After 41 years the last Mini, a red two-door Mk7 Mini Cooper Sport, the 5,387,862nd Mini produced, was driven off the Longbridge production line by the pop singer Lulu on the 4th of October 2000. It was presented to the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust in December 2000 to reside beside the first Mini Mk1 ever made at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon.  

   It is never easy to replace an iconic car like the Mini, even Issigonis himself struggled to come up with something better that British Leyland would consider producing. The closest thing that appeared was the Mini Metro, quickly rebranded simply as the Austin Metro, but an actual Mini type replacement was an on/off idea reviewed intermittently and basically shelved for lack of funds to develop it.  

   British Leyland became “the Rover Group” and the Mini replacement, ever more urgently needed, remained under deliberation. Finally, in 1993, Rover decided the time had come to do something serious. The following year BMW acquired the Rover group and both Rover and BMW had their own ideas about what a new Mini ought to be; the ideas were not at all alike.  

   What eventually went into the dealer’s showrooms was not a car with the same sort of original thinking found in the Issigonis Mini but a reinvented car that engendered controversy amongst Mini enthusiasts and has little in common with design or ethos of the original Mini. However, it was a nice car in its own right and the new BMW “MINI” was soon a big hit with the buying public.

Design development

   Gordon Sked’s design team started work on the new Mini at Rover’s Canley Design Studios, in 1993. Rover needed a new car not only to replace the Mini, but the Metro too; so, whatever they came up with needed to be current if not future proofed too. It was a big request.

   Gordon Sked prompted his team to think beyond current parameters and be as innovative as they wished. Soon, multiple concepts were forthcoming, particularly from designers David Saddington and David Woodhouse, and it was clear there was a lot of potential for a whole new range of Mini projects.  

   With the takeover by BWM new ideas were thrown into the melting pot. Rover Group in Gaydon were looking for something British, including new innovative design ideas reminiscent of the original Issigonis Mini. BMW in Munich, wanted a car that looked Mini-esque but within budgets and existing parts. However, the then BMW CEO, Bernd Pischetsrieder, great-nephew of Sir Alec Issigonis and British car enthusiast, made it clear to all that the project should remain under British control. He said, ‘I want to make it clear that Rover’s and Land Rover’s design and engineering operations will remain fully functional and largely independent from us here [in Munich].’ BMW had thus given the Mini project the green light under codename R59. Bernd Pischetsrieder even went so far as to recruit John Cooper, Jack Daniels and Alex Moulton, three of the original ADO15 project team. More importantly the team had new funding, and the most British of cars was going to remain British.

   But, the styling teams in Germany were still working on body designs and the despite both companies wanting a car to fit the same sales slot, the ideas of how it should look differed greatly between Munich and Canley. Contention between the two design groups went on for a long time, BMW insisting on a small, sporting, new-age Mini look while the British really wanted to follow a more ‘Spiritual’ retrospective direction taking inspiration from the original two-door Mini. Discussions of just what the new car should be then started to resurface too. British designers didn’t think the new Mini could be an economy car, a performance car and/or a fashion icon. BMW disagreed.  

   Under Chris Bangle BMW styling studios in both Munich and California had a new Mini-Cooper idea emerging from their drawing boards. Bangle said ‘we thought it unfair to put the new Mini in the shadow of the old one’. In short, their idea was not going to be a 10-feet cube but a sporty new car that just included a few design cues from the original Issigonis look. BMW thinking was to answer the question, “what would the Mini-Cooper look like today if it had been through the same sort of continuous development programme that say the Porsche 911 had enjoyed.”  

   The Project R59 debates came to a head in 1995 as it was clear the company had to put their backing to one project or the other. So it was that on the 15th of October 1995 the two design parties went head to head at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon to present their full-scale prototypes. BMW’s design school presented their sporting designs, none of which paid little more than lip service to the original Mini. The three British models were predictably British and had many of the features of the original Mini, subframes and Hydragas suspension but with the later K-Series engine replacing the now very old A series unit.  

   Bernd Pischetsrieder was impressed by the concepts but was clear that “what BMW and Rover needed was a car that would be relatively simple, and therefore get into production as quickly as possible.” In other words, a conventional but contemporary small car with a retro sporting look. The programme then stagnated for a while as no clear decision was made, neither Rover nor BMW knew whether it was Stephenson’s [UK] or Saddington’s [US-BMW] design that BMW was going to endorse.  

   Then came the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997 where BMW showed a running mock-up of a car that looked a lot like the BMW styled cars. This put pressure on the UK Rover design team as the ACV30 mock-up made it appear to the public that the new Mini was soon to be going into production; which was far from the truth. However, reaction to the model idea was very positive boosting the moral of both BMW and Rover.  

