Concepts and prototypes : MINI Spiritual/Spiritual Too (1995-1997)

MINI Spiritual (1)

Serious investigation into replacing the Mini begun in earnest during 1993, when Design Director Gordon Sked asked his Design Team to come up with some concept ideas for a new Mini. He was clear that they needed to think outside of the box, not to worry about carry-overs, and to try and recreate the spirit of the 1959 original. What would eventually appear at the 1997 Geneva Motor Show as the MINI Spiritual’s roots lay in this blue-sky exercise – the end result was one which showed great promise and, just like Issigonis’ car, was rather ahead of its time.

The one-box, rear-engined minicar was a packaging marvel, with an overall length of around 10ft – just like the ‘real’ Mini. The design was available in standard and long-wheelbase form, which were known internally as the Mini and Midi, and was the work of a Designer called Oliver Le Grice. Like the ACV30, it was an active design concept that was taken to the famous 1995 Gaydon shootout in which management decided which Mini concept would be developed into a production car.

History records that the Mini and Midi twins didn’t make it, being passed over for a more conventional and sporting proposition, although then-BMW Group boss Bernd Pischetsrieder liked them, stating that they were at least a decade ahead of their time. So, the project was put on ice, only to be dusted off for the 1997 Geneva Motor Show, where both versions were unveiled as the Spiritual and Spiritual Too concepts to help with the build-up of Mini publicity in the run up to the pre-launch of the new car at that year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

A fascinating might have been, though…

MINI Spiritual (2) MINI Spiritual (3) MINI Spiritual (4)

Keith Adams
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  1. Technically very interesting and in tune with the spirit of the time that produced the original A Class, Audi A2 and Smart. Of course only the Smart still survives and that has hardly been a commercial success for Daimler Benz. The A Class has turned into the Golf like current model and the A2 into the Polo based and very conventional A1 and both are now doing very good business for their respective makers as indeed the MINI has for BMW. The Spiritual certainly shared the same values as the original Mini, but unfortunately would have shared its shaky commercial foundations as well. From a business perspective BMW made the right call.

  2. “The same values as the Issigonis Mini” not on your life, Issigonis believed rear-engine rear-wheel-drive configuaration should be banned by law on safety grounds. He and Alex Moulton used to joke about the wayward handling of such vehicles, especially the swing axled Beetle, a flight to Germany which a rather erratic landing on arrival “Well we are in the land of the rear engine”.

    The Macpherson strut was another of their topics for catoon humour, the devilish tendency for the strut to deform in compression travel, friction locking the wheel travel, a phenomenon eventually reduced by offsetting the mounting collars of the main suspension spring.

    • The originator of the Smart car was also of the Swatch wristwatch, once MB/Daimler were involved, he turned his back on the vehicle in despair, his original idea was so corrupted by thier influence.

  3. I do not see these cars as a continuation of Alec Issigonis thinking regarding small cars, his thinking with the Mini and its successors was for small cheap family transport which was good and fun to drive. I suspect he would have been quite dismissive of their “city” car status, imagining he would see these cars, the Smart cars and current generation of electric cars as cars, for people with more money than sense and offended at the wastefulness of having a car with such limited capabilities that you also need to own a “proper” car.

    I think Alec Issigonis would have been more taken today with the Peugeot 107 / 108 and its siblings, recognising the economy and simplicity of their manufacturing plus how they have handled the badge engineering.

    However I do think these cars represent the final chapter in the BMC, BL, ARG small car thinking that started with the Mini and continued with so many still born projects and the Metro. They all unfortunately show that through successive generations they failed as a company really understand the “small car” market.

    The Mini, brilliant as it was, in truth missed its target market as a cheap family car, its “Blue Collar” target customers bought the Ford Anglia instead along with the issue of the products profitability, its subsequent popularity is owed more to Cooper, Hopkirk, Sellers, Snowden and Twiggy than BMC product planning.

    Over the subsequent years they missed the market again and again having nothing to compete with the Renault 5 and Fiesta, then the Metro was quickly side-lined by the 205 and Uno in the market.

