Getting the Maximum from Your New MINI

Buying Your New MINI

Inspired by the enormously popular Austin Minis and Morris Mini Minors produced in the millions from 1959 to 1999, the new MINI by BMW combines the efficient package and sporting heritage of its predecessors with thoroughly modern technology, creating an automobile that is both fun and practical to own.

This book has been written to help MINI owners get all the fun and enjoyment they can out of this great car. In this first chapter, we will tell you about the traditions that have been built into this marque, and offer some suggestions on buying your new MINI, if you haven’t already purchased one. We will also give you some basic driving tips so you can begin right now developing the driving style that will help you enjoy your new MINI to the maximum.

It’s All in the Breeding

When Alexander Issigonis set out in 1957 to design a car that could cope with the Suez Canal fuel crisis, he wanted to create a car that would be both practical and affordable. To achieve this, he put the car together in a completely new way. The tiny ten-inch wheels were placed at the outside corners so as not to intrude on interior space Issigonis supported the suspension on rubber cones which took up much less space than traditional springs and shocks.

Your Basic Economy Car

To insure economy, British Motor Corporation specified that the car would use its small 848cc four-cylinder A-series engine. To save even more space, Issigonis turned the engine sideways, and placed the transmission directly underneath it, effectively in the engine’s sump. With the transmission connected directly to the front wheels there was no drive shaft, and no center hump inside the car.

The result was a car that could easily hold four people and their luggage comfortably, but still fit into a space only only ten feet long, five feet wide and four-and-one-half feet high. Making it even more attractive, BMC priced the car at well under $1000. With its small size and economical engine, it could cover 50 miles on a gallon of gas. As a bonus, the small wheels, tight suspension, compact size, and direct steering produced a car with surprisingly good handling, a feature that wasn’t even on the original wishlist.

Marketed by both Austin and Morris, the two main brands of the British Motor Corporation, the car was first known as the Mini-Minor with the Morris badge and the Se7en, using the number seven instead of a V, when carrying the Austin badge. However, with its diminutive size, it was soon referred to simply as the “Mini.”

Within a short time, the Mini became one of the icons of swinging England, along with the Beatles, Twiggy, and Carnaby Street’s mini-skirts. Soon every with-it celebrity owned one, and the cars played starring roles in the first version of The Italian Job and Return of the Pink Panther.

John Cooper had Another Idea

At the same time that Issigonis was designing the car, racecar builder John Cooper was adapting the same BMC A-series engine to his Formula Junior racecars and was running the BMC works racing teams. It was only a matter of time before Cooper dropped a race-tuned A-series engine, with modified bore and stroke producing 997cc (under the important one-liter limitation for several racing classifications) into the great-handling Mini to produce a candidate for sedan racing and rallying. In 1961 the Mini Cooper was born.

Never one to be content with just enough, Cooper worked his magic again and adapted his 1100cc Formula Junior engine to the Mini to produce the Mini Cooper S, introduced in 1963. A year later, a 1275cc version of the Mini Cooper S was introduced. This little buzzbomb could go from zero to 60 in less than 11 seconds and continue accelerating up to 97 miles per hour, capable of beating most sedans on the road.

With the handling that had always been a strong suit, this was just the car to take on the Alpine and Monte Carlo rallies. And so Cooper did, with his cars winning the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964 with Paddy Hopkirk at the wheel and in 1965 with Timo Makinen. In 1966 Mini Cooper Ss took first, second, and third place in the Monte Carlo rally, only to be disqualified for violating a rule about light switches. However, Rauno Aaltonen took his revenge, conclusively winning the Monte in his Cooper S in 1967.

With its superior handling and ability to accelerate out of turns, the Cooper S became very popular in shorter distance track events. The new European Touring Car Championships was a perfect opportunity to show how easily the car could be tuned for high-speed competition in the under-1000cc Group II classification. Minis did very well at Nurburgring, especially against Fiat-Abarths which were the main competition. International teams from Spain, Sweden, France and Germany as well as Great Britain, ran Minis quite competitively. Works cars were event built to compete in the Tasmanian series in Australia and New Zealand.

End of the Old; Birth of the New

Even though the Mini had to be withdrawn from the U.S. market in 1967 because smog and safety regulations had become too stringent for the financially-stressed British Leyland company to meet, it had made its mark. To keep the cars alive with the loss of the dealer network, Mini clubs sprang up all over the country and several businesses took root to keep Minis running and on the road.

The rest of the world was more fortunate, and the Mini continued to be manufactured and marketed. As a small right-hand drive car, it was especially popular in Japan. As a result, U.S. owners continued to be able to get parts for their Minis. A trickle of slightly-illegal gray-market cars also found their way across the borders from Canada.

By 1996 the Rover Group, recently acquired by BMW had become the successor to British Motor Corporation. BMW product planners decided that forty years was enough for one design, even if it was so good that it would later be anointed the European Car of the Century. Nevertheless, the designers at the Rover Group knew they had to find a way of preserving not only the design concepts, but also the fun and games quotient of the original Mini.

Development goals were obvious: the new MINI should be small, cheap, practical, fast, and fun. As you will soon find out, if you haven’t already made your pilgrimage to the MINI dealer near you, BMW designers succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. As a result, today you can buy a car that is a direct beneficiary of the heritage that dates back to 1959. The new MINI in the showroom is everything the old Mini was, and more.

The ultimate test of whether the new MINI should be considered a legitimate heir to the classic Mini traditions was passed when the established Mini clubs and their diehard enthusiast members adopted the new MINI into their clubs. So when you choose a MINI for your own fun and games, you’ll find a ready-made group of like-minded friends to play with.

But enough of history. Let’s talk about tomorrow and your own trip to the MINI dealer.

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