Words by Nick Bassett.
The original two-door Mini was a small car produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) and its successors from 1959 until 2000. It is considered an icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout (which allowed 80% of the area of the car’s floorpan to be used for passengers and luggage) influenced a generation of car-makers.
The vehicle is in some ways considered the British equivalent to its German contemporary, the Volkswagen Beetle, which enjoyed similar popularity in North America. In 1999 the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th Century, behind the Ford Model T.
This distinctive two-door car was designed for BMC by Sir Alec Issigonis. It was manufactured at the Longbridge and Cowley plants in England, the Victoria Park/Zetland British Motor Corporation (Australia) factory in Sydney, Australia, and later also in Spain (Authi), Belgium, Chile, Italy (Innocenti), Portugal, South Africa, Uruguay, Venezuela and Yugoslavia.
The Mini Mark I had three major UK updates: the Mark II, the Clubman and the Mark III. Within these was a series of variations including an estate car, a pickup truck, a van and the Mini Moke—a jeep-like buggy. The Mini Cooper and Cooper “S” were sportier versions that were successful as rally cars, winning the Monte Carlo Rally four times from 1964 through to 1967, although in 1966 the Mini was disqualified after the finish, along with six other British entrants, which included the first four cars to finish, under a questionable ruling that the cars had used an illegal combination of headlamps and spotlights.
Initially Minis were marketed under the Austin and Morris names, as the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor, until Mini became a marque in its own right in 1969.
The Mini was again marketed under the Austin name in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, BMW was seeking to broaden its model range through the addition of compact cars and SUVs. This sparked a series of compact car concept vehicles from the company during the early 1990s. The first were the E1 and Z13, powered by an electric motor and a rear-mounted 1100 cc BMW motorcycle engine, respectively.
In early 1994, BMW acquired the Rover Group from British Aerospace, which owned Mini, among other brands. BMW insisted that even a compact model must feature traditional BMW characteristics (such as rear wheel drive) to uphold the company’s standards and image. The “MINI” brand, however, did not share these standards and BMW saw this as an opportunity to create a competitively priced, yet premium, compact car. This formed BMW’s plan to launch the premium BMW 1 Series and the mid-range Mini.
It was at around this time that Rover, too, was working on a successor to the original Mini. Its first concept was the ACV30 which was unveiled at the 1997 Monte Carlo Rally. The name was partially an acronym of Anniversary Concept Vehicle, whilst the ’30’ represented the 30 years that had passed since a Mini first won the Monte Carlo Rally. The vehicle itself was a two-door coupe powered by a rear-mounted MG F engine.
Just months later, Rover released another concept, this time, a pair of vehicles called Spiritual and Spiritual Too. These vehicles were a more realistic attempt to create a modern Mini, and coincided with BMW’s official creation of the Mini project. Although the two-door and four-door pair wore Mini badges, both vehicles remained purely concepts.
In 1998, BMW set out on creating the production Mini. The first aspect that was considered was the design, which was chosen from 15 full-sized design studies. Five of these designs came from BMW Germany, another five from BMW Designworks in California, four from Rover and one from an outside studio in Italy. The chosen design was from BMW Designworks and was designed by American designer, Frank Stephenson. Stephenson penned the new Mini One R50 and Mini Cooper leading the team which developed the E50 car in Munich (parallel development in England by the team at Rover having been dropped in 1995).
This design, being a city car, also fitted into BMW’s plan of two compact cars, leaving the supermini class for the BMW 1 Series.
The last Mark VII Mini, and the 5,387,862nd and final original two-door Mini to be produced, a red Cooper Sport, was built at the Longbridge plant in October 2000.
The car was driven off the production line by the pop singer Lulu, and was subsequently housed at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, alongside the first Mini Mark I ever made.
The new generation Mini Hatch/Hardtop went on sale in July 2001 and was an immediate sales success.
In February 2005, BMW announced an investment of £100 million in the Mini plant in Oxford, United Kingdom, creating 200 new jobs and enabling production output to be increased by 20%.
At the North American International Auto Show in January 2011, BMW announced that it would be extending the Mini range with the launch of two new two-door sports crossover vehicles based on the Mini Paceman concept car, with a coupe version planned to enter production in 2011 and a roadster to follow in 2012.
In June 2011, BMW announced an investment of £500 million in the UK over the subsequent three years as part of an expansion of the Mini range to seven models.
The third generation Mini was unveiled by BMW in November 2013, with sales starting in the first half of 2014. The new car is 98 mm longer, 44 mm wider, and 7 mm taller than the outgoing model, with a 28 mm longer wheelbase and an increase in track width (+42 mm front and +34 mm rear). The increase in size results in a larger interior and a boot volume increase to 211 litres.
In July 2017, BMW has announced that an electric Mini model will be built at the Cowley plant, in Oxford. It started production in 2019. It will also be produced in China.