60 years of Mini: a new dawn
This second part of the Mini double header looks at the Mini under the ownership of BMW. How the car has changed and what it's like to own a Mini today. The classic shape captured the world's imagination for over three decades, could BMW keep it up and keep the true spirit of the Mini alive in the process...
For those you who missed it, get the first article here to read about the Mini's inception and early years.
Big Changes for the Little Car
A New Car for a New Era
From the ashes of the classic Mini, rose a new model, the new BMW Mini. The model was introduced in late 2000, shortly following the demise of its ancestor. The new generation car was launched under the Mini marque, now owned by BMW. The development of the car however, was performed between the UK Rover Group and BMW, with constant disagreement between the two parties. Ultimately, BMW prevailed and took control of the project in 1999, moving planned production of the car from Rover's Longbridge plant to BMW's Oxford plant.
The BMW Mini was new from the ground-up, with an entirely new chassis and a Brazilian built Tritec engine, available in 1.4 and 1.6-litre variants. The engines were co-developed by BMW and Chrysler, using modern features such as electronic throttle control and a 16-valve head. The new car sported a much larger body, modern interior and many more safety features to meet modern legislation. All of this new technology did lead to some weight gain, the new Mini One weighed in at a little over a ton (1000kg) or more than 400kg over the weight of the original car.
The difference, as you would expect between the old and new Minis was huge. The new car however, was received well by the press, with reviews stating that the new car was still great to drive and with a personality that emanated that of the original. This was in part thanks to the Mini still being a relatively lightweight car, this combined with minimal body roll and a quick steering rack enabled the Mini to retain its lively character. The flat windscreen, retro styling and corresponding interior features meanwhile meant the Mini had the right style to appeal to the masses. Once again it appeared that the Mini was a 'classless car' that could be bought and enjoyed by all.
As before the Mini gained performance variants in the form of Cooper, Cooper S and eventually John Cooper Works models. Power was upped and forced induction used for the S and John Cooper models to give impressive performance. Suspension and brakes were also upgraded, meaning this cute little hatchback could trouble some expensive machinery through the twisties. The Mini performance models have been headlined by limited-run GP models, sporting race-car-like aero features and upgraded powertrain/ suspension parts.
The mini has since progressed rapidly over the years, moving to Peugeot sourced engines in the R56 models (as well as dropping the Supercharger on the Cooper S model for a turbocharger) and moving to BMW designed engines in the latest F55/ F56 chassis.
All the new technology has led the car to grow in both size and weight. Many in the industry are now saying that the Mini has outgrown it's 'small car' roots and has become just another hatchback. A lot of this is due to unavoidable crash regulations but the swelling of size and price has undoubtedly moved the Mini away from the city car sector and directly into the competitive family hatchback market, and this is all before you consider some of the other models Mini is now selling.
A Whole Range of Cars Now Available
Buying a Mini Today
The mini line-up today is bigger than we have ever seen before. Not only can you buy a hatchback and convertible version of the traditional shaped Mini, you could also go for a larger Clubman hatchback or the crossover SUV Countryman. These models don't scream 'Mini', certainly not to me at least, on account of their large footprint and odd styling features.
The standard Mini is larger than it has ever been, available also in 5-doors for the first time. This has made the standard hatchback its most practical ever and, if current reviews are anything to go by, the car has lost only some of its original character, where it has followed modern trends a little bit too much. The convertible version is maybe better not mentioned, as when compared to the hatchback the convertible is heavier, slower and more compromised in practicality terms. If this is worth it for roof down motoring is up to you, though customers clearly do not agree with me and these cars fly out of the showrooms.
The Clubman is not what it used to be, that being a standard Mini with a squared-off front end. The new version is a larger, longer version of the standard hatchback, offering more space and practicality at the expense of extra weight and loss of agility. The car also features some quirky styling and ridiculous rear doors. This car though, is nothing on the largest Mini of them all, the Countryman.
How we have ended up with a crossover Mini is beyond my understanding, the fact that they still apply a badge to the car that reads 'Mini' is almost laughable. The car is larger, heavier, slower and less fun to drive than the hatchback and even the larger Clubman. The less said about this vehicle in front of classic Mini enthusiasts the better, this car is over three times the weight of the original. I personally, see nothing of the original Mini in this car apart from some obvious design inspiration.
There is an alternative route into buying a new Mini in 2019 however, and it comes in the shape of the David Brown Remastered Mini model...
David Brown Remastered Version
The cars made by David Brown Automotive take an old, classic Mini shell and change almost every part of the car before selling for ludicrous prices (figures later in the article). The cars sport new or entirely rebuilt engines, modern suspension and brakes alongside a thoroughly modernised interior and some updated exertion styling features. The cars are generally made on a limited-run basis, sometimes working with certain specialists such as Oselli, known for their motor sport A-series Mini engines.
From the David Brown and original Cooper S models at the top to the early BMW era Mini's at the bottom, Mini ownership can cost you anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
For those with a lower budget and dreams of a performance Mini, the R53 and R56 Cooper S models are most likely your best bet. These were the first two versions of the Cooper S under BMW ownership; both are available from around £2500 for a reasonably good example. The R53 utilised a 1.6-litre supercharged engine, making way for a turbocharged unit of the same capacity in the R56. Reliability is not a strong point for these vehicles but their handling is very highly regarded and with more than 160bhp, both offered good straight-line performance (thanks also to their circa 1000kg kerb weights). John Cooper Works models expanded further on the Cooper S cars with more power and extra chassis tweaks, generally costing many thousands more however, due to their extra capabilities and rarity.
