Mini's Major Rebirth

The end of the millennium saw the end of the line for the world famous Mini, but where did it all begin? And will there be more than just the name and the memory to the Mini Cooper soon to be re-launchedby BMW?

Mini serial no. 5,386,862 concluded 41 years of automobile history. On 4th October 2000, the car that became a legend in the 1960s rolled off the production line for the last time. Naturally, it will still be around enjoying its retirement for years to come. There are Mini lovers all over the world and regular conventions where Mini owners flock together for a major drive-in party. They get their kicks from the sight of so many Minis in so many sizes. And who can blame them for this admiration and nostalgia? I can understand it, as I learnt to drive in one and loved it dearly. And then I crashed it. But thats another story.

That fęted (and fated) model was fairly basic, more or less the same that first appeared back in 1959, a small but functional four-seater family car. It was about three metres long, had sliding windows that could never keep a thief out, and instead of an inside door handle it had a steel wire that you had to pull down to open the door! Moreover, despite all the redesigning and modifications over the years, there was very little added in the way of fancy gadgets, such as an electrical heater for the back window and central locking. Up until 1984 the Mini even had 10-inch wheels! Only then did it change to the larger 12-inch type. However, the smaller wheels meant that the car could accelerate more quickly. Even though the Fiat 126 (with 12-inch wheels) was produced several years later than the original Mini, the 126 was far less powerful (as well as being less spacious and more uncomfortable).

The Mini Cooper, which bears the name of Charles and John Cooper, the father and son team behind the Mini, came after the 1959 version. The Cooper name, however, first became famous as a racing team. The Cooper 500 started in Formula III. With the great Stirling Moss behind the wheel they won many races. In 1958 Moss won the Argentinean Grand Prix in the Cooper Climax. Then Cooper progressed to Formula II and from there to Formula I. In 1959 and 1960, thanks to ace driver Jack Brabham, Cooper became a synonym for British motor sport.

It was then, in 1959, that they decided to produce a civilian Mini. The first drawing of it was done on a cigarette packet! The model, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, was cheap, reliable and a great success.

Next, in 1961, appeared the truly great hit of the 1960s the Mini Cooper the sporty roadster that sent London wild. Everybody wanted one. Celebrated actor Peter Sellars had one. All the Beatles were driving around in one. Even King Hussein of Jordan boasted one among his huge collection of luxury automobiles. The Mini was as much a symbol of the Swinging 60s as the miniskirt and the Fab Four.

In 1963 appeared the souped-up, hugely popular sporty Mini Cooper S with a more powerful engine. The car arguably surpassed the VW Beetle in chic value. Then, in 1964, after the death of his father, John Cooper decided to concentrate on perfecting the racing version of the Mini Cooper with immediate results. Despite having only a 1.3 litre engine, it won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967. Victory was denied John Coopers team in 1966 only due to disqualification because of badly adjusted headlights! Well, you have to give others a chance from time to time...

The Mini Cooper S sometimes even came complete with a roll bar, which only encouraged drivers to cut corners and speed and swerve without a care in the world.

So what about the new Mini Cooper produced by BMW? The new design (which aficionados might well claim is a totally different Mini) was first shown at the Paris motor show. How much does it resemble the legendary Mini Cooper produced by the British Motor Company? Well, the Brits will be the first to decide, since it will hit the streets in Britain this year and only later enter the market elsewhere. When the new VW Beetle reappeared, the general opinion was that only the name remained the same. The new Mini is, of course, a thoroughly modern car it has to be, one could argue. It is equipped with everything to please someone looking for comfort; at 3.6 by 1.7 m it is certainly roomier; and the 165 HP engine gives it considerable thrust. Probably the price wont be the same either.

Unfortunately, John Cooper never got to see the new Mini Cooper. His son, Michael, drove it to the family home near Worthing on the South Coast of England, arriving on Christmas Day, but his present came one day too late. John Cooper died on 24th December 2000. Perhaps, though, it was for the best.

by John Edmondson