    As for these cars, clever as they are, the designers failed to grasp that few people truly desire a car smaller than a Golf and if it is to be smaller it needs to be represented by a smaller price or as in the case of the BMW Mini provide some extra brand values.

    • I agree with many of your comments, but not with the idea of the Peugeot 107, writers show Issigonis preferred the ADO16 1100/1300 car over the Mini, the size of the mini being too compromised, as you wrote few really want a car smaller than a Golf. For my opinion, the car Issigonis woud approve is the Honda Jazz, (yes – I have one) for the forward thinking of the Honda engineers as opposed to stylists ( Issigonis expressed contempt for that particluar breed), at launch there was nothing like it, it wrong footerd the competition and consequently sold in droves, the truly cavernous interior space- the magic seat system, would satisfy his ideals of “packaging” excellent fuel economy and very pleasant to drive, he may not approve of the suspension system , but Hydragas would have tackled that matter

  4. If you read the Issigonis quote, it’s a criticism of the wayward handling of the rear-engined cars of the day, due to their swing-axle rear suspension.

    The ‘Sp[ritual’ cars do follow Issigonis values of space effiency, practicality over styling,and innovative engineering solutions.

    Without being trapped in immitation, the Spiritual cars do have a kind of resemblance to a Mini. I quite like them.

    And consider – it would be really easy to make a mid-engined sportscar from these designs.

    • I think you are right that they have taken forward Issigonis values of space efficiency, practicality over styling, and innovative engineering solutions.

      However I think he would have been unhappy with the end result, first they are too narrow in their potential role, I don’t think he would have been open to the idea of a “city” car, he would have wanted capacity for a family of four plus luggage and good open road performance.

      Secondly he would have not been happy with compromise required due to their rear weight bias. To give them “safe” handling just like the SMART car, you would have had to compromise level of front end grip. Also his dislike for over complication and “electronics” would certainly have been against using chassis stability system to control handling issues.

      However one thing he would probably not have been sufficiently concerned about was the profitability in the end product. As Mercedes have learnt with the SMART and original A Class, but most of all with the SMART derived sports car, small car equals small profits and quite often big losses.

      • The Smart car is simply not safe, they have a serous issue with understeer, show one a turn and they simply go straight ahead, also they have a high c of g and are easily rolled, hence the boorish working class yob sport of “SMART TIPPING”

  5. One thing that has interested me regarding the 3-door 700kg Spiritual and 5-door 900kg Spiritual Too concepts is the fact that the former reputedly featured an 800cc 3-cylinder version of the K-Series with the latter featuring a 1.1 4-cylinder K-Series both rated at 60 hp, kind of find it difficult to believe that the 3-door Spiritual could only be fitted with a 3-cylinder engine.

    The world could do a 700kg City Car in the mould of the Spiritual that can take advantage of the ultra efficient yet potent downsized engines of today.

  6. I agree thgat we could benefit from a range of city cars, the Japanese 660 cc K cars, if only they were imported into Europe, a favourite of mine, I admire the “Issigonis” levels of practicality, the top-selling Honda Nbox which has a loading ramp and shopping trolley in the rear

    • Though many recent Kei Cars are somewhat lacklustre and burdened with that 5-door only “tall wagon” look instead of spawning purposeful 3-door hatchbacks and uncompromised micro-coupes / micro-roadsters whose appearance does not alienate half to 3 quarters of the population.

      They are also increasingly putting on weight where even the Mitsubishi i is around 900kg and need to go on a diet, while the Kei Car class itself is seriously due an update featuring an enlarged engine displacement from its existing 660cc limit and uprated max power output, so it is in line with the latest downsized engines from other non-Japanese car manufacturers and remains relevant to the rest of the world.

      Especially in light of recent plans by the Japanese government to curb its domestic markets love for the Kei Car. –

      • Thank you for posting that link, it seem the Japanese love their Kei cars, 40% of their new car market last year, but their Govt wish to lessen the substantial tax advantage of the Kei, the Kei used to be an austerity car for lower income groups but is now desirable so even more financially advantaged buyers elect for them in lieu of the more expensive non-kei vehicles.
        From my knowledge of Japanese culture, small and neat is admired, large and heavy is seen as poor taste.

