Sex in Cars

Half Britain’s male drivers apparently have sex in cars with a third of the female. has done a survey. Either a lot of male drivers are sharing or they’re fantasising. I am more inclined to believe another bit of poll that says nearly 55 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women argue in the car.

Wales is sexier. Fifty two per cent of drivers there do it in cars but in London it’s only 35 per cent. What’s wrong? Street lights? Traffic wardens? The survey uncovered more guilty secrets. Passengers partying in the back – 15 per cent of men and 9 per cent of women allow it. Not sure about “partying”. More than drinking and singing lewd songs surely. Racing away at the lights – 21 per cent of men and 13 per cent of women drivers do that.

Dumping boyfriend/girlfriend in the car – 10 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men broke up behind the wheel. It doesn’t say whether this was included among the arguers. Flirting with another driver sounds like more male fantasising and does not reveal how the flirting ended up. Some 22 per cent of men and 15 of women claim to have tried to attract other drivers on the road. Traffic jams where you can catch an eye perhaps. Must be more than a passing fancy.

Surprisingly 64 per cent of men and 71 of women eat snacks in the car.

Women voted Audi drivers the sexiest (21%) but, better news, BMW drivers were second (19%), followed jointly by Mercedes and Porsche drivers (6%). Men find women sexiest when they drive a Mini (19%) followed by Audi drivers (12%) and BMWs (10%).

Picture of my BMW in sylvan setting below. Other pictures - Mini publicity of the 1960s.

Gareth Kloet, Head of Car Insurance at said:
"The results of this demonstrate that we truly are a nation of car lovers in every sense of the word.
"The number of men and women who tell us they have had sex in their cars has increased since last year's poll*: 37% of women (compared with 30% last year) and 50% of men (compared with 48% last year). Male Audi drivers are on top for the second year running, as voted for by female drivers. The men chose female Mini drivers as the sexiest on the road: overtaking Audi who came top last year."

To compare with last's year's results please see

Mini - Missed The Boat at 30

Instead of selling on its virtue, the Mini was sold on price, so it never generated the money it deserved. It never brought in enough to finance its development and replacement, and Leonard Lord and his colleagues set off the disastrous train of events that led to the collapse of British Leyland and virtually the entire British motor industry. The car that should have sold at a premium gave rise instead to the motor industry aphorism that Mini cars make mini profits.
Prescient or what? That was from The Sunday Times of 27 August, 1989 amidst a welter of nostalgia surrounding the Mini's 30th birthday that only showed what a flop the car really was. Instead of celebrating 30 years leading the world in small car design, we were gazing wistfully at an antique, a car that was a pioneering starting-point, and never should have continued in production for three decades virtually unchanged. Over the same time-span, practically every component of the Volkswagen Beetle was altered. Only the brilliant original concept remained; details were amended and refined continuously.

It was not until BMW inherited the Mini’s principles and sold it at a premium price that it became a success. The first Mini had charm. When I drove one in 1959 I was amazed. (Above; the first Mini made at Cowley, 8 May 1959) No small car had ever been like this. Back to The Sunday Times of 30 years later:

The Mini's catalogue of failure leaves us with a car 30 years out of date in style, merit, and profitability. It was badly made and wrongly priced at the start, never earned enough money to keep its lead, and remains a monument to a management that never realised how distinguished it was.

(1963 Super de luxe Mini - with extra bumper bits)
There is scant cause to celebrate one of the greatest missed opportunities in automotive history, or praise a car that is slow, noisy, less safe than it ought to be, and dying on its feet save for a shrinking number of customers.

Like steam buffs hankering after the Flying Scotsman, they are out of touch with the real world. Fast, lively, well-made and reliable cars overtook the Mini almost as soon as it had shown, before the end of the 1950s, how small cars would be designed for the rest of the century and beyond.

The origins of the Mini are well-known. Sir Alec Issigonis (above), a gifted freehand artist of a designer who knew from his own experience of lightweight hill-climb specials how a good car ought to feel and handle, first drew up the Morris Minor. It was a bit radical for the old guard of motor industry grandees, but they took a risk and made it.

(Above: Issy's sketch-pad. He drew one on a table-cloth for me. Stupidly I never kept it)
They did not make it as Issigonis wanted to make it; they used an old pre-war side-valve engine, so it was never exactly nimble, but they gave "Issy" as he was known, his head in other areas such as the body shell and the torsion-bar suspension, - very avant-garde for 1948. The Minor was an instant favourite, and the later Minor 1000 remains a sought-after car to this day.

(Minis won the Monte. Issigonis was as astonished as anybody)
The Mini-Minor as it was known at first, was more radical still. Front wheel drive remained a novelty in the Fifties. Citroën used it, but they were considered very eccentric by the bluff Yorkshireman who ran the British Motor Corporation (BMC), Leonard (later Sir Leonard) Lord.

