MINI Cooper: A Not So “MINI” History

Every once in a blue moon, a truly iconic vehicle is designed so distinctly differently from every other vehicle that it creates a space all its own in the automotive industry. Throughout the decades since it was first unveiled, the MINI Brand is one such mainstay..

MINI Cooper From The Beginning

In the late 1950s when fuel prices were skyrocketing, Alec Issigonis – the top design engineer at the Morris Company – was asked to draft and build a fuel-efficient little vehicle that could comfortably hold four adults and be affordable for just about everyone. The creative challenge was embraced with enthusiasm! In 1959, the first two-door, 4-cyclinder engine MINI (Mark I) was launched. Issigonis had designed a small vehicle with plenty of room in the front – due to his ingenious idea to strategically place the vehicle’s wheels all the way to the corners, and with plenty of room in the back– due to his clever idea to turn the engine sideways (which also gave the mini vehicle more stability in tight turns).

1960s The Years of Independence For MINI Drivers

By the 1960s – when independence and spontaneity blossomed across disparate demographics of drivers, the MINI became more than just a way-cool, small-sized, budget-friendly car. It represented youthfulness (no matter what chronological age the driver was), a free spirit, and a desire to drive as far from the proverbial box of the status quo as the Mini could take you. With its nimble handling, wide stance, and great grip of the road, Issigonis’s MINI Magnum Opus made motoring on the roadways exciting for everyone – including professional drivers. In 1961, John Cooper – a British racing legend, owner of the Cooper Car Company, and the designer and builder of the famous Formula One and rally cars, realized the original Mini could be a competitive vehicle in races. He collaborated with Issigonis and influenced the launch of the MINI Cooper with its 848cc engine and the sporty MINI Cooper S with its 1071cc engine. As a result, between 1964 and 1967, the Mini won numerous international races, including 3 at the renowned Monte Carlo rally. In 1967, the MINIS and MINI Coopers were so popular that they were even featured in the British film The Italian Job.

By the end of the 1960s, the Mark II MINI — and its distinctive grille — became vastly popular. Over 2 million MINI vehicles had been sold throughout the world, including the clever pickup and station wagon versions for the non-professional drivers to dutifully handle their daily errands (with fun and style). By 1977, over 4 million cars were sold.

Through the 1980s, the license for the brand was sold to Spanish and Italian companies, yet the new models stayed close to the original Cooper and Cooper S designs. By the 1990s, the Rover Group and the rights to the MINI, was purchased by BMW. By 1999, over 5 million were sold. As a result, a panel of 130 international automotive journalists voted the MINI the “European Car of the Century”. By the fall of 1999, a new MINI was unveiled at the Paris Auto Show. Though the German manufacturer sold off Rover at the end of the decade, BMW still maintained the renowned MINI marque.

Meteoric Rise For The Brand

In 2000, the British automotive marque – “MINI” – was still owned by BMW. The brand experienced a meteoric rise throughout the world – especially in the United States. As a result, BMW ultimately grew as the parent company and MINI as a renowned, beloved global brand. In 2002, the John Cooper Works Hardtop 2 Door burst onto US roadways. Shortly thereafter, the MINI family expanded to include three models of an all-wheel drive – replete with more seating, four doors, convertible tops, sophisticated technology, and high-end interiors. By 2003, the MINI won the “North American Car of the Year Award” and MINIS and MINI Motoring Clubs began sprouting up all over the country.

Today the MINIS offer special editions, kit and concept cars, nearly-unlimited customizations, hardtops, convertible models, and faster and more powerful Cooper and Cooper S models. Whether purchased as the vehicle of choice for daily driving and long roadtrips, or bought as a collector’s car for generations to follow, the distinctly-unique MINI will continue to have a promising future.

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