News : Y-Reg MINIs – they’re getting noticed

Y-Reg MINIs: MINI number one rolls off the line in 2001
MINI number one rolls off the line in 2001

Why so much interest in Y-reg MINIs? The R50- and onwards-generation of MINI rather neatly dovetails with AROnline in many ways. We appeared at the same time in 2001, started out with good intentions and have grown beyond all recognition from the original idea. Well, something like that.

Back in 2016, and spurred on by the creation of the MINI Y REGister, and my love of all things early (when it comes to cars), I thought it might be nice to grab one of the original cars and enjoy it for a bit. The club is building a register of all remaining 2001 MINIs, which is why if you have one, you should get in touch with those guys. There were other good reasons for this, too – thanks to the launch of the F56-generation MINI, these early cars are looking particularly appealing.

Why? Because there’s no escaping that the F56 is a bit of a munter. Yes, it’s great to drive (like any small BMW), and has some very innovative engineering, but its looks really don’t do it any favours. And, yet, because the 2001 car is now visually quite separated from the current car, it’s now in the realms of the sub-£1000 category, although picking up fast, after taking quite a drop in 2015-16.


The Cooper I grabbed back then, Y702 MDF (above), came in at that price point and, although it’s grubby and has a missing parcel shelf, there’s still plenty of life left in it. Driving it back from deepest Berkshire, it was hard not to fall for its quick steering and playful handling – just as I remembered the first Cooper I drove to the Nurburgring in 2006… The good news is that, two years later, number 733 is in rude health and my 19-year-old son is enjoying owning such an interesting car.

The ones to have appear to be the Yxxx OBL-registered cars, which were rolled across the UK as management, dealer and press demonstrators. They are particularly interesting, as they’re the plates the press cars wore back in 2001, and most of the road test cars that featured in the car magazines of the day (here in the UK) wore one of these number plates.

Richard Hill is one of the many enthusiasts of these cars who is working hard to record as much as he can about them. He’s the owner of Y931 OBL, and he said, ‘When I purchased my Y plate it came down to affordability as opposed to rarity but, after owning it for a couple of weeks, I started to realise how lucky I’d been to stumble across VIN 81. This made me want to find out more.’

He’s built an excellent site, Y MINI Adventure, and, on this page, he’s gone a long way in explaining what has happened to all of the earliest MINIs. Well worth a look if you’re interested in these cars, as we know many of you are…

Y-Reg MINIs: One of the original press photos taken early in 2001.
One of the original press photos taken early in 2001
Keith Adams


  1. I didn’t like he look of these at launch, but as the new generations of BINI have been launched and got progressively ‘chubbier’ I find myself almost admiring these early models. I followed a light blue 52 plate Cooper in traffic recently and it looked to be mint condition. Put a set of private plates on and nobody would be any the wiser as to how old the car was, it still looks pretty on trend. At £1000-£1500 they are actually a bit of a bargain. There I said it…

  2. Yes, Kieth, your comment that the direction of the latest cars lends a purity to the first cars is valid. What a brilliant retro interpretation the first car was/is. I might just go and find one myself!

    • ^^ Yes, agree with this comment. The R50 Mini has aged well and still looks good.

      Nonetheless, buying two 15 year old Minis (including a sub-£1000 one) is impressive commitment to the cause.

      Based on how you’ve described the cars Keith, I’d be inclined to keep the blue press fleet car, and get rid of the grubby red Cooper.

  3. I was involved with the MINI at launch and the early cars were only available in 4 specs/colours-

    MINI Cooper-Silver/Black roof, sunroof, Leather, 16″ alloys cd
    MINI Cooper – Red/White roof- red trim/1/2 leather- pepper pack, 15″ ‘pepperpot’ alloys
    MINI One- – Blue, spoked alloys, cd
    MINI ONE – Black- alloys?

    No other versions were available until Sept 2001 so 51 plates.

    Keith- I am sure both your cars have had wheel swaps at some stage- I don’t think white wheels were available until later- and it looks like your MINI One is on 17″ wheels that definitely weren’t

    I had access to three cars in July 2001 and over the summer any where I parked there were always crowds round the car. Word soon spread that there was a MINI parked outside my flat and there was a procession of people coming to look. I would go out in the morning and find my shiny new car covered in handprints.

