Concepts and prototypes : MINI Hot Potato (1994)

The MINI Hot Potato was penned as a replacement for the long-lived classic in the early 1990s, as part of a series of radical proposals penned at Gaydon. 

Its Designer has gone on to have a high-flying career at Nissan, and he tells us his thinking behind the potato-shaped concept.


MINI Hot Potato: the inside story

MINI Kinder concept

In 1994 Rover Group was purchased by BMW, and the future model plans were put under scrutiny. In reality, the German firm had inherited quite a bare cupboard – two projects were looking good and had been shaping up in the Design Studio – a replacement for the 600 and 800, and after several false starts, a new Mini was beginning to gain momentum.

Work had begun on the latter in 1993, when Geoff Upex tasked his Design Team to come up with proposals. Previously, we’ve been treated to excellent insight into this project thanks to the MINI Spiritual twins and ACV30 concepts shown during the 1997 lead-up to the MINI (R50) reveal at that year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

However, like all new car design processes (except, it seems, the Rover 75), there were a number of other proposals – some which went further than others. The good news for Sked and his team was that, once BMW was on board, the future of the Mini was assured – BMW’s CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder was related to Issigonis, and was more than aware of the value of the brand.

MINI Kinder

So, what about the MINI Hot Potato?

The so-called Hot Potato was designed by David Woodhouse, now Vice-President of Design at Nissan in San Diego. It’s certainly an interesting design and, although it pre-dates the production version of the Ford Ka, the treatment of its wheelarch extensions is very similar to that hugely influential small car’s.

The egg-shaped body promises excellent space efficiency. Woodhouse said: ‘The proposal featured radial doors, external hinges, wraparound windscreen with the screen footprint dictated by the sweep of the single header mounted windscreen wiper, and parallel cant rail tracks for the tailgate to slide up within the car’s footprint.’

The external hinges are a neat link with the original Mini Mk1, although there’s a whiff of the 1993 Renault Twingo about its handles located on the trailing edge of the doors. The ridges in the roof panel are almost pure Audi A2. The only real link with the classic Mini seems to be the John Cooper-branded bonnet stripes.

The most radical aspect of the design has to be that wraparound windscreen and the dogleg A-pillars, recalling the Vauxhall PA Cresta as well as countless post-War US designs. It’s a brave idea, and one that we suspect would have been challenged getting through front-offset crash testing, but the forward visibility would have been panoramic.

MINI Kinder

Did Hot Potato have any influence over the MINI programme?

It’s definitely on the innovation side of the MINI replacement conversation, and was pitched as an alternative to Olivier Le Grice’s Mini Spirtual. Like that car, it looks in pure design terms to be able to accommodate a small engine mounted at the rear.

It’s fair to say that the Hot Potato would have been a conversation starter for MINI, but would it have been a winner? Probably not, as its styling might have been a little too radical for even the most progressive city car buyers to stomach.

Woodhouse added: ‘This was an alternative to the Spiritual, and it featured a central driving position with three seats. We actually built a Rover 100 with a central driving seat to test. The proposal was the Designer’s choice internally, but it was too late to have little and large versions as planned for the Spiritual concepts.

‘In hindsight, it was perhaps too utilitarian. The BMW Mini proposals were all far more sporting Cooper based.’

MINI Kinder

Thanks to Olivier Guinn of the Car Design Archives.

Keith Adams

9 Comments

  1. Both the Mini Spiritual and Mini Kinder appear to have drawn inspiration from ideas Issigonis had together with co-instigator Pininfarina’s Leonardo Fioravanti for an avant-garde one-box Mini as it were (mentioned in Mini: The Definitive History), essentially a sort of Egg-shaped composite of a Renault Twingo and a Citroen Xsara Picasso.

  2. It is hard to imagine it being a success, as with the SMART Car it would have become a money pit as a manufacturer with relatively low volumes, high manufacturing costs tried to sell a product people would not not be inclined to pay a lot of money for. That was the success of the post 2001 Mini, people were and still are willing to pay a substantial price for them.

    • Agreed. This might have made a decent Asian “kei” type car, but it’s hard to see the market in the UK and Europe, especially if made in the UK (unlike say the C1/107/Aygo made in Eastern Europe) and thus neither cheap nor premium.

  3. My first glimpse of the final picture Immediately made me think of the original (pre-widened) Morris Minor.
    Maybe helped by the central wiper blade making it look split-screened, but also the rounded roof and other features.

  4. Often think of all the Rovers that might have been as missed opportunities, but this is one might have been that I’m glad wasn’t to be as we would have lost Rover that bit sooner than we did.

  5. It looks like a deformed toad.

    Or that odd and unsuccessful Mitsubishi ‘i’ microcar they failed to sell any of here a decade and a half back.

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