Revisiting the Rocketman – A Design Analysis

Over the past few days we’ve been focusing on MINI Design’s past through an interview with the lead exterior designer of the R50 and then a look back at some key concepts that launched the brand. Today we wanted to step back but in a different direction. It’s a direction that’s more relevant to the F56 and to where MINI is heading. In late 2010 MINI unleashed the Rocketman concept after furious work by the Gert Hildebrand lead design team. The initial concept came together during a layout at JFK earlier that year where Hildebrand and Head of Exterior Design Marcus Syring (now at Rolls Royce) starting talking and sketching a smaller more basic MINI.

In hind-site the Rocketman is a shrunken version of the F56 with many of the same thematic design cues used throughout. However the Rocketman (interestingly known inside MINI as ‘MINI Pure’) isn’t telling us that MINI will be downsizing and time soon. And while the Rocketman features a bespoke carbon fiber chassis, that is not what MINI has in store for any production car in the near term. If you want that BMW will happily sell you a very premium all electric three and five door hatch in the form of the BMW i3.

But the Rocketman has many stylistic clues for us when it comes to the next generation of MINIs that debuted last month with the F56. Lets start with the front grille where MINI has carried on a theme first seen in the Traveller concepts from 2007. Moving up to the LED rimmed headlights we see what will likely be the eyes in MINI’s new family face. They’re a more modern yet elegant interpretation of the classic MINI design and closer to the original R50 design.

In looking back it’s clear to see that the Rocketman was meant to move the needle forward and prepare us for the F56. The feel is more athletic yet curvaceous and (dare we say it) MINI-like. We also believe it’s a little closer to the original R50 MINI design language than the R5X generation of cars. Are there some details we could do without? Abolsutely. We’re not fans of the rear lights or the shape of the front air dam. But taken as a whole, we can’t help but look at the Rocketman concept and think the name ‘MINI Pure’ is right-on.

Will MINI ever build something as small as the Rocketman? BMW has been transparent in their desire to build such a car. But not without the financial security of a partner to help defray the massive development costs. BMW Board Member Ian Robertson recently mentioned that a few partners had been identified but none had a current chassis or future plans to create a car with the sporting credentials needed for the MINI brand. So the search and the concept lives on.

  • Nick Dawson

    It’s so cruel of you to tease the poor souls; you know it’s never going to happen 🙂

  • lavardera

    Yes – the connection to the F56 is clear, but look how much better the front fascia looks without that lame boxy intake under the grill. Not sure how the air-dam bothers you, but I’d take this over the F56 S front end any day.

    • Hoover

      I totally agree. And I would have preferred these lights as well.

  • Simon Chartrand

    Look like a Balthazar E. Watzinger design.

  • ulrichd

    Oh just rub salt in our wounds. I love the Rocketman concept. I wonder if it meets the new pedestrian impact standards.

    • Nick Dawson

      MINI 3 is soft-nosed to comply with pedestrian impact regulations, but a hard-nosed business head is required to green light the manufacture of cars in the twenty first century.

  • Nick Dawson

    Rocketman was purely an ‘intellectual concept’ to showcase what could be achieved, but was never intended for production, and there was never a business case for it. In any case, few people would desire to own one at the retail price necessary for It to be a commercial success.

    It is worth mentioning that, nowadays, small cars cost only slightly less to make than large cars, because they have to contain most, if not all, of the high tech features found in large cars. Some small cars are in fact more expensive to make than some larger cars, a good example being the R55 Clubman versus the R60 Countryman.

    Whoever coined the phrase, “Size doesn’t matter”, was obviously never involved with the commercial manufacture of motor cars!

    • ulrichd

      Actually there was talk about sharing the platform with the next Toyota iQ.

  • JonPD

    Bringing up the small MINI again during these days of the new MINI getting bigger yet is bad timing Gabe ;).

    • lavardera

      Well, even that rocketman sketch shows a fair amount of front overhang..

  • Head Honcho

    I know BMW wouldn’t ever do this but it would be great to see one model more bare bones and performance oriented that only came that way. Performance of JCW but priced around an S. My current car drives well but comes only pretty bare bones. It does have a aux jack to plug your mp3 player in. That is actually partially why I love it. So basic but still great. It would never match up to the profit or image BMW/MINI wants. But I bet a ton of people would buy it.

    • Head Honcho

      Ignore typos and guess at the correct words.

      • If you create a Disqus account, which is free, you can edit your own comments and correct typos, etc. after you’ve left a comment.

  • Kurtster

    Want this car.