The 1980s were a far cry from the bleak and uncertain decade that preceded it. Under Margaret Thatcher’s rule, Britain’s economy started to pick-up again and it was the 1980s that marked the start of consumerism and buying in excess. All of a sudden people had money to spend on what they wanted, giving rise to the young upwardly-mobile professionals – or Yuppies – who wanted to be seen donning the latest tech and gadgets.
Influenced by American TV shows, yuppies aspired to get behind the wheel of a brand new breed of vehicle: the sports car, which made a huge impact in the UK during the 1980s. At the same time, an increasing number of foreign manufactures began selling their cars in Britain, with some firms opening their own factories in the country. Nissan was the first, shortly followed by Honda and Toyota. The arrival of more foreign companies put increasing pressure on UK car manufacturers, including Mini.
As well as having to compete with foreign firms, Mini had to say goodbye to founder and designer Sir Alec Issigonis, who died at his home in Edgbaston, Birmingham, on 2 October 1988. Though Sir Alec officially retired in 1971, he continued working for the motor industry until shortly before his death. In honour of Alec’s work, a street was named after him at the former Morris Minor factory in Cowley.
Right at the start of the decade, the Mini reclaimed its former ‘Austin’ title before becoming Rover in 1988. In October 1980, the Austin mini Metro was released (with the badging displaying the word ‘mini’ in lower case). BL said that the Metro was not a replacement of the Mini, but rather should be seen as an ‘older brother’ to its predecessor. Both the Clubman and the 1275GTs stopped being manufactured at this time to make way for the new Metro.
By the time the Metro was introduced, Mini was struggling to keep up with other car manufacturers, who were offering more modern and practical vehicles on the market. On top of this, Mini also had the sports car to contend with. Foreign markets started to lose interest in the company, which resulted in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa ceasing production of the car. Production of the Mini continued after the launch of the Metro, though production volumes were massively reduced as Mini and Rover Group focused on the Metro. 1981 marked the last year Mini featured in the top ten of Britain’s top selling cars.
In the 1980s and continuing through the 1990s, Mini released numerous ‘special edition’ models into the UK market. This move transformed the Mini from a mass-produced item to something of a fashion icon. One model included the Mini Designer, which was released in 1988 and influenced by British fashion designer Mary Quant. The car was fitted with striped seats, featured ‘designer’ decals, and was painted in either Diamond White or Black. Other special editions of the decade included the Mini Mayfair, Mini Sprite, Mini Ritz, Mini Flame and Mini Rose, to name a small sample.
Mini celebrated its 25th and 30th birthday by releasing special anniversary models – the Mini 25 and Mini Thirty. The 25 was based on the Mayfair model – which was an upmarket version of the Mini City. The 25 was painted silver, featured ‘25’ decals and was fitted with front disc brakes and 12- inch wheels. The Mini Thirty was also based on the Mayfair, but buyers could choose from a Black or pearlescent Cherry Red colour scheme. The car was manufactured with ‘1959-1989’ decals.
Mini in the 1980s: Fun Facts
– In 1987, the Mini Advantage was released in honour of Wimbledon
– In 1986, the world-record was set for how many people could fit into a Mini: 66.
– Mr. Bean made his screen debut in 1989. His first car was an orange BMC Mini MK II, but it was destroyed in an off-screen crash during the first episode. From that point onwards, Mr. Bean drove a 1976 BL Mini 1000.