The MINI Concepts of the 1990's
A while back Ian Cull posted short article on his MINI blog about a recent purchase of the original Rover press release about the MINI Spiritual concept. It got me wondering how many of today’s owners know the rather turbulent and interesting history of the MINI in the 1990’s. That turbulence is reflected in the three concepts that BMW and Rover built in the mid 90’s and the design process that surrounded them.
Various government backed companies that manufactured the Mini through the years were less than successful on the business side of things. In fact British Leyland, Rover, etc tried to kill the Mini more than once (first to avoid converting the engine to run on unleaded, then to avoid increasing safety requirements) but English public opinion was too negative. So when BMW bought Rover and the Mini there was quite a bit of hope for the future.
Development on some of these concepts took place independent of BMW which was also creating what would eventually become the E50 and then the R50 – the new MINI. Here’s an excerpt from Robson’s “New MINI” that details some of this time period:
“Even as early as 1994, designers on both sides of the channel dusted off their sketches of Mini-sized cars and started turning them into models, both scale and full size. Though neither knew that the other was running rival projects, Fave Saddington looked after MINI work at Gaydon, while Frank Stephenson ( an American citizen with much experience at GM and Ford before he joined BMW in 1991) forged ahead in Munich.
Even so, it was not until an absolutely seminal date – Tuesday, 17 October 1995 – that the two teams faced each other, when their respective offerings were shown to BMW’s directors at a presentation and viewing at a top-secret meeting in the BMIHT Heritage Centre at Gaydon.
Knowing that the integrity of the MINI brand had to be preserved at all costs, both teams – British and German – had thought in terms of evolution. After 1959 the Mini, as a style, had not advanced at all, so several ‘might have been’ re-generations had never taken place.
Both teams, therefore, tried to think along the same lines. What might have happened how might it have happened and what should a forth or fifth generation Mini look like?
The two concepts that came out of the Rover side of the design team were the Spiritual and the Spiritual2 (seen here in dark blue). The two Spiritual concepts were much more a radical departure from the design that eventually won out. They tried to be as revolutionary in the 90’s as the Mini was in late 50’s. Designers tried to envision a future of more cars, more people, less space and more expensive fuel. In a sense they tried to push the same set of circumstances that led to the original Mini a bit further. In one of the more radical departures in terms of original Mini design the Spiritual was to have a flat three cylinder located under the rear seats driving the rear wheels!
Rover’s press release at the time called the Spiritual 2 “a full four-seat family car achieved in a package of just 3.1 metres [10 feet, the same as the original Mini and much shorter than the MINI]“, Interestingly even the press release that accompanied the prototypes at the time of release mentioned that they were never really meant to be the “new Mini”. They were meant to simply be “a free-thinking approach to the long-term challenges of a future generation.” Of course now we know that they were indeed proposals for the next Mini. In fact the Rover design team left that October 17th meeting with relatively high hopes that their design was to be chosen. Here’s another excerpt from Robson’s book:
“Leaving the meeting with the impression that their offerings had been preferred over the massed ranks of MINI (BMW) offerings, they were soon cast down when it became clear that BMW’s designers thought that they, too, had been chosen to take their own projects a stage further.
This meant, effectively, that the British designers then wasted much of the winter of 1995/1996 working on further refinements of the Spiritual concept. When Rover Group’s marketing staff realized that control of this project was slipping away from them, they were so distressed that they worked up, and issues, an internal document criticizing what the Munich studios were offering instead.
The German E50, they suggested, had been styled first, and packaged second, was not thought to be an ‘Issignois way’ of doing things, was thought to be ‘only better than average’, and that it” doesn’t truly shock with innovation”.
p>This of course is truly fascinating considering how succcessful the new MINI has become. While BMW may have designed the MINI backwards (shape first, engineering second) they did an amazing job with the execution of the final car. No one can argue with the success the new MINI has found in the last 3-4 years.
The ACV 30 on the other hand traded much of the Mini’s functionality for a more aggressive, rally inspired look. Obviously the market for such a vehicle probably wouldn’t have sustained it’s sales for very long. That being said the ACV 30 was a fully drivable prototype and debuted at the 1997 Monte Carlo Rally. I was going to school in England at the time and remember the ACV 30 being all over the papers for a day or two. It was quite exciting to see a reinterpretation of the then current Mini and I think many were just happy to see an English automaker looking to the future. However BMW was keen to let everyone know that this was not the new MINI that would be debuting later at the Frankfurt Auto show in the fall.
According to Robson’s “New Mini” the ACV 30 was created by the Munich design team and was presented as one of the five ideas at that fateful autumn meeting in 1995. Interestingly this Munich team was lead by none other than Adrian Van Hooydonk, who would go on to create the current 6 and 7 series and later become head of BMW design.
Of course the team that he lost to was lead by none other than Frank Stephanson, who would go on to be head of all Ferrari design.
Looking at the ACV 30 and what would become the eventual new MINI, one can’t help but get the feeling that great minds think alike. The toggle switches among other things were eerily similar on both concepts.
