Pre-production Rover R50 Prototype Shell Shows up on eBay

Want an early look at MINI development? This prototype shell found on eBay gives us an interesting window into that time period where Rover still had some control over engineering and BMW was guiding the ship from afar.

Pre-production Rover MINI Prototype

There are some especially interesting details. The headlights, for example, have a very similar bezel shape, but the actual headlights lights under the domes are much more upright and conventional than what went to production. The side scuttle is surprisingly not an “island” like we saw in the actual production R50/53s, but is actually much more akin to what is found on the R56. The hood scoop is, well, interesting and clearly hacked together to be noting more than functional. Also the fuel filler is quite different than what we’re used to on the first generation MINI.

Pre-production Rover MINI Prototype

Yet for all the weird little details, it’s remarkable how much of the sheet metal really didn’t change. It also puts into sharper perspective how much of a departure the latest generation MINI, the F56, really is. When you understand just how much Rover was really present in the R50/53 and how much carried over into the R56, the BMW-ness of the F56 takes on new perspective. Some lament that influence, but that’s a debate for another day. What this little heap of scrap car shows us is just how british the R50/53 really were in the end.

eBay auction:
Via: Jalopnik


  • Awesome to see this out there. I remember seeing a black one photographed outside the factory just before the car was launched. And then there were the terrible early version of the MCS steering wheel (with the giant “S”) and a few other funky interior details that were changed last minute. Would love to see some of those parts surface.

  • b-

    This is VERY cool!

  • Joe Montante, PhillyMINI

    Gabe, follow link. Lots of good stuff you may have already seen. Make sure to watch videos…

  • lavardera

    I is confused, please.

    You are saying that much of this shell pre-dates BMW’s purchase of Rover. Yet I thought Frank Stephenson was employ of BMW, not Rover. So then how much of the R50 design predates his influence?

    • No this shell doesn’t pre-date any of that.

      • lavardera

        Then how do we infer that any of these interesting details are hold-overs from the pre-BMW prototypes?

        • There is realt no such thing as pre-BMW when it comes to the new MINI. BMW bought Rover in 1994 many years before the R50 program began. They’re just interesting details in my mind. There was split engineering back in those days across the UK and then in Munich. Much of the work moved to Munich later in the process.

        • lavardera

          Ok. My question is based on the statement in the article, which suggests these details pre-dated the influence of BMW. So if it is not the purchase of Rover that would be pivotal here, it would be the point when development and engineering had moved to Germany. Since this prototype has the essential form that is widely attributed to Stephenson, would’nt we have to assume this was fabricated after development shifted to Germany where he worked for BMW? The details in question may have been held over from earlier development work in the UK, but how do we know?

        • Frank Granados

          Buy the book. The answers to your questions are there for you to see. And yes, Frank Stephenson was pivotal (As well as Gert Hildebrand, who years after would become the head of MINI design) in the design of the first gen car. Since Frank seems to lurk here from time to time, he may want to chime in…

        • Kev50027

          I was wondering the same thing. Is the only evidence that BMW didn’t influence this design much the Rover logo in the window? That’s not much to go on.

          Also I’m not sure if people are frustrated with the look of the F56 simply because of BMW’s influence, I think they don’t like it because it’s a dramatic departure from every previous MINI, including the original.

        • lavardera

          I thought the design effort moved to BMW while engineering, and fabrication of early prototypes remained at Rover in the UK. So even if this was coming from the BMW design effort it would still be marked with Rover as at the window.

        • Check out Graham Robson’s book “The New MINI”. It details this time very well and gives you a full picture of what was done where. Additionally we did am article on the genesis of the R50 almost ten years ago that should be interesting to you guys:

        • Nick Dawson

          I too would thoroughly recommend this book, which is a must read for any true MINI enthusiast. It’s out of print now, but used/as new copies are still available on Amazon.

        • lavardera

          All the recommendations for the book are well and good, but perhaps I should just be more direct. The article suggests these details originated on the Rover side, but the timeline does not suggest that is so. Perhaps there is more granular knowledge of the details – ie those headlight bezels came direct from a prior Rover prototype… I’m just looking for more detail since the tone of the article sounds incorrect.

        • They did not. Those bezels were simple manufacturing mock-ups  meant for testing. None of the differences in this car represent some design that was not realized. It was all created crudely and quickly for testing based on the design by MINI (BMW) that we know today.

        • lavardera

          Look, the bezel comment was a hypothetical example. The text of the post has been revised, and it no longer reads like a claim that this predated BMW, so case closed, thanks.

        • I didn’t write the post but I edited it since I know a healthy amount about this period.

        • Yes, Gabe corrected some gaps in my pre-production knowledge.

  • Frank Granados

    I can see someone getting this as a project car and bringing it to life. Interesting to see that as of 1998 (3 years before its UK debut) much of the exterior had been nailed down. Lavardera: +2 on Gabe’s suggestion to purchase Graham Robson’s excellent book about the turbulent history of the new MINI. Be sure to get at least the second edition.

  • Kurtster

    If I win the lottery…

  • Mark Smith

    Does anyone think that R50/R53 parts could be sourced and used to make this into a running prototype?

    • Frank Granados

      I think it can. If you have the money to burn, this could be an interesting project car. The only “1998” R53 in the world.

    • b-

      Sure, with a crazy high budget you can do anything.

  • Joe Montante, PhillyMINI
  • glangford

    I don’t see the fascination with a rusting out shell, particularly at that cost.

    • Martin

      Thats what people used to say about early 1959 classic Mini’s……….

  • Martin

    Preparations to build Rover R50 MINI at Longbridge 1998 – see link below. More early R50 prototype photos if you scroll down, note the similar headlights, bonnet (hood) scoop and A panel vents: