This week marks the 20th anniversary of the BMW Mini. Since the first hatchback left the line in late April 2001, the Mini family has grown to include SUVs, small wagons, a five-door sunroof and even a short-lived sports crossover coupe. They all have the same recognizable Mini face, but it was an almost different story.
Before each new car gets the green light to produce, it has to face a bunch of competing designs. But in the case of the Mini, the whole process was complicated by the strained relationship between the British Rover Group, the maker of the iconic original Mini, and BMW, which bought the Rover in 1
This is a fascinating story made even more by the fact that Bernd Pischetriderder, who was recently appointed CEO of Daimler but was CEO of BM in the 1990s, and the driving forced behind the purchase of Rover by the German company , was a cousin of Alec Isigonis, the designer of the original 59 Mini.
Related: BMW will turn MINI into its first all-electric car brand in the early 2030s
If you want a suitable punch-to-punch account from the people who have been there, we would definitely recommend heading to AROnline, an amazing resource for fans of the old British tin. Still here? Let’s look at the beginning of the rebirth of the Mini in 2001.
The original mini
BMC, as it was then called, launched the Mini in 1959 as a more car-like alternative to freaks like Isetta and Heinkel Trojan, who became popular after the Suez Crisis of 1956. It was an ingenious engineering development offering room for four people and a little luggage in 10-foot space thanks to its transverse arrangement of the front drives and the compact rubber cone suspension.
But by the early 1970s, modern supermini hatchbacks like the Fiat 127 shown in the photo above had continued the game, and in the 1990s the Mini was essentially an old-fashioned act: still fun to drive, but hopelessly surpassed in just about anyone. another meaning. It is clear that it needs to be replaced, but should this be a completely modern small car, a machine that is as bold and advanced as the original in 1959? Or should we instead focus on attracting and knowing the original from buyers?
Rover’s design team, which began investigating the idea of a new Mini in 1993, seems to have supported the promising approach. Meanwhile, BMW, joining a year later, better understood the value of what evokes a nostalgic feeling for the outgoing Mini, and is working on its own proposals – initially behind Rover. We all know which direction she won, but here’s what happened along the way.
With its Minilite-style wheels pressed into every corner and its lights designed by Rover Spiritual, the concept wanted to introduce a new Mini that was not the pastiche of the original. The Spiritual was powered by a Hydragas suspension and was equipped with a floor-mounted Rover K series engine that powered the rear wheels.
In fact, there were two cars: the Spiritual Mini and the larger four-door Spiritual Too. They were unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 1997, but according to AROnline, they had already been thrown out of the scandalous design at the British Automobile Heritage Center in 1995, where the future of the Mini was decided. BMW’s opinion was that the spiritual twins were simply 10-15 years ahead of their time.
Another, completely different concept of the Mini appeared a few months earlier in 1997, the one in honor of the 30th anniversary of the third and final victory of the Monte Carlo Rally of the original Mini. The anniversary concept vehicle is built around a modern MGF chassis, using another design that failed during the Gaydon shootout in 1995. But some of the stylistic ideas, particularly the interior design, have continued to influence the car since 2001. and pushing the car into the public eye helped people get used to the idea that a new Mini was on the way, even if it wasn’t.
Concept of evolution
So if Spiritual, the car that inspired the ACV30, and several other concepts didn’t make the cut at the Hayden summit, how did BMW and Rover arrive at the finished design? According to AROnline, two cars did get the vote at the 1995 meeting. One, by David Saddington of Rover, was a practical four-seater hatchback with recognizable mini styling details, including lights and grille, and powered by a K-Series front-mounted engine.
The German mines
The second successful proposal came from BMW’s design team in Munich. A smaller, less practical, but more sporty car, this is the work of Frank Stevenson, who has already worked on the BMW X5 and will continue to design cars for Ferrari and McLaren. For a time, the two designs evolved side by side, until it was decided to combine the aesthetics of the Stephenson 2 + 2 design with a little more practicality of the Saddington design.
The winning design
After warming people up to the prospect of a new Mini with the ACV30 and Spiritual concepts, BMW finally gave them a glimpse into the real thing at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1997. Or at least gave the good impression that it looked like the real thing. Visually, it was almost a dead bell for the car that would appear in showrooms in 2001, but that was after more than three years, so the show was actually a redesigned Fiat Punto.
2001: The beginning of something big
When the first Mini finally came off the Oxford production line in April 2001, the whole hassle of reaching that point suddenly seemed useful. Or so it should have looked on the BMW. Unfortunately for Rover, whose engineers had worked so hard to put the Mini into production, there was nothing to celebrate.
Rover’s BMW mandate was not cheap at all, and he happily unloaded the Rover Group to the dubious Phoenix consortium for the princely sum of £ 10 ($ 7). BMW even gave the venture capitalist group a dowry of $ 695 million (£ 500 million), although it still managed to get the company into the ground five years later. But the new Mini was not part of the deal. BMW kept this to itself. Which, 20 years and more than 10 million cars later, turned out to be a very smart move.
2006: Even newer Mini
Five years after the revival of the Mini and after a much less painful development process, BMW has unveiled a second generation new Mini. What looked like a facelift was actually a brand new car. The quality of the interior is immersive, but the hardware under the hood has been improved by combining Chrysler’s 1.6-liter engines for smoother and more efficient units developed with BMW, while the Cooper S replaces the turbocharger.
And instead of just a three-door hatch and a Minis convertible, there was a whole family of cars, including a wagon, a SUV, a two-seater coupe and a two-door sports crossover called the Paceman.
2013: New Mini Mk3
Mini grows in every direction for its third incarnation. Except, under the hood, where non-S cars fell to three-cylinder power, taking BMW’s 1.5-liter B28. The slow-selling coupe was not renewed, but the Clubman grew into a more useful machine and now had a five-door hatch option. Shame it looked awful.
Mini: The future
What does the future hold for the Mini? The relentless growth of the crossover and declining sales of the traditional Mini hatchback, especially in the US, means that we can expect SUVs to perform strongly in the future of the Mini. And there will be more electrical options outside the current hatch of the Countryman PHEV and Mini SE EV. Mini plans to sell only electric cars by 2030.
The resurrected Rocketman
Mini showed Rocketman’s shrinking concept in 2011, although launch plans fell through when negotiations with potential partner PSA failed. But BMW is believed to have resurrected the concept of a city car as a replacement for the next Mini hatchback. The new three-door will be built as an EV in combination with China’s Great Wall Motors, while the plant in the United Kingdom in Oxford will produce a conventional version powered by gasoline.
As for what it will look like, it is possible that the 2023 Mini will take replicas of the radical Mini Vision Next 100 from 2016. The partially transparent concept encompasses advanced connectivity and autonomous technology in a body that moves away from the retro style of any other Mini built. since 2001.
The Countryman will grow into a much larger SUV, leaving room for a new all-electric crossover. And if we read something in the Vision Urbanaut concept for 2020, an electric car / minivan for people similar to the Volkswagen ID card. Buzz, there may be more maxi minis.
Want to read more about the development of the 2001 Mini? Check out AROnline to hear Frank Stevenson’s memories of the Mini design process.