    I can’t think of any other car in my lifetime that received such a big public reaction.

  4. Fantastic. I had a November 2001 MINI Cooper. I had to wait, because I wanted it in BRG and White, and they had a backlog. I think I could have got a different colour much sooner. When mine hit the road, the BRG was very, very rare, and I often got stopped at petrol stations etc. by people asking about it. It was a fundamentally good car, but I had lots of niggles – the ridiculous seat lever that if you lifted it caused the seat to go into recline mode and get stuck (you were meant to push down on it, but nobody ever did that), the back wiper that only cleared half the window, the AC that failed 3 times, rattles, the boot that never closed first time…

    I remember policemen at Glasgow Airport stopping me, and I thought I was in trouble, but they just wanted to look inside. Its easy to forget now, how exciting a concept these cars were then, so fresh, and fun to drive. I got a 2nd one in 2004, and then went back to Classic Minis!

  5. Had a look round their production facility at Cowley a few weeks ago. Staff were noticeable by their rarity. Made by Robots … very noisy robots. Ear Plugs were issued prior to entry. Very impressive those Robots… huge and VERY noisy. Far, far larger than the few robots I saw during a tour of Longbridge back in 1982 when Metro production was in full swing. Saw a still secret MG Metro Turbo “mule” tucked away in a remote part of the facility. It looked superb with nice decals. Much smoother than the ones that left the production sometime later.

    Where did it all go right? :rolleyes:

    I still feel they should have called the Bini the Maxi….It’s BIG …like all the other manufacturers enlarging each update a few more CMs.

    Ever bigger cars….I saw a late Fiesta parked next to a MKII Escort in a local Car park. The Fiesta dwarfed the Escort. Do not like this ever bigger trend. Guess just another sign of aging. I do not like the trend particularly the huge increase of SUVs on UK roads. ( SUVS = Seriously Ugly Vehicles ) Ugly appears to be the new “black”..Some of monster truck proportions. Fat-gut cars for an increasingly obese Nation …. They dwarf my MG ZT which I regard as a large vehicle… it is not now… quite petite when parked alongside one of these SUVs.

    Such is progress.

    Lost count of the original Minis I owned over the years including new ones. Ideal for getting about the Metrollops where I lived many moons ago. Still good at that. That Issigonis geezer had some brilliant ideas.

    • I think the “OMG, 4x4s are taking over the roads” argument is a little overblown.

      Here’s a list of the Top 10 bestsellers in the UK for the first eight months of the year.

      Only one car out of the Top 10 is a 4×4 – the Qashqai (a foot shorter than your MG ZT). The Fiesta is the top seller, the Corsa is number two. Although they are bigger than their 1980s ancestors, they are hardly monster-sized cars.

      Plenty of people are still buying normal small and medium cars.

  6. Launched under BMW, but the final design of the Rover Group and its predecessors. At the article notes, it would have been designed in parallel with the Rover 75, albeit a couple of years behind in the cycle. What a pity they closed the company before the 55 was launched. Imagine a showroom with the MINI, 55, 75, and the Discovery 3 and 2001 Range Rover in it, and how successful the company that made them might have been.

  7. I have heard many stories of the supposed fragility of the “Midlands” gearbox in the original BMW Mini. I believe that this was essentially the same reliable R65 that featured in millions of Rovers. Why the difference?

    What was changed to make it a duffer?

    • I remember the Gearbox clearly. My 2001 Mini had a sweet, easy gearchange. My 2004 one with new Gertrag box had a crunchy clunky notchy one that I didn’t like as much. I personally think reliability was an excuse, and they just wanted to change to a German box…

  8. I admire how Mini has saved Cowley and how it is a big export success, it’s just become some ugly looking heifer as the years have gone by. In particular the Paceman is just gross and even the smaller models look like they’v been put on steroids.

    • Fat-gut inelegance and ugly are the new “black” and has been for about ten years now. Our roads are now infested with ever larger SUVs … Seriously Ugly Vehicles… Not for me. I know my place … little old me in my little old MG ZT.

  9. I imagine the frontal styling of the MINI has suffered due to pedestrian safety legislation, all modern cars have high bonnets to increase the gap between the bonnet and engine which spoils the styling.

