In the year that the Mini celebrates its 60th Birthday, it is only right and proper that we mark this special anniversary by adopting ‘The Year of the Mini’ as the theme of the 2019 BVAC Classic at Thirlestane.
With a range of fabulous Mini related events planned for this year’s show and to celebrate 60 years of this truly iconic little car, we thought it would be fun to look at a few of the Mini’s big screen roles. From comedies and crime capers to spy thrillers and road movies, the Mini has always punched well above its weight, appearing in some of the most iconic movies of all time.
It was in 1959 that the Mini made its debut in a world dominated by over-size cars and tailfins. When the Mini was launched it was a breath of fresh air – it had character, it had style and its small nimble body was perfect for navigating narrow European roadways. This ability and its iconic character was to win it a permanent place in popular culture in movies ranging from The Italian Job in 1967 to the Bourne Identity in 1989, famous movie car chases to rival Steve McQueen’s Bullitt!
A Shot in the Dark – 1964 – Starring the Radford Mini de Ville (1963)
The Mini actually made its big screen debut in 1964 in A Shot in the Dark, five years before The Italian Job. This Peter Sellers comedy was the second in the Pink Panther series, and the Mini which featured is best remembered for two reasons. Firstly, for the bizarre wicker side panelling on the car (made specially for the film), and most famously for the scene in which Inspector Clouseau and his female client escape from a nudist colony and proceed to drive naked through the crowded streets of Paris. Sadly, the car meets its demise in the movie’s climax when a bomb intended for Clouseau explodes and takes it out.
Interestingly, Peter Sellers loved his custom 1963 Hooper-bodied Morris Mini so much that he arranged to have it customised by coachbuilders Radford for use in the movie. But the car’s intriguing wickerwork body was not merely painted on, actual wicker was sanded on both sides until it was paper-thin and then it was applied to the sheet metal of the car and finished with varnish. After filming was complete, Sellers presented The Radford Mini de Ville to director Blake Edwards as a gift. Edwards subsequently shipped the left-hand-drive Mini to California where it regularly appears on the car show circuit.
Magical Mystery Tour – 1967 – Starring the Radford Mini de Ville (1966)
One of the great achievements of the Mini was the way that it appealed to all classes and subcultures of British society.
One notable Mini fan was George Harrison of The Beatles who had his 1966 Radford Mini de Ville decorated in a psychedelic style that was absolutely brimming with Eastern philosophical symbolism. Harrison’s Mini appears in the 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour, but he held onto the car for many years after both The Beatles and the psychedelic era were history, having it rebuilt and restored in the late 1990s.
The Italian Job – 1969 – Starring the Austin Mini Cooper S MkI (1967)
Undoubtedly, the Mini’s major moment of movie glory came in 1969 with the release of the crime caper The Italian Job, a role which was to win it the status of pop culture icon. Officially starring Michael Caine and Noel Coward, the film’s real stars were to be the trio of modified Mini Coopers that were festooned with lights and painted red, white and blue.
Now considered an absolute classic, the film sees a team of British thieves steal a shipment of gold bullion and transfer tonnes of the precious metal into three Minis. Cue an epic chase scene (accompanied by memorable movie score) through the streets, sidewalks, staircases and Italian sewers of Turin and 50 years later, the imaginative stunts on display haven’t aged a day.
Interestingly, during the getaway the Minis are pursued by police around the rooftop test track of what was then a Fiat factory in the Lingotto building in Turin.
Mr Bean – 1990 onwards – Starring 1976 Mini 1000 MkII
As much as his signature brown tweed suit and red tie, Mr. Bean’s Mini is a large part of his identity, made famous in his many television series and two feature films.
Mr.Bean starring car enthusiast Rowan Atkinson, also appeared in the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony but his association with the Mini goes back decades. Bean was first seen driving an orange 1969 BMC Mini MK II but that car was wrecked while filming one of the show’s early episodes. It was replaced by a 1976 Mini 1000 MkII in ‘applejack green’ with a matt black bonnet. Please note, the manual door lock was provided by Mr. Bean and was not an available factory option.
Most of Mr. Bean’s most famous Mini-related scenes involved run-ins with his arch nemesis, a sky blue, three-wheeled Reliant Regal Supervan. Mr. Bean and his Mini always got the better of the Reliant which usually ended up tipped over and/or run off the road.
Good Bye Pork Pie – 1981 – Starring Mini 1000 MkIV (1979)
The action adventure comedy film Goodbye Pork Pie might just be New Zealand’s most iconic film, combining the best elements of the road movie with a story of love lost and won. The film is also a showcase of New Zealand’s natural scenic beauty unrivalled until the release of the Lord of the Rings films two decades later.
The star of the film is a bright yellow 1979 Mini 1000 MkIV, which does a surprisingly good job of outrunning several V8-engined police cars. The Mini gradually loses parts throughout the film as the characters are forced to sell them for cash, petrol isn’t a problem as the Mini’s ability to reach speed from a standing stop comes in handy on a few occasions!
The Bourne Identity – 2002 – Starring Mini Mayfair MkV (1989)
The Bourne Identity sees amnesiac superspy Jason Bourne played by Matt Damon leap into a beaten up Mini Mayfair and outrun the Parisian motorcycle by, amongst other incredible stunts, zipping down a steep staircase and racing headlong into oncoming traffic. The real pleasure is watching a full-speed chase through tight spots and sharp turns which only a Mini could handle.
The 1989 Mini Mayfair MkV Jason Bourne drives proves to be perfect for negotiating narrow alleys and urban staircases. The Mini actually belongs to Bourne’s girlfriend and isn’t in the best shape to start with and things don’t get better as the action proceeds. It’s not often featured film cars are quite so beaten up but the Mini is clearly made for such roles, its legendary toughness and simplicity have been a trademark of the brand since its humble origins.
The Italian Job – 2003 – Starring 2003 BMW MINI Coopers and 1997 Rover Mini Cooper MkVII
The 2003 updated version of The Italian Job is not really a remake as the plot bears very little similarity to the original. However, it did give a respectful nod to the original 1969 film and the classic Mini Coopers featured in it but only the opening scene was shot in Italy, with most of the action taking place in Los Angeles.
In 2003, the producers wisely realised that the trio of Mini Coopers should be cast members in their own right, just as important as the actors! Once again, the climax features a Mini Cooper chase scene, but this time in the subway tunnels of L.A. To shoot the scenes in these tunnels, where gasoline powered engines are forbidden, the Coopers had to be specially fitted with electric motors. Not a lot of people know that!
In the movie, Charlize Theron’s character is shown driving a red 1997 Rover Mini Cooper MkVII and it is remarkable how much the Mini changed since the advent of the MkII some thirty years before.
The Britalian Job – 2012
If you love the chase scenes from The Italian Job or The Bourne Identity, but feel they could have been improved with Big Ben been in the background, check The Britalian Job out. In 2012, Mini UK created a five minute mini-movie to promote that summer’s Olympic Games in London by staging a chase through that city’s streets, pedestrian tunnels and parking-lot ramps. The mini-movie, featured several top British athletes and of course several athletic Minis!
As you will see, The Mini has come a long way since it was launched in the summer of 1959 and sixty years later, there is no doubt that this humble little car is still the star of the show!