THE last of the original Minis will roll off the Longbridge production line this year, after a tradition lasting more than 40 years. Alchemy Partners, which plans to take over the Longbridge plant, announced yesterday that production of the Mini would cease before the appearance of the version to be produced by BMW at the Cowley plant in Oxford from summer 2001. Jon Moulton, head of Alchemy Partners, said: "We will wind down the production of the old Mini by the autumn and phase it out by the end of the year." BMW had planned to replace it with the "New Mini" in September, but that has been postponed until next year. The last models of the old Mini might buck the trend of falling car prices. Collectors are expected to push up prices. With only a few thousand more expected to be produced, enthusiasts say there is likely to be a late burst in demand. Although the cult car staged one successful comeback in response to demand, there is no prospect of yet another curtain call. The market for small cars, long dominated by the Mini, is now cluttered with models produced by some of the world's most successful car manufacturers. The competition at the small-car end of the market is about to heat up, with vehicle tax changes expected to prompt a surge in demand for greener cars. When the Mini returns next year, it will be in almost unrecognisable form. The New Mini will be a much sleeker and trendy model than the box-like Mini of old. When the original appeared in 1949, its designer, Alec Issigonis, claimed: "You can't tell one car from another - the only one that stands out is the Mini."