Mini model that was specially designed just for the International Mini Meet.
With such a massive congregation of Minis, several ‘side’ events were planned around the IMM: One was #ROADtoIMM19, a ten country tour that spanned Europe to England – it started in Athens (in tribute to the original designer’s Greek, British and German roots) before ending in the little car’s home country at the IMM.
Another cool event in the lead-up to the IMM saw a convoy of Minis headed by the first classic Mini ever built. The convoy comprised unique vehicles from each production year, with a beautiful MINI 60 Years Edition bringing up the rear.
The 60th Anniversary festivities also brought with it a significant new path for the direction of the brand, which for better or worse, has again arisen out of a necessity to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Showcased for the first time to the Mini community was the all-electric MINI Cooper SE – with 45,000 registered prospects in just a month, the future of MINI looks ‘electrifying’ indeed.
For a recent convert like myself, the International Mini Meet was an eye-opening insight into the wonderful, friendly and at times, crazy world of Mini owners. This world, which started as an idea in the head of Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis, has taken root and flourished in the hearts of everyone his idea touched.
And it all revolves around a car that was engineered to solve a problem in the past, but ended up creating lasting memories for the future. The Mini story might have started 60 years ago, but I’m sure it is far from over.
STORY Louis Soon