A few months ago friend Laura,a VW Golf driver ,asked my advice on what car she should buy as a replacement .I gave her the boy racer default response --a Golf GTI of course. Wisely she ignored my advice and went and bought a Mini Diesel which she loves .
This started me reflecting on what Alex Issigonis the designer of the original Mini would make of today's Minis and a diesel in particular if he were still alive (he'd be 106 by the way so he may not be thinking too clearly but I'll pass on that technicality) .
I think that he would be surprised by the new Mini's commercial success particularly how well it has sold in the US and China.The very idea of selling it at all in these two markets would really have surprised him.However I am sure that he would be shocked by the size of today's Mini and very surprised that the lumpy ,smelly diesel engine of his day is now a very sophisticated and extremely economical power unit well suited to a Mini.
I am not so sure that he would like the new Countryman which he probably would see as not at all Mini like .It really is a scaled down SUV -but again it is by all accounts and personal observation selling very well in Europe.
The original Mini was an extraordinary car in its day but it stayed in production way too long and Rover Group should have killed it off years before they finally stopped production in 2000.The models of the last few years of the old Minis were an embarrasment -a continuous stream of meaningless special editions --slow as a wet weekend,harsh and just totally out of date.
Ironically it was demand from Japan where the original Mini is a cult vehicle that kept the original Mini hanging on.The final Japanese market models even had airconditioning which made the already cramped engine bay even more cramped and made the car even slower.
I went to a product evaluation event at Castle Coombe race circuit in the UK in 1995 and lapped the circuit in a Mini foot flat to the floor -- it was that slow you only had to lift slightly for the corners and not even touch the brakes.And it got worse after that .
BMW did a brilliant job in reviving the brand with the new Mini and it has been an extraordinary success story - the only good thing to come out of BMW's disastrous foray into the British car industry when they bought Rover Group .They ditched the rest in 2000 but kept the Mini brand and the UK factory at Cowley .
Here's some Mini pics just for fun.Images 1 to 3 above are of Laura's Mini Diesel .Nice scenery,nice photos and very smart car Laura--I can see why you love it .Image 4 is two Minis -- my original Mini Countryman/Traveller and a very attractive girl in a mini skirt photographed by me in 1969 on a Leica 3A on Kodachrome (slide) film.It's an interesting coincidence that Laura's car and my original Mini seem to be the same colour-it was called Old English White back in 1969 but I'm sure it's something more cool now. Image 5 is me in my 1968 Mini Cooper S competing in a very wet Targa Tasmania in 1996 and finally image 6 the latest big Mini Countryman photographed in Germany on a Leica X1 a few weeks ago. A lot's changed in 43 years.