My first three cars – if you ignore a 1930s Austin 7 I shared with my sister (bought for £10 sold for £30 after some titivation) were 1960s Minis.
A Traveller was bought off my maths’ teacher at school. He was so impressed with the way I restored the wood cladding that he persuaded me to abandon the school cricket team in favour of joining the newly-formed sailing club.
My job was to look after the modest fleet of wooden dinghies (no glass fibre then) which involved plenty of sandpaper and yacht varnish. The Traveller was followed by a Minivan on which equal care was lavished – I invested in the seat kit which allowed you to move the seat further back and lower the steering column.
But in the van this also meant moving the battery from its home behind the driver’s seat. Then came a Mini Cooper, the 1071cc version, which I loved and probably drove far too fast.
Why am I telling you this? Because last week, some 42 years after owning my last Mini, I went to Cowley – or MINI Plant Oxford as we should call it – for the unveiling of the latest MINI under the ownership of BMW.
By any criteria, this is a remarkable success story and one in which Britons can be especially proud. The unveil coincided with the 107th anniversary of the birth of Mini creator Sir Alec Issigonis. It was a nice touch and BMW executives emphasised the need to maintain MINI’s ‘Britishness.’
Oxford is and always will be the heart of MINI even if some models are produced overseas – Magna Steyr in Austria is already a key production centre and you can expect the old NedCar factory in Holland (now a third party production facility) to add MINI output in the second half of 2014.
But what was even more satisfying was the news that UK content for this third generation BMW MINI is now higher than ever and BMW is investing £750m in the production triangle of Oxford, Swindon and Hams Hall, the engine plant, between 2012 and 2015.
As Harald Krueger, BMW Group’s board member for production, told me, that’s the equivalent of building a new factory.