The Mini has gone beyond its racing car roots to become an icon of a generation. The former racing car is forever linked to the 1960s and icons like John Lennon and, more recently, the charming Prince Harry. As an iconic vehicle, it has also played its part in the takeover and relaunch of the brand under BMW in the past decade. Variations of the Cooper and Cooper S have followed suit with successes like the Mini Hatch and other Mini models in the brand's colorful history.
Where did all begin?
The history of this amazing little car wouldn't be complete without a mention of the collaboration between the two key players in its development and design - the British Motor Company (BMC) and the Cooper Car Company.
The original Mini was developed in the 1950s by the BMC in collaboration with the designer, Sir Alex Issigonis. It originally was conceptualized as an answer to the issue of fuel shortage and the call for more efficient cars suited for city-driving. It was designed as a two door, 4 cylinder engine car and a monocoque shell which meant the outer "shell" or "skin" of the vehicle supported the bulk of the vehicle's weight.
The first version was called the Mark I and it was linked to the BMC's other brand names that also included the Morris Minor and the Austin. The first Mini was launched in 1959 and its popularity as a compact vehicle grew until it had its own unique identity and following. The later version, the Mark II, saw BMC adding a new grille to the design.
The Racing History
John Cooper of Cooper Car Company realized the Mini's potential as a motor sports vehicle and he convinced the designer, Sir Alex Issigonis to create the new model: The Mini Cooper. The new model of Mini was launched as the Mini Cooper in 1961 and the Mini Cooper S in 1963.
The Mini Cooper showcased a 848cc engine while the Mini Cooper S had a 1071cc engine. The first showing of the Mini Cooper S as an icon in the racing world was at the Monte Carlo Rally. The Mini Cooper S version was the star during the 1964, 1965 and 1967 rallies. It was also given center stage in the original version of the British movie, The Italian Job, in 1967 when the perpetrators of the heist used Mini Coopers and S-models to pull off the bank job.
The Mini after the 1960s
The car enjoyed a veritable cult following in the fifties and sixties, but the brand suffered a setback in the 70s and 80s when the brand was acquired by Spanish and Italian companies. Instead of moving forward with the design and innovating, the new new owners came out with models that were more or less simple variations of the original design. This propelled the Mini Cooper from stardom to the novelty market.
It was in the 1990s that the brand was transferred from the control of the Rover Group to its new and current owner, the German vehicle manufacturer, BMW. The company retained the rights to the Mini brand even after having sold their interest in the Rover Group. They relaunched the Mini Cooper in 2000 and the brand has been growing and progressing since.