  10. Rover badges, including on the windows?…

    Did not used to like these back in the day, thought they were huge.

    Though when I test drove one I fell for it’s charms, it was a hoot to drive, more like a sports coupe than an economy hatchback.

    And if you trace a lineage via Metro/100-200/25, it has just grown as all small cars have. Nobody wants a tiny bubble car anymore, especially when sharing the roads with a lot of popular SUV models.

    On NI plates, which are dateless (as you know with GXI…) these mk1 Minis still look fresh and modern, which probably owes a lot to the evolutionary design of the mk2 and mk3.

  11. The Bini would have been so much better if Rover and BMW had got on with each other – talk about making development difficult!

    In two minds whether a press car is a good buy – probably carefully prepared post production so there are no defects and then thrashed within an inch of its life by muttering rotters…

    • If I was buying a 6 month old ex press car that would worry me. But buying a 15 year old one? That would be the least of my concerns.

  12. How time flies. I have fond memories of working at Gaydon in summer of 1997 when some prototypes were around, odd mix of the upright mini windscreen and a Rover 200 base. We managed to persuade a design engineer to show us the design on autocar, then the next day the Punto based motor show car was wheeled past under a sheet and shown the next day to the press. My mum had an earlyish 51 plate Cooper in Red & White and used to get so much attention everywhere i drove it. Remember a few squeaks and rattles with the trim but otherwise was impressive as a solid feeling car and great to drive compared to anything else at the size – worth the premium in my view and my mum has her 4th Mini now – well done to Rover and BMW I say.

  13. Of all Mini’s I’ve seen, I don’t remember seeing any on a Y reg. Of all the models since then, I think the original R50 looks best, though still not a favourite car of mine.

    My favourite Mini’s were the Clubman’s from the BL era.

  14. These early cars suffered from static electricity causing sparking on the petrol filler pipes when filling with petrol, it was on Watchdog if I remember rightly.

  15. Just love the Y…OBL registration sequence of the press demo cars as for me it translates as: “Oh, British Leyland”, this is what you could have ended up with if you had been able to have addressed all those chronic issues from the late 1960s and 1970s.

    Good to see it is still being made at Cowley and helping to keep thousands of skilled people in work with plenty to be confident about in the future because of its commercial success.

    Has anyone noticed on the Cooper version that its handbrake grip is similar in design to that fitted on the Rover 200 BRM limited edition?

  16. I have always liked the original BINI, as it was always cute and curvy and had character, much like the original Mini. However I agree subsequent models have been mingers getting less curvy and shapely and blander and uglier. However BMW know they can sell whatever they sell to the public so don’t worry how ugly their cars are these days.

  17. I was just thinking about how this brought back memories for me of, what was the reg of my old MINI One? Oh yes..Y192 OBL! I bought it when I worked at Fords of Winsford (large general car Supermarket in Mid Cheshire near Crewe), in March 2003. Yes I was supposed to be selling cars rather than buying them but I couldn’t resist this humble little MINI One with it’s white painted Cooper “S” spoke alloys. It looked much more racy than it’s 90 BHP! If I remember correctly, it was initially registered to BMW UK (I looked in the magazine Road tests from the time, just in case), then to a dealer after that. It replaced indirectly (via a Passat T Sport and Bora that lived up to it’s name), a 99 “S” Mini Cooper Sport in BRG with cream roof, so I was interested to see how the newbie would compare. Of course they were chalk and cheese and apart from the roughly similar shape and the badge, they were totally different cars. The old one had the “old skool” rough diamond underdog charm from an underdog manufacturer and the new one was the city slicker out to impress everybody with it’s newly found comfort and refinement. Not as much fun but easier to live with day to day. Unfortunately, I then bought my first house in 2003 and by the October it got sold to Blue Bell BMW in Crewe for some much needed cash for house renovations. Their buyer saying “that it might be harder to sell on an old style “Y” reg than the new type of registrations”! He said they might even paint the roof white to match the wheels. I did miss that car and wondered how it got on afterwards. I think the mileage was in the mid twenties, how many now I wonder?

    David3500-I thought the same about the “OBL” reg!