Next the new models, Mini hatchbacks are available for a little over £16,000 which is actually very competitive in the small hatchback segment, with the Mini offering premium build quality and style when compared to 'working mans' brands such as Ford or Vauxhall. Five door models cost just a few hundred pounds more while convertibles start from a shade over £20,000.
Larger models mean larger cheques, the Clubman starting at £21,950 and the Countryman starting at a heady £23,390. The extra cash does buy you more real estate but I personally believe that this will not trouble potential owners. These models are likely to be leased, with monthly rentals and deposit prices more influential than the RRP.
Then there's the classics. Starting from around £3000 for a late (Austin 80's cars/ Rover 90's cars) model that requires some work, usually fixing rust and other bodywork issues. The general pricing trends show that the older the car, the more you are likely to pay. Mk1 models in particular are now very expensive, all costing at least £10,000. Mk1 Cooper S models top the classic prices with some special and rare cars fetching upwards of £50k.
The aforementioned David Brown models are often priced on request depending on the specifications required by the customer. Prices start at around £75,000, this seems ridiculous compared to traditional Mini prices but it is hard to compare, as the cars are bespoke and not comparable in the new car market.
This is part of what makes classic Mini ownership the exciting prospect that it is. The huge gatherings, active forums and enthusiastic owners all add to the attraction of Mini ownership. This, together with huge support for aftermarket and standard replacement parts makes it feel as though the classic Mini never stopped being built at all.
Modern Mini's are by no means excluded from this either, many owner's crossover between classic and BMW Mini's, many own both types. The BMW era cars, like the classics, have their own forums and meet-ups as well as being part of larger collective Mini events that celebrate both iterations of the vehicle. Either classic or BMW, both will grant you an invitation into an enthusiastic and active community of owners and admirers alike.
Then there's the modifications. Classic Mini's are renowned for their numerous versions and special editions from the factory, but these barely skim the surface when compared to what has been achieved on the aftermarket. Everything that you could possibly imagine, from entire body shells to motorbike engine conversions and even monster truck Mini's has been created, sold or built by Mini owners and enthusiasts. At a more realistic level, modifications to update the engine and suspension parts of the Mini are extremely plentiful and surprisingly cheap, especially considering the quality of the parts available. Advice aplenty is available via the aforementioned communities and can easily lead to you spending more than the purchase price of the car on improving every imaginable part. The classic Mini is said to be the most commonly modified vehicle ever.
The simplicity of a classic Mini also helps with the modifications and any D.I.Y jobs that you may tackle. The resources for learning about the Mini are better than for almost any other vehicle, with manuals and guides available through various fan forums and dedicated websites. Again, asking the community will normally reveal the best answers with most owners only too happy to help fellow enthusiasts in need.
The growing owner community is also heavily modifying Newage Mini’s. Forced induction engines mean power gains can be found easily, with the standard chassis coping well with sensible power improvements. Multiple specialists have created rally and race versions of BMW era Mini's leading to the development of suspension packages, big brake kits and differentials to enhance the performance and driving experience of these little cars.
Modifications it seems are a question of 'when' rather than 'if', when it comes to Mini ownership.
London to Brighton Event
Has the Mini Spirit Been Lost?
In one way I'm sad to say that yes, it has. I feel that the Mini brand, as an engineering and manufacturing company, has very much lost its way. The brand has changed a lot since the inception of the Mini in the late 1950's. Without the need for a particularly small and fuel-efficient car, the models have grown, along with a growing model range that for me strays further and further from the original ethos of the Mini. The size of the standard hatchback is now much bigger than city cars such as the VW Up and Ford Ka, taking the Mini into a different sector than the original was ever designed for. This growth in size has come with an increase in price, meaning even a base model in not necessarily achievable for those on working wages, this takes away from that 'classless car' that was part of the Mini's original selling point.
The design of the new vehicles also feels like it takes away from the spirit of the car. The latest cars especially are growing in size both due to safety and practicality terms but also for styling purposes, the bloated look that the car now carries feels too large and bulbous even when compared to modern rivals (think Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo). The larger models such as the Clubman and particularly the Countryman take away from the original spirit even further. These cars are large, heavy and uninspiring to drive, doesn't sound much like a Mini to me, I like to think that the original engineering team would agree. For me these additional models are just money-making exercises that benefit from the name and styling linked to the classic model.
However, overall, I feel that the spirit of the Mini beyond the new sales court has not been lost. The community for starters, as spoken about above, is as big as ever, growing even. Events such as the Mini London to Brighton run still attract thousands of enthusiasts, arriving in cars of all ages and configurations. Mini fans still make time to meet and admire each other's cars alongside the huge online presence, as shown by the celebrations during this, the Mini's 60th year.
The spirit of the Mini extends far beyond the internet, many family bonds are built around these tiny cars. Restorations and winter projects mean more to their owners than just the cash and metal value of these cars. The time spent with fellow enthusiasts cannot be traded for bank notes and the feeling of restoring your very own vehicle is impossible to put a price on. The true spirit of the Mini lies in the fans, the people who drive these cars every day and those who can think of nothing better than rising early on a Sunday morning, grabbing their tools or bucket and sponge and spending some good time between themselves and their little slice of motoring history.
Let me know in the comments if you own or want to own a Mini someday, do you still feel the spirit of the Mini?