18 FEBRUARY 2005

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There was a time when stylish Italian marques like Ferrari and Lamborghini were the only set of wheels an A-list star would want be seen in. Then came the age of four-by-fours, and armour-plated Humvees became an all-too-familiar sight at red carpet events. But some big names in showbiz seem to be downsizing in a major way, swapping their gas-guzzling monsters for the nimble Mini Cooper.

Goldie Hawn is among those who prefers her little runabout to the ostentatious comforts of a limousine. Lord Of The Rings star Elijah Wood is also a proud owner of the diminutive classic, while other fans include ultimate Material Girl Madonna.

The legendary Mini first rose to fame back in 1959 when car designer Sir Alec Issigonis set out to build the first "classless" car. A few years later fashion guru Mary Quant named her most enduring creation after it because "neither was any longer than absolutely necessary".

It was in 1969, however, that the diminutive vehicle became a bona-fide icon of the automotive world. Michael Caine's classic movie The Italian Job featured three Minis in what most movie buffs still consider the best car chase ever to grace to big screen. Cinema-goers watched open-mouthed as the unstoppable motors, laden with millions of pounds worth of gold, drove up and down stairs, through a shopping plaza, via sewers and over the rooftops and a reservoir to make their escape.

These days German giant BMW has taken over production of the humble roadster. And there's no sign of demand slowing down, with its parent company announcing plans to invest an extra 100 million to keep pace with demand.

goldie hawn,madonna, elijah wood, michael caine

Goldie Hawn negotiates the Hollywood traffic in her bright red Mini. The veteran actress is just one of a host of celebs to favour the diminutive classic
Photo: Rex
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Madonna may be the biggest name in pop, but when it comes to her car she obviously reckons the best things come in small packages
Photo: Rex

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