People : Frank Stephenson

It’s the 20th anniversary of the MINI (R50) going on sale – how time flies – and, to mark the occasion, Keith Adams takes out 30 minutes to chat to Frank Stephenson, the car’s stylist…

It’s an interesting story of what wasn’t always a smooth process.

Frank Stephenson: the man who made the MINI

Frank Stephenson

Frank Stephenson has an enviable CV with some of the most iconic cars of the past 30 years coming from his pen. Like many Designers, he had a hand in the Ford Escort RS Cosworth (as did Stephen Harper, Ian Callum and many others), the BMW X5, Ferrari F430, Maserati GranSport, Fiat 500, the McLaren P1 and the MINI.

His time at BMW kicked off in the early 1990s, where he worked on the BMW X5 under Chris Bangle, before joining the MINI programme after his design proposal was green-lighted for production in 1995. It’s the lead-up to here, where we pick up Frank’s story, where he tells all about his time working with Rover on the R50 programme, and what he thinks of the car today.

KA: When were you called in?

FS: The Mini replacement project was underway before the BMW takeover in January 1994