  7. Paul, comment 1 – ” The Spiritual certainly shared the same values as the original Mini, but unfortunately would have shared its shaky commercial foundations as well. From a business perspective BMW made the right call.”

    Yes, you’re probably right – MINI was most likely the right COMMERCIAL decision for BMW. However, I’ve recently thought that as a brand name ‘MINI’ is a rather curious thing. The name MINI suggests small, minimal, no excess, functionality over image. Yet MINI is none of these things. MINI simply isn’t Mini. If BMW had started with a clean slate, without the history, they really wouldn’t have called it MINI. Probably 1 series, with the current 1 series becoming 2 series.

    • MINI means whatever its manufacturer and its customers want it to mean At the moment they both seem very happy with it meaning small (by early 21st century standards)premium hatchbacks!

    • Well the 2 series active tourer spun off the current MINI FWD platform is doing great business for BMW. Production lines at full tilt, 8 month waiting list for some models and the third best selling car in the current BMW line up. It certainly hasn’t been constrained by the MINI and BMW are content to press on and base the new X1 on the same platform.

  8. The name MINI does not accurately describe or create an image of what the range now is. Therefore, BMW have a name which is not the best from a marketing, promotional perspective.

    • Fiat, having observed the easy sell of the MINI, are mimicking BMW, creating the Fiat 500 brand comprised of the 500C mini and the Fiat 500L, Fiat even hired Frank Stephenson, the designner of the BMW MINI, witness the simiarity of the 500L to the latest 4 door MINI

    • Yeah right

      Just like the name “Peoples Car” has completely restricted VW from moving upmarket….

      BMW know what theyre doing. They needed a non-rwd sub-brand that fit with the mother company and Mini was by far the best available. Its been alot more successful than Smart thats for sure.
      The fact that its bigger than the original is irrelevant, all cars are bigger these days as are all people. The buyers dont care. They want a family hatchback with BMW quality, a heritage brand that stands out from the crowd and a cooler image than a Focus/Golf.

      As long as its not a notchback or RWD its close enough. In any cqse AD016 was really an xtension of the Mini and COuntryman fills that space

  9. These cars were far too radical for BMW. I was there in Geneva and at the press day, many believed that Rover was allowed to show them only to try and take same of the shine away from the launch of the A Class, which was a somewhat similar car. I doubt that the “Spirituals” would have handled as badly though.

  10. There must be more info about the Spritual Pair, have never seen any shots of the interior for instance, were they fully running or just mock ups?

    • My memory says that ‘Autocar’ did a multi-page review of these cars, but to my regret I did not buy it. Perhaps AR Online could approach ‘Autocar’s publishers…

  11. Although this concept has been compared to the Smart, no-one seems to have noted its sister; the rather better looking Renault Twingo which certainly resembles the Mini Spiritual and the original Fiat 500. Stylish, rear-engined, with reasonable room for 4 and their luggage, plus having four doors, it would seem to be the perfect city car, a role the Spiritual concept could have taken. Issigonis may have criticised the old swing-axle, rear engine designs, but the new Twingo has been praised for its handling. Saying that, the British winter is now with us – how does the Twingo deal with that? Whatever, I reckon Renault will sell plenty of these little buzz bombs… and I am willing to bet they will be sold at a profit.

  12. Great to read this again. The full story of the new Mini was one of the most interesting one I’ve read on the site, especially the link to Gaydon for the reveal. Would have liked the spiritual concepts 2 have been developed though, would have taken car design in a whole new direction much earlier than it has done.

  13. Something like Spiritual might have worked back in the day but would it be able to survive now? Recent years have seen many of the sub-superminis disappear as manufacturers find the £10-12k new car market too competitive to make any money from. For example Twingo, KA, KA+ and Viva have all been dropped without replacement.

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