   But the counter-productive intra-departmental infighting continued until Rover’s design boss, Geoff Upex decided that Saddington [US-BMW] would be the car’s design chief and Stephenson would report to him. Ultimately, BMW assumed control of the programme from 1999 when Bernd Pischetsrieder left BMW. From this point on it was Frank Stephenson was effectively working for BMW but he still had a huge hand in the final appearance of the new supermini which Rover and BMW were developing.  

   In 2000, BMW sold the Rover Group; but it retained ownership of the Mini name and the Mini project. As a result of the split negotiations final development of the car was taken over by BMW from June 1999. Most of the 30 or so British development engineers who had worked on the car for more than three years decided to stay with Rover, so by early 2000 BMW were asking for the MINI computer files to be downloaded to German hard drives ASAP. Planned production would then be moved from Rover's Longbridge plant, to BMW's Oxford plant in Cowley. Yet the look of the car still wasn’t finalised.  

   Stephenson’s team were all set up to present a full-sized clay mock-up of the Mini to the BMW board of directors when he realised that the model did not have an exhaust pipe. Quickly fashioning an empty drinks can, with the branding suitably stripped off, into a pipe and pushed it into the clay at the back of the car. The board members were so impressed by the mock-up they told Frank Stephenson not to change a thing. Thus, the MINI got its distinctive exhaust pipe tip.  

   Under the skin the new car would have a mix of BMW and Rover designed parts developed between 1995 and 2001. The chassis design teams spent hours testing their work running it round and round the Nurburgring in Germany until they had all the issues worked out. At last the car was ready for production and presentation to an eager public.


   Having completed construction of the new assembly building at Longbridge BMW started production aiming to get the car on sale from January 2001. In September 2000 BMW released a few photo’s of their new product just prior to the Paris Motor show. On Thursday 28 September 2000, in front of Joachim Milberg and Dr Helmut Panke, senior BMW executives, and Burkhard Goeschel and Frank Stephenson from the design and production teams, the new MINI was unveiled to the press and public. BMW had insisted on the MINI styled name over the old Mini and they were optimistic of the prospects for the car.  

   Frank Stephenson commented: ‘The MINI Cooper is not a retro design car, but an evolution of the original. It has the genes and many of the characteristics of its predecessor, but is larger, more powerful, more muscular and more exciting than its predecessor.’ He was right of course, the new car wasn’t shockingly different but was practical, certainly more sensible than the concept car show in Frankfurt in 1997, and it had suitable styling cues to appease the Mini purists. The Press found it acceptable and the buying public took to it warmly.  

   As the 41-year-old Rover Mini was taken out of production there were many who felt the new MINI was not a real Mini. The newcomer was considerably bigger than the old car and was not in keeping with the Issigonis maxim of a car having the biggest interior possible within external bodywork available. This bloated car with its faux-historical design offend some and led Alex Moulton (a key part of the original Mini suspension design team and lifelong friend of Sir Alec Issigonis), to say: “It’s enormous – the original Mini was the best packaged car of all time – this is an example of how not to do it… it’s huge on the outside and weighs the same as an Austin Maxi. The crash protection has been taken too far. I mean, what do you want, an armoured car? It is an irrelevance in so far as it has no part in the Mini story.”  

   On sale in the UK from July 2001 the “MINI ONE” 3-door/5-door hatchbacks, soft-top convertibles and hardtops (R50/52/53 series) were produced at Cowley, the former Morris, British Leyland Triumph, Rover plant being dispassionately re-named BMW Oxford. BMW set a very competitive price and pushed an innovative marketing campaign to attract the affluent youngsters of the people who had held the original Mini in their hearts since the Swinging ‘Sixties.     But where it really counts is in the sales figures and the MINI had struck a chord with the public. They flocked to the car and sales exceeded expectations; in some cases claiming ridiculous premiums from buyers desperate to get one of the new cars. The sound engineering, agile chassis and retro styling was all great but the ability to personalise the car with a large range of options turned the car into a huge commercial success. In many cases the price of MINIs far exceeded the official list prices, re-affirming the MINI as one of the most desirable of small cars.  

   This first generation would run from 2001 to 2006.

   BMW were very pleased with the sales figures and dropped more than a few hints that this fantastic car was largely due to its German engineering. In truth it was far more British than German, as Robin Hall, former MINI Development Engineer, pointed out in 2001, the MINI was the work of as many “as 300 or 400” British Engineers working on the MINI design teams at Rover’s Gaydon Engineering Centre, and, “no BMW components” were used on the car. While it might be a stretch to say there was no BMW input, it is clear that the MINI ONE owes much more to Gaydon than Munich, and each subsequent MINI release since the original series has been more and more a BMW car. As of 2017 MINIs are basically a standard BMW chassis with a MINI body on top. 

