The changes between the classic Mini that I first drove back in 1988 and the modern MINI (BMW’s capital letters) mirror the way modern motoring has changed.

The original Mini was a brilliantly designed, ground-breaking vehicle that was priced to give many people their first taste of motoring.

Costing about £500 – the equivalent of around £10,000 in modern money – it was our first family car, a rather posh Austin Seven version and somehow coped with taking four of us on summer holidays to Ireland.

The classic Mini that was produced at Oxford until 1968, when all production moved to Longbridge, was universally popular and driven by everyone from postmen to pop stars.

With more than five million sold, it was questioned if BMW’s 21st-century version could ever prove such a worldwide success.

The 1988 Mini I drove, like our original 1960s Mini, was little changed with its front-wheel-drive layout that allowed 80 per cent of the area of the car's floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage. It was relatively cheap and reasonably well-made but about as technologically advanced in terms of interior equipment as a toaster.

With seismic shifts in demands for improved quality, safety and technology, it was clear that the BMW Mini would have to raise the bar. And it did.

The cars produced at the rate of about one a minute at Cowley are now individually crafted for a customer, complete with a host of personalisation options, meaning virtually all new Minis are unique.

The high-quality cars also come packed with safety equipment and advanced technology. The Mini Cooper S hatchback I drove recently came with everything from satellite navigation and a jet fighter-style head-up display, to online connectivity, reversing camera and electronically-adjustable suspension – with a price tag topping £28,000.

In 2001, my first drive in BMW’s Mini into the centre of Oxford was an eye-opener. No sooner had we parked up for some pictures, than it was surrounded by tourists taking snaps. Few cars I have ever driven sparked such instant interest.

Since the launch of the new Mini in July 2001, a series of different models have appeared with the three millionth Mini coming off the Oxford line two years ago.

The Mini’s blend of style, quality workmanship and luxury has proved an international triumph and like its predecessor, it is the go-kart ride and handling and sheer sense of fun that makes it a world-beating winner.

This year will mark another Mini milestone, as exactly 60 years after the launch of the classic Mini and 25 years after BMW took control at Cowley the all-electric Mini is due to start rolling off the line, hopefully opening a bright new chapter in the Oxford plant’s future.

Mini history

The year I started writing about cars coincided with the death of the classic Mini’s brilliant designer Sir Alec Issigonis at the age of 81. It was also a pivotal year for the future of Cowley, following BL’s joint venture with Honda that had led to the appearance of the Rover 800 in 1986.

In 1988, BL appeared to be on the up and was renamed Rover Group and sold back into private ownership with British Aerospace. The following years saw the biggest changes to the Cowley factory’s landscape since it was first built.

In 1993, the North and South works were flattened and replaced with the Oxford Business Park and production focused on the former Pressed Steel site, with some original buildings retained and others redeveloped.

The following year Rover Group was bought by BMW who invested more than £700m in Cowley ready for the launch of the Rover 75 in 1998, while a new Mini was being designed for construction at Longbridge.

All that changed in 2000, when BMW decided to sell its Longbridge operation to a private consortium and included the slow-selling Rover 75 in the deal.

BMW retained Cowley which was revamped as Plant Oxford, the unexpected home of the new Mini, securing thousands of motor industry jobs.

Mini facts

  • The classic Mini was built at Cowley between 1959 and 1968 when a total of 602,817 rolled off the line, with a peak output of 94,889 cars during 1966/67
  • Production of the BMW Mini started in Oxford in 2001
  • 1,000 cars are now produced in Oxford each day – one every 67 seconds
  • In 2017, 223,817 Minis were built at Plant Oxford
  • There are about 3,600 components in a new Mini hatchback
  • More than 1,000 robots apply between 4,000 and 6,000 spot welds to create the new Mini bodyshell
  • 80% of Minis are exported to more than 110 countries.

Mini factory facts

  • About 4,500 people work at the Oxford plant
  • More than 200 checks are carried out in assembly to ensure the correct parts are fitted and quality is as high as possible
  • About 40% of components for the Mini come from UK-based suppliers
  • Taking Minis from the factory by train saves more than 1.4 million lorry miles a year
  • 21,000 people visited the factory in 2017 – a 35 per cent rise on the previous year
  • The Mini paint shop was the UK’s second biggest construction project after the Millennium Dome and cost £80m.