I come from a family that has had many Minis throughout its tree. My mother and father owned one, and my uncle owned two. As a family of four, we had no trouble going on family days out, even with its modest boot. I sometimes wonder why families now feel the need to buy people carriers or 4x4s when the faithful Mini never let us down.
Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, the Mini is probably the most recognised car on the planet. Since it first rolled off BMC’s (British Motor Corporation) production line in 1959, the Mini is still going as strong now as it has over the past five decades. In fact, in 1999, the little car was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T.
Under BMC, the mini was produced under two brands until 1967. The Morris version – well known for producing the Morris Minor – was known as the Mini, or the Mini-Minor. Austin sold their identical version as the Austin SE7EN, a reminder of their popular 7 sold during the 1920s and 1930s.
From 1967 to 1970, the overall look of the car virtually remained the same regarding aesthetics and design. On the Mark II, the front grille was redesigned, and a larger rear window fitted, plus various small cosmetic upgrades.
It was during this period the Mark II became a movie star and household name when it appeared in the film The Italian Job 1969. Famous for its long car chase, the movie saw three Minis driving down staircases, through storm drains, and into the back of a moving coach. Such a success, the film was remade in 2003 using the new Mini Cooper.
There were variants of the Mini, such as the Mini Van, the Mini Moke (a utility vehicle intended for the British Army), the Clubman (a squared boxy shape), and the Mini Countryman (an estate version with wooden inserts in the rear body), but it was the famous Cooper S that was the desirable model. My father’s best friend during his youth was lucky enough to own one, although not so lucky as he crashed it going too fast!
In 1961, John Cooper, the designer of Rally and F1 cars became involved with Mini when he saw potential in the little lightweight car. His design increased the engine size, which boosted the hp from 34bhp to 55bhp. Its race-tuned engine featured twin-carbs, a closer-ratio gearbox, and disc brakes on the front wheels.
1963 saw the birth of a more powerful Cooper, the S. This version had a slightly bigger engine and improved brakes. In 1964, the S was taken a step further in engine size (1275cc) and entered into the Monte Carlo Rally. The Mighty Cooper S claimed victories in 64, 65, and 67.
The Mini was so popular among celebrities it became a symbol of the ‘Swinging London’ scene during the 1960s. Even the Queen was seen driving one, making it a ‘classless’ car. During this period and the 70s, the mini also became a fashion statement, famous coachbuilders hired by such celebs as John Lennon, Britt Ekland and Elton John were chosen to upholster their Minis. Marc Bolan famously died as a passenger in a Mini 1275GT when it hit a tree.
From the mid 70s through to the late 80s, the Mini didn’t see much change in design. To a passerby, a Mini was a Mini, only a discerning eye able to notice the slight cosmetic changes.
The 90s, right through to the end of production under the Rover Group, the Mini continued to keep the same overall body shape. The Mk VI and VII, whilst looking similar to its predecessors, had their engine mounts moved forward to house a 1275cc power unit. An injection model was also introduced in 1991.
In 2001, a new generation of Mini went on sale and was an immediate success. With the original design kept in mind, the new breed offered a more modern look. The models available were the ONE, a standard 1.4L model, a Cooper, and a Cooper S 1.6L. These new generation Minis were powered by BMW technology, but the diesel versions used a Toyota-built engine.
In 2005 BMW invested £100M in the Mini Oxford plant, enabling a 20% rise in production. Keeping up with demand, in 2011 BMW invested a further £500M in the UK, extending their ranges.
This Mini is the newest interpretation of the Cooper S John Cooper.
This Cooper S JCW GP was seen just outside of the infamous Nürburgring circuit.
The original Cooper S JCW GP boasted just 215 horsepower, but shed an impressive amount of weight to stay quick. This new model is expected to bring around 220 hp to the track with significant weight reductions of its own.
This little car has more than lasted the test of time, and although it continues to thrive, you can still JUST about see the similarities between the first photograph and the last. Very impressive since over half a century has passed since Sir Alec Issigonis sat at his drawing board with an idea in his head and a pencil in his hand.