1/24th scale kit.
Built by Ian.


    MINIs have a deliberately retro design using features of the original Mini and building them into the new car. In that respect the new MINI is successfully reminiscent of the Issigonis Mini and equally distinctive on today’s busy roads. The winged MINI badge, grill shape and black trim all hark back to the 1960s classic and with the options of black or white roofs on the Coopers making the new MINI evocative of those earlier sporting triumphs.  

   However, the new MINI ONE was a car for the new millennium, the small Mini boot was increased in size and made more practical by the hatchback arrangement. While the wheels are still pushed as far into the corners as possible the larger wheels/tyres, wide bulging rear wheel arch extensions and low roofline, give the car an unashamedly squat appearance. This effect is then further emphasised by the wrap-around “glasshouse” of the cabin area were almost all the window belt seems to be glass with the pillars being hidden behind black outlining rather than being in the main body colour. The Effect of this is further black/glass window belt is emphasised if the black or white roof option on the Cooper MINI is taken up. The bonnet styling is very different in its engineering approach in that it is no longer a small aperture between the wings but now a huge clamshell unit that also houses the headlights too.  

   The MINI ONE would quickly be accompanied by the Cooper and Cooper S versions with many other models coming online over the next six years. Different model names were used such as the Mini Seven, Mini Park Lane, Mini Check-Mate, and Mini Monte Carlo, some with additional changes in appearance or specifications.

   If some people weren’t that keen on the new MINIs appearance once they drove one the immense amount of work that had gone into the chassis, suspension and drive-train soon turned them into lovers of the new MINI incarnation.


   Robin Hall was a key member of the suspension design team working not only to connect the 15in alloy wheels to the body shell, but also to minimise torque steer by maximising component stiffness. The MINI was designed to be the “best-handling front-drive car in the world”. Starting with a blank piece of paper the designers wanted to use a double wishbone suspension at the front, however, BMW requested the MacPherson strut system be used at the front and a multi-link Z-axle system at the rear. The MINIs front suspension is very compact being built from a two-piece box-section chassis arm with approximately 1.5m of welding in it. Rover Engineers designed the geometry, component stiffness, durability and compliances for the system. While the reassuringly modern suspension has its roots in BMW thinking, making it fit and, more importantly, work (which wasn’t easy) was the province of the Rover design team. The Z-axle system is effective but fitting it into the tight space of the MINI shell was an effort.  

   Complimenting the thorough development of the chassis and suspension were many of the latest driver and safety aids. MINIs had electronic brakeforce distribution for ABS-equipped disc-brakes all round and BMWs Cornering Brake Control system. DSC electronic stability control and traction control systems were available to aid the diver in adverse conditions. Even the throttle is a drive by wire system allowing the on-board computers to help the driver and aid fuel economy.

ENGINE and Gearbox

   Most MINI models had a 16 valve, 1.6ltr inline-four version of the 115bhp Tritec engine, but the MINI ONE version was fitted with a smaller 1.4ltr motor. All the models had the engine transversely-mounted sending drive to the front wheels. The engines were initially Brazilian-built Tritec unit but the second-generation MINIS, from the 2006/7, would have engines built in Britain making the car truly British built. The Mini engine was rated at 113bhp and produced 110lb/ft of torque. When the later supercharged Cooper S was added to the power output rose to an exhilarating 161bhp.   

   Engineered by Chris Lee and his team at Longbridge and Gaydon the transmission was based on the existing 5-speed manual R65 gearbox widely used by Rover in front-wheel-drive cars but modified to fit into the cramped MINI engine bay. As it happened this unit was not only more compact, but £100 a car cheaper, and had other advantages in much reduced cyclic vibrations, meaning no mass damper was needed.  

   Robin Hall recalled further problems with the packaging under the bonnet when it came to fitting the supercharger for the MkI Cooper ‘S’. Hall said “It’s extraordinarily tight under the bonnet. We had to re-write the rule book on tyre and component clearances – in fact, we threw the rule book away.” To accommodate the supercharger the battery had to be relocated in the rear of the car, the knock-on effect from that was the space for the spare tyre was eaten up meaning the ‘S’ models had to have 17inch run-flat tyres. In Hall’s opinion this was a shame, “I think the sweetest handling MINI was one with smallest tyres – it’s a pity the run-flat tyres were added late in the day” he said.


   The MINI ONE as the smallest of the engines on offer isn’t the most exhilarating model of the range but the 1050kg Cooper could do0-62mph in 9.3sec. Pushing on to 100mph takes somewhat longer though 0-100mph taking 28.4sec.


   Robin Hall also oversaw the MINIs steering. The early all electric steering system where a motor drove a powered worm-drive was rejected as it was, in Hall’s words an “almost surreal” experience. The system had no connection to the wheels so the driver didn’t feel anything from the road, whatever the surface may have been. This was considered inappropriate in a Mini which was intended to give an exciting driving experience and somewhat unsafe, as even at the limit of adhesion there was no warning being given to the driver through the steering wheel. Instead a more standard EPAS (electric power assisted steering) set-up using the Rover 25 electro-hydraulic steering rack was settled on.  


   Surprisingly the inside of the much larger looking MINI is still rather cramped. While retro themes like the centrally mounted speedometer and cavernous door bins are very much inspired by the classic Mini, there is an obvious cost implication going on with the silver-painted plastics being used in the interior rather than the originally intended aluminium fittings. Other retro items such as the sixties-style starter button and stalk-mounted hazard lights didn’t make it into production on cost grounds leaving a rather simple looking two-spoke steering wheel to dominate the space in front of the driver. On the plus side though, European regulations do ensure the car has airbags to protect the driver and front passenger.


   All the body pressings for the MINI were produced at BMW's Swindon Pressings subsidiary and then assembly took place at BMW,s plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire, England. Some later models were produced in the Netherlands. BMW Oxford (nee Cowley) soon reached full production capacity which it maintained for the first five years of production turning out around 700,000 MINIs in that time. In February 2005 BMW stated that there was to be a further £100 million worth of investment made in the MINI plant in Oxford. Something welcomed by the locals as it not only boosted production of MINIs by 20% but created 200 new jobs too.  


   Without doubt the MINI was a great success and BMW has built on this success with a large range of MINI models, which also sell well although not all of which actually resemble their original Mini namesakes anymore. Now into the third generation the MINI is now most definitely a BMW product but the current continuing success has to be attributed to the original sterling work of Rovers team at Gaydon.  

   However, it isn’t the car that Rover themselves would have produced so it might be a blessing in disguise that the merger between the two firms, and the rivalries that occurred during the gestation period, shaped the MINI into the car that it became. Rovers minimalist spiritually Mini car might not have been such a good seller in a world now much more used to, and indeed demanding of, the latest gadgets to make life easier and more fun. The one area where the new MINI was in spiritual harmony with the Mini was the affordable pricing structure.  

   Sadly, with each incarnation the MINI has moved further away from the British designed MINI and the classic Mini that gave its name to the modern range. Will people still look back on the MINI with the save enchantment that the did the 1960s icon? Probably not. Will it endure as long as the original Mini? We’ll just have to wait and see. But we can say for certain this is the last MINI we can safely put under “The British Collection” title.

   Mario, Ugo, and Martino Besana, founded their first toy company, Mebetoys, together in the family home town of Burago di Molgora, Italy. This company they sold off to Mattel around 1973 before setting up again as Martoys from 1974 to 1976 focusing on larger scale models. From 1976 the company name changed to Bburago, with two ‘b’s. This was to recognise the Family name as well as their home town name. All scales of factory-built models were sold and through the 1980’s some of the products were released as kits. Interestingly Bburago kits were often of cars different to the Factory offerings in that they would be racing or rally versions of the cars.

   The kits weren’t too well received initially as the plastic parts were difficult to work with and likely to break. The decals also proved difficult to apply in as much as the adhesive seemed to wash away and the decals fell off. As the flaws were ironed out the kits became more user friendly and popular. Today some are very rare and particularly collectable, as are many of the original factory-built models. Bburago was taken over by Maisto in 2005 and production transferred away from Europe marking the end of affordable diecast models produced in Europe.

   The hard work with Bburago kits comes when dealing with the rather basic interiors and parts that are not as crisply cast as Revell, never mind Aoshima or Tamiya.

   Our model was built in October 2019 from the Bburago Metal Kit #55279. Construction of these model kits is straightforward but often the details are missed by Bburago. They do provide basic decals but missed the Chrome bumperette parts which Ian covers with Bare-Metal-Foil at the front and rear. The chrome around the rear lights was painted and new faces were made for the rear-view door mirrors. All the parts were primed with AlcladII primers and painted with Zero Paints to create a suitably colourful interior.

   In the end this model, while not competing with Tamiya on the detail level, does look very much like the MINI ONE and makes a very interesting addition to the Museum collection. The MINI story continues to flourish so there are sure to be other of the new BMW MINI models added to the Motor Museum in Miniature in the future.