Tomorrow, May 8, 2009, marks 50 years to the day since the first Mini rolled off the production line at Plant Oxford, formerly known as Cowley. It's been a long and winding road for the British icon, but the Mini has made it through half a century of nearly continuous production despite passing through many different hands.

Surviving the current sales and economic maelstrom may yet prove to be a difficult task indeed with some of the industry's giants all but disappearing. But this isn't the first time the world has faced such a situation, and it's certainly not the first time the UK has, either. The British Motor Corporation - original producers of the Mini - was enveloped in, and ultimate overtaken by, the malaise of the late 1960s and early 1970s, eventually becoming a part of British Leyland.

Dr Jürgen Hedrich, Plant Oxford’s managing director, said it well: "Little did anyone know just how popular Sir Alec Issigonis’s car for the people would be – or that half a century later it would be reborn as the MINI and once again be built in Oxford.

"This is a momentous day in the plant and car’s history. Everyone at the plant is proud to be part of both the heritage and the future of this car."

BMW Group member of the Board of Management for Production, Frank-Peter Arndt had a valid counterpoint to offer, however. "Anniversaries are always a wonderful opportunity to look back at the past," said Arndt. "But on days like today, it’s also good to look to the future. Therefore, our objective is absolutely clear: We are going to continue the success story of MINI and continue to strengthen it.

"Where is MINI going? Where will it be in 10, 20 or even another 50 years’ time? Perhaps it’s rather ambitious to look that far ahead, but one thing is certain, MINI is a brand not only with a great tradition, but also a fantastic future."

Plant Oxford built 602,817 Minis from 1959 to 1968, before production was moved to Longbridge. Since 2001 more than 1.4 million new MINIs have been built at the production facility and in total, more than six million classic and new MINIs have been sold since the car first went on sale in 1959.

Mini is also working on a special-edition F1 JCW car to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Cooper's first F1 car this year. For more on that vehicle, read the story here.