    • The DVLA MOT History checker says Y192OBL’s MOT was issued on the 7th September and it has now done 130k. There were no advisories so it must be cared for!

        • It is indeed this one, it brought back some happy memories. I wonder how it’s fared now its done an extra 100,000 miles! For an early model it would be a good test for durability. The ironic thing is that these are worth £1000’s less than their Mini “Classic” ancestors of the same vintage. Will they catch them up in future? Maybe so in a few more years. Possibly the 20th Anniversary could make more of a difference to the values of these, the neglected and battered ones will have been seen off the road by then. Unlike it’s predecessor, which had the traditional tin worm gremlins, it’ll probably be down to worn out ECU’s and electricals on the new Minis. A lot of early model 2001 cheapies seem to be advertised with gearbox issues though.

  18. Well, it kept us entertained on test for a few years in the late 90’s

    Great to see what a success the brand has become but some of the recent models are far from elegant.

  19. Be careful of the seats – they had a habit of breaking in the recline position (v.embarrassing) – my brother used to make ’em in the early days (the cars that is, not just the seats) BMW sacked the original seating contractor and brought in a new design. A lot of ex rover workers didn’t know what hit them when they switched to BMW and the MINI – tales of workers making just 6 Rover 800’s a day were commonplace…

  20. I have just left a deposit for a 6th July 2001 Y reg mini one in blue metallic, has a white checked roof, and what appears to be a pepper pack, with rev counter leather steering wheel etc, 8 spoke silver 15inch alloys. it’s a present for my son for his 17th birthday, pick it up on Sunday

  21. I still think the two door and four door entry level Minis look good, but the Paceman looks vile. My choice nowadays would be a two door Cooper S in black with a coffee coloured roof. Also these are made in Britain, as some of the bigger models come from Germany and Holland.

  22. My choice would be a Wolseley 20/86 turbo diesel in white over wedgewood blue on stag alloys. I’d hybrid the front wings too – with the MGB headlight surround and sebring light covers. One can dream.
    I loathe these Minis and I always will but why have they got so huge. Saw a new one this morning being followed by a white Honda CR-V 4×4 – the Honda was smaller! By a noticeable margin. It can’t all be “safety”.

    • @ Jemma, I totally agree with you, the Paceman is more like a Range Rover than a Mini. I’m hoping the trend to these bulbous, ugly cars ends as they are as obnoxious to look at as a pit bull. Bring back the good old four door saloon.

      • Oddly enough I saw a pitbull at vets today, he’d hurt a back leg. Poor thing looked so miserable I’d have loved to give it a hug, but it was also obviously terrified and approaching a stranger dog in that condition is a bad idea.
        Incidentally have you been watching the big cat in the house series. The Panther kitten as soppy as anything (and makes the most amazing noises) – the Cheetah looks and sounds like a bengal cat crossed with a chainsaw..

        I’d love the panther but I’m allergic – to the point apparently where I occasionally have migratory eyeballs (it swelled so much the eyeball went for a holiday on my cheek until everything had calmed down, or so I’m told).

    • Obviously it’s bigger than the 1959 original, but the latest generation Mini hatch is still one of the shortest cars you can buy in the UK in 2018. Ignoring the two-seater Smart, it’s only a few inches longer than the Twingo or VW Up or Aygo/C1/107.

      We have an R56 Mini and a current shape CRV in our household (both fine British-built cars 🙂 ) and there is no danger of confusing the two.

  23. Goodness me…my wife has an early mini (early 2005) ultra low mileage and’s had in a year..a clutch, battery, exhaust, alternator, power steering pump, suspension bushes and wheel bearings. The mot failure sheet read like war and peace…

  24. I took my R56 Cooper S to Brooklands Mini Day last weekend and noticed the Mini Y Register group while I was there. Over 1500 Minis there, old and new, ratty and concours.

    I don’t really get the appeal of early cars unless it was literally the first car off the production line or the first car of its type registered in the UK.

    But hey, there are a lot of New Minis out there, and everyone likes to have their own niche.

  25. I own Y192 OBL now and have treated it to a lot of body repairs and a full respray , plus the correct wheels refurbished. I intend taking it to as many shows as I can , as it’s a sure fire modern classic .

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