The transverse engine (above) was even more unorthodox. A couple of brave pioneers had tried it in the cold dawn of motoring, but no serious designer had entertained it as a means of squeezing the mechanical parts of a car into as small a compass as possible, to leave more room for the occupants.

Yet Lord acknowledged that the recipe, together with small wheels and rubber springs developed with the help of Issy's friend Alex Moulton from Bradford-on-Avon, had merit. He signed the Mini off for production, and it was launched upon a startled world on 26 August 1959.

Lord was only interested in competing with Ford, so the Mini was priced against Ford's cheapest car, the Popular. The fact that its technology was of the Sixties, while the Ford's origins lay well back in the Thirties was beside the point. The Mini's price was £496 against the Popular's £419.

It ought to have been £100 dearer on account not only of its novelty, but also for its interior spaciousness (see above), and its splendid handling, which enabled it to run rings round everything else on the road. It was quick, chic, economical, roomy, and took the market by storm.

It leaked of course. Early Mini carpets quickly became sodden because the seams in the welded floor faced the wrong way, scooping up rain water as the car went along. The gearbox and cooling systems were continual sources of trouble. But there were no fundamental shortcomings except perhaps mixing the gearbox oil and the engine oil in the same sump, giving rise to lubrication problems.

(Minis at Silverstone, 1965, somewhat demurely driven - they usually had smoke coming from the front wheels)
Rival designs quickly discarded this feature, for within a very short time Mini imitators appeared on the market. The pattern of small cars changed from rear-engined and rear drive like the VW Beetle, the Fiat 650 and the Renault 750, to front-engined and front wheel drive. Convention was stood on its head, and soon VW, Renault, Fiat, Peugeot, and the mighty General Motors and Ford would follow suit. From being thoroughly unconventional, transverse-engine, front-drive cars became the norm, not just for small cars, but for medium and large cars.

(1965 variant, the Mini Moke)
Lord and his board never realised the revolution they had wrought. They were more afraid that customers would be put off by the small wheels and the slab-sided appearance and turned-out body seams. Lacking the vision of Issigonis, they felt the Mini would only have merit if it was cheap.

The result was that they under-priced the most brilliant small car of all time. Instead of selling on its virtue, it was sold on price, so it never generated the money it deserved. It never brought in enough to finance its development and replacement, and Lord and his colleagues set off the disastrous train of events that led to the collapse of British Leyland and virtually the entire British motor industry.

(Final fling. One of a late series of Minis harking back to the Mini-skirted 1960s)
The car that should have sold at a premium gave rise instead to the motor industry aphorism that Mini cars make mini profits.

Classless, trend-setting, and sufficiently agile to give a good account of itself in all forms of motor sport from the Monte Carlo Rally to production car racing, the Mini should have been a financial as well as a technical success. It was marketed mistakenly as cheap and cheerful, instead of the clever new concept that it really was.

(BMW reinterprets the Mini. The Mayfair 50)
Mini ownership by the trendy Peter Sellars and Lord Snowdon was regarded with polite interest, instead of demonstrating that here was a car so good that price was not a critical ingredient in its choice.

In due course, the Metro was a worthy development of the Mini; few small cars make such good use of space, or offer so much of it for the money. Alas, it was late by 10 years or more, and when it did come, it still used (and still uses) the out of date Mini engine and gearbox because there was no money available for a new one.

When the replacement Metro arrives in a year or two, it will have a new engine. But now it has to hold its head above a flood of Mini rivals from Japan, Korea, and the rest of a world. They have followed where Issigonis led, but where an indifferent and lacklustre BMC feared to tread.

(And BMW succeeded. With hindsight I was being too kind to the Metro. Hopes for it were high in 1989)

Magnificent Minis

Discovering Western governments earned more from a gallon of petrol than they did, OPEC turned off the taps in the 1970s. British taxation hasn’t changed. We are now in another and more complicated oil crisis where a litre of petrol costs 42p to make. But 82p goes in fuel duty and VAT, so the imbalance remains. Prices are high and likely to remain so.
The first oil crisis was in 1956, when the Suez adventure led to bubble cars and inspired the Mini. Rumours have resurfaced about BMW going back to basics with a real mini, smaller than the premium-priced quirky, big Mini it has been making since 2001. As I speculated in The Sunday Times in 1991 this would not be easy. Well-intentioned safety laws might make it impossible, unless a great deal has been learned in the last twenty years about crash-engineering small cars.
Click to enlarge, or read original copy below

You can understand why Leonard Percy Lord (1896-1967, 1st Baron Lambury), the rough-tongued BMC executive prompted Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis (1906-1988) to create the shortest practical 4-seater of all time.
It is tempting to restore a Mark I Mini, not one of the later ones with wind-up windows and soft furnishings but a sliding-window one, with elbow room and huge door pockets. Even with an old engine, perhaps amended with fuel injection instead of a carburettor, it would use very little fuel. The old Mini was surely the most space-efficient car ever. BMC used to sell little wicker baskets, shaped as the vacant cavities, like the one under the rear seat in Gaydon’s cutaway. Of course early Minis were badly made; mine leaked terribly on account of the underbody seams facing the direction of travel, scooping up rainwater and soaking the carpets.