When viewed with the benefit of time passed they certainly are interesting concepts. However, I think it’s fair to say none would have been as successful in today’s market as well as the current MINI.
For those interested you can see couple photos of the winning concept, the car that eventually became the current MINI, here. BTW this is one of the first MINI related sites I ever put together back in the summer of ’02 :)
Note: A big thanks to Ian Cull who helped with some information
in this article. Also it’s worth mentioning that, while this is meant to be a quick introduction into this topic, it’s certainly not the last word. Much more can be found in Graham
Robson’s book “The New MINI“. It’s a must have for any serious fan of the new
Note: A big thanks to Ian Cull who helped with some information in this article. Also it’s worth mentioning that, while this is meant to be a quick introduction into this topic, it’s certainly not the last word. Much more can be found in Graham Robson’s book “The New MINI“. It’s a must have for any serious fan of the new MINI.
Written By: MF Staff
Sort by MINI model
- Next Generation Paceman to Go Four Doors
- Autocar: Mini Cooper D five-door UK first drive review
- How to Listen to White Roof Radio
- MF / WRR Interview: Glympse
- White Roof Radio #524
- What to Expect from MINI at the Mondial de l’ Automobile Paris 2014
- Change Lane: The Uber of Oil Change
- F55 Public Debut at the 2014 Paris Auto Show
- MINI Explores The Future of Mobility at The London Design Festival
- A Photo Tour of MINI Production at Oxford
MotoringFile on Instagram
- Rumor: BMW i9 Supercar is a Go
- Former Audi Exec Named Head of BMW M
- BMW Motorrad YTD Sales Breaking Records
- BMW R 1200 RT Named 2014 People’s Choice Motorcycle of the Year
- Cycle World Pits the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure vs. KTM 1190 Adventure R
- BMW Team RLL Results at the Circuit of the Americas
- Car & Driver Reminds Us Why The BMW 8 Series Failed
- BMW M3 Finishes 1-2 at Circuit of the Americas in Grand Sport
- An M3 on Slicks in the Rain on the Tail of the Dragon
- Will the Next Generation M5 & M6 Return to the V10?
- Video: Scomadi Starts Production
- Rumor Denied: Genuine Scooter Company is NOT Going out of Business
- Just Gotta Scoot Reviews the Genuine Hooligan 170i
- McSweeney’s: Please Steel My Vespa
- Opinion: Scooter Rentals Should Require Motorcycle Endorsement
- Kickstart This: The Scooter Cannonball Movie
- Video: Building the BMW C Evolution
- First Ride: Vespa 946
- Video: The Vespa 946 Bellissima
- World Debut: The Vespa 946 Bellissima
MINI Model Cheat Sheet
R50: One & MC Hatch
R52: All 1st Gen MINI Convt.
R53: MCS Hatch
2nd Gen MINI
R60: MINI Crossover
R61: MINI Crossover Coupe
3rd Gen MINI
F55: Five Door Hatch
F60: MINI Crossover
Advertise with MotoringFile
MotoringFile Buyers GuidesR50 ('02-'06 MC) Buyers Guide
R53 ('02-'06 MCS) Buyers Guide
'12 JCW Coupe
'11 Fiat 500 Sport
'11 Tesla Roaster 2.5 '11 Countryman Comparo
'11 Cooper S Hatch
'11 Countryman MCS (FWD)
'11 Countryman MC (auto)
'10 Mayfair MCS (auto)
'11 Countryman MCS (ALL4)
'10 MINI E
'10 Tesla Roadster Sport
'09 Cooper S Convertible
'09 JCW Hatch
'09 JCW Clubman
JCW Stage I vs JCW Stage II
'08 Clubman S (Auto)
1st Drive: '08 MINI Clubman
'08 Smart Fourtwo
Comparison: '08 BMW 135i
'06 R53 MCS vs '07 R56 MCS
'07 R56 JCW (Stage 1)
'07 MINI Cooper S Long Term
'07 BMW Z4 M Coupe
'07 MINI Cooper & Cooper S
Audio: '07 MC/MCS at the Track
'06 JCW GP Long term
Reader Review: JCW GP
'06 JCW Cooper S Long Term
Comparison: '06 Lotus Elise
Comparison: '06 Mazda MX5
Comparison: '06 UK Focus ST
Comparison: '06 Civic Si
Comparison: '04 TVR T350
Comparison: '06 Nissan 350z
Comparison: '06 VW GTI w/DSG
Podcast: Cooper S Auto
Podcast: BMW 325i
Podcast: JCW MC Soundkit
'04 JCW MINI Cooper Tuning Kit
'05 MCS: One Month Review
'05 MCS Auto
'05 JCW S 1st Drive
'05 MINI Cooper
'05 MCS Conv. Long Term
'05 MINI Cooper S
'05 MCS Cabrio 1st Drive
'04 JCW MCS First Drive
'04 MC w/JCW Tuning Kit
BMW M3 SMG Vs. MCS
'04 MINI Cooper CVT
'02 MCS 3 year Review
Autocrossing the MINI Range