50 years ago this week the Austin Mini went on sale. It had been designed in reaction to the fuel shortages caused by the Suez crisis of 1956; little German bubblecars were selling like hotcakes, and the head of the British Motor Company said "God damn these bloody awful Bubble Cars. We must drive them off the road by designing a proper miniature car". Three designers, two engineering students and four draughtsmen pulled it together in a year, and it was full of innovations that are still used, like the sideways mounted engine and a monocoque frame. It got between 40 and 48 miles per gallon with an 850 cc engine.
The interior was, to say the least, spartan, and the controls simple. But it carried four people and a few bags of groceries, was fun to drive, was cheap and got great mileage. The new BMW mini is a bloated and expensive SUV by comparison. Why don't they build cars like this anymore?
Some might say Safety, but that is a direct function of speed. When all of the cars were small and nobody had big engines and air bags, people drove more slowly and perhaps more carefully because of it. Motorcycles and bikes don't have airbags either and they are legal today. Of course it would help if we brought back a 55mph speed limit.
Others might say Capacity, but size didn't keep people from having a good time and towing when they needed to.
Perhaps it is just that car makers continue pumping in the testosterone and buyers keep lapping it up; this is what BMW unveiled to celebrate the 50th anniversary, a souped up 2 seater with 211 horsepower out of a 1.6 litre engine.
Seems to me that they got it right the first time.