Never mind the charm, the astonishing cornering power, and the pert appearance a born-again Mini would be noisy without a lot of sound-deadening and not very quick. The driving position was truly awful. Issigonis believed it was good, keeping drivers alert and awake. Yet for sheer practicality the BMC Mini was, and remains, matchless. Four seats, generous legroom, a decent boot and large door pockets. Issy maintained one held the ingredients for perfect picnic cocktails – four bottle of gin and one of Vermouth. What more do you need?
Sunday Times 1991
Safety Laws Trap the Mini.
Well-meaning safety laws are making cars bigger than they need be and inhibiting improvements to one of Britain's best-loved cars. Rover cannot tamper with the design of the Mini, even to make it safer, without invoking rules which would reclassify it as a new model and subject to a fresh bout of crash-testing which it could not pass.
Instead, the car which provided economical transport to generations of British motorists, remains noisy unrefined and relatively expensive.
Sir Alec Issigonis's formula for the smallest car with four practical seats is as good now as it was when it came out thirty-two years ago. The Mini is ten feet long, four and a half feet tall and four and a half feet wide, on a wheelbase of exactly 80 inches. Eighty per cent of the space is given over to the occupants and their luggage, and the mechanical bits are squeezed into a compartment only two feet long.
Never was a car packaged better. The 120 inch long Mini remains the shortest realistic four seat car made; the Lancia Y10 is over a foot longer, the Metro more than a foot and a half, while the most recent Japanese city car the Mazda 121 is a giant of 150 inches.
The Mini already meets emission control laws and thanks to astute work by Rover technicians, fuel injection will be announced in October for the Mini Cooper. This will allow it a catalytic converter to comply with legislation due at the end of 1992. Yet the safety regulation hurdle remains.
Every major manufacturer in the world followed Issigonis's example, adopting front wheel drive and sideways-mounted engines, with an alacrity that surprised even him. Yet the Mini was almost allowed to wither on the bough; it was neither properly developed nor commercially exploited, and although Rover still makes 40,000 a year and production recently passed 5,250,000, it is now technically in arrears. At £5,395 for the basic model, and £6,470 for the plush Mayfair, it is a poor bargain.
Four seated people take up much the same space now as they did thirty years ago and the advantages of a small easily parked car remain convincing. The small-car market must expand as pressure on road space grows and demand for fuel economy increases. Yet it remains dominated by large super-minis, many of them oriental, and none a match for the Mini in compactness.
An old motor industry aphorism that mini cars generate mini profits inhibited European manufacturers. Certainly small cars cost almost as much to make as large cars; they are not made in small factories, by small numbers of people or cheap machines, and cost much the same in materials and energy.
Yet Mini sales remain healthy enough to sustain production, even though the car has not had a development programme such as the Volkswagen Beetle enjoyed. A strong demand remains for an updated 1990s Mini which retaining the 10 x 4.5 x 4.5 packaging, would be in a unique position in the second-car market, as well as providing the same entry-level motoring that the original did in 1959.
The Volkswagen, still being produced in Mexico after a production run of over 20 million, maintains the shape and size and broad specification of the car that Hitler sanctioned sixty years ago. The rear-engined air-cooled philosophy may be the same but there is not a single interchangeable component.
A 1990s Mini would keep Issigonis's ideals intact and would not need to be altered much beyond a quieter engine. Computer-aided design, which was not available to Issigonis who briefed his draughtsmen by means of free-hand sketches, could make the Mini lighter and keep it cheap. Perhaps the turned-out body seams could be smoothed off and the rear opened up to make a hatchback. But any important alteration would spring the trap of legislation which allows Rover to go on producing the old car, but prevents it being brought it up to date.
Minis have had the roof chopped off and been made into convertibles before, but it has taken thirty two years for one to be officially approved. Only 75 of the new Mini Cabriolets will be offered for sale at £12,250. If there is sufficient demand the manufacturer, LAMM Autohaus in Germany, could make more. Once the roof is removed the body needs reinforcement under the floor to make sure it does not sag in the middle.