Is anyone else feeling uneasy at the way BMW is moving to amalgamate the history of the original Mini with the implied lineage of its own, considerably chunkier offering?
When BMW launched the first generation of the ‘new’ Mini back in 2001 the company was scrupulously careful – certainly in the UK – not to do anything more than imply a distant connection between old and new cars. Despite the corporate discretion, there was no shortage of speculation as to exactly what Alec Issigonis would have made of this pudgy pastiche of his seminal original.
But after eight years of strong sales for its new-age Mini, BMW obviously feels confident enough for an officially sanctioned ‘50th anniversary’ celebration based around both original and new Mini.
It’s even brought the very first Morris Mini-Minor from its home at the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon back to the Cowley plant that builds the current one. It’s certainly not a risk-free strategy – BMW’s Mini looks almost clinically obese when parked next to an original. And while the first Mini was a miracle of efficiency, its design philosophy underwritten by Issigonis’s belief that he was creating the car that would mobilize Britain’s working classes, the equipment-stuffed current car has never shared anything more than its side-on silhouette with the original.
The irony is that the new Mini could have been very nearly as radical as the original – Rover’s lightweight ‘Spiritual’ concept of the mid 1990s was a far better re-imagining of the values that made the first one so special. But BMW pressed ahead with its own, far less imaginative design. Which is why, much as I respect the new Mini as a decent bit of engineering, I’ll never see it as being in any way related to the original.
And it seems the market agrees. In the years since BMW brought out its Mini, tatty versions of the first one have pretty much died out and values of decent survivors have started to shoot up. Leading to the pleasing irony that late, well cared-for versions of the original are now worth as much as, and in some cases more, than early ‘R50s’.