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End of the line for the Mini

A popular pastime: How many can you get in a Mini?
A popular pastime: How many can you get in a Mini?  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The classic Mini car, which belied its frugal roots in post-war Britain to exhibit a joie de vivre of its own, has driven in to history with the last model rolling off the production line.

More than 40 years after it first arrived on Europe's forecourts, number 5,387,862 of the classic car left the Longbridge plant, near Birmingham, on Wednesday.

An icon of the 20th century, the Mini became a victim of modern pollution laws and crash tests, and will be replaced with a new sporty version by its owners, BMW, in 2001.

Also at the end of the production line are two cars that became the butt of many jokes -- the Ford Escort and 65-year-old three-wheeled Reliant Robin.

BMW Mini
A new version of the mini will be released by BMW next year  

The Mini, with its cheeky personality and good road handling, breached both age and class barriers.

It became a symbol of the swinging sixties with owners including the Beatles. Lulu, another sixties singing star, drove the last one off the production line. "They were fun," she said.

The Mini was also was immortalised in the Michael Caine movie The Italian Job, when red, white and blue cars zipped through Turin, only to be ditched down a mountainside in the final scene.

Introduced in 1959, 137 different types of Mini took to the roads worldwide from Britain to Bahrain.

Judith Dalman, a Mini owner who has a Web site dedicated to the car, said: "My Mini is so much fun to drive and feels like so much more than just a means of transport.

"My theory is 'Buy a Mini, get a social life for free.' It's true, believe me.

Mini police car
The Mini was put to various uses  

"I'm very sad that Mini production has stopped. The new Mini can never beat its predecessor."

Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, it was meant to be cheap to buy and inexpensive to run. It was a small, economical car for a country emerging from the restrictions of World War II, and was to compete with the Messerschmitt Bubble Cars.

The Mini was the first car with a front wheel drive, transverse engine mounted in the front and had a suspension formed not from steel springs, but from a rubber spring system. You either loved its unique style or hated its cramped interior and sluggish acceleration.

It started as the humble Austin and Morris, priced 469, but later models such as the Mini Minor Traveller, the Mini-Moke, a jeep like vehicle originally designed for the armed forces, and the Mini Clubman were introduced.

The first Mini formed part of a parade to mark the Queen Mother's 100th birthday this year, and a special non-decay model was buried with a Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy statuette in a Millennium vault time capsule in the south of England.

And the Queen was once said to have taken a spin around Great Windsor Park in a Mini.

Mini reborn at Paris Motor Show
September 28, 2000

Official Mini site
The Italian Job
The Reliant Robin members' club
Mini fan club

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