MINI celebrates 15 years

Posted on April 27th, 2016 by Rob Marshall


I find it hard to believe that a decade-and-a-half has passed, since BMW launched one of the most important and exciting all-new vehicles of the early 2000’s. Although the German giant’s marketing departments would have its customers believe otherwise, the new MINI (with its more shouty capitalised name) shares virtually nothing with the radical late-1950’s original; it was a car of its time, cashing-in on a retro-craze that encouraged other manufacturers to provide similar offerings, such as the new Volkswagen Beetle and the rather less attractive Chrysler PT Cruiser.

I find it ironic that classic car enthusiasts criticise BMW for not making a production version of the original Mini. Despite even my appreciation of the landmark car that the original was, when launched in 1959, by mid-1990’s standards, the Mini was cramped, slow, noisy, bouncy, uncomfortable, fairly basic, with very little impact protection qualities and questionable environmental aspects. The Germans knew this – why else would its very different version have become such a success?

Despite accusations of BMW cherry-picking Mini’s heritage from the wreck of Rover, and embracing it (falsely) as its own, the new MINI has benefited from strong subsequent demand, bolstering its parent company’s profit margins. Even since the original hatchback (coded R50) was launched in 2001, which shared rather more input from Rover than BMW has ever admitted, almost three million MINI-badged cars have been built at the newly-christened Plant Oxford (formally the ex-Austin Rover Cowley plant). Associating MINI with BMW at dealer showroom level helped to persuade punters that the new car could be dependable, even though reliability statistics have revealed the MINI to be barely bullet-proof – that is what good marketing and image is all about, folks!

Sensibly, BMW realised that a single three-door R50 had limited appeal and expanded the range into the attractively quirky Clubman, which possessed only one rear door, a pretty convertible (of which the UK has become the largest market), an SUV five-door Countryman, a model that, despite its painfully ugly looks, helped push sales upwards, especially in North America. The rather less hideous Countryman-based Paceman three-door was followed by the largely pointless Van, Coupé and Roadster. At this point, even BMW realised that an expanded, fill-every-imaginable-niche MINI range had become both confused and confusing. Today, the range has been rationalised to Convertible, Clubman, Paceman and Countryman. The original three-door hatchback has also been updated, despite not being as pretty as the original 2001 R50, which has also been joined by a five-door alternative.

Despite BMW’s attempt to emulate the Mini’s 1960’s rallying successes with the ungainly Countryman being an embarrassingly damp squib, certain models’ production being moved out of the UK, a host of disconcerting recalls and more recent models becoming less elegant and ever more ‘cartoonish’ in appearance, demand for the MINI range remains buoyant. Registrations, for example, have increased 14% between March 2015 and March 2016 and MINI takes more of the UK market than Mazda, Seat, Volvo and even Jaguar.

Finally, the search is on for any remaining 2001 registered MINIs. If you, or any of your friends, own such an example with a ‘Y’ prefixed number plate, you are eligible to join the MINI Y REGister, which has been established by eminent MINI enthusiast, Tanya Field. As the club is still being formed, post pictures of your Y Registered MINI on our Facebook page and we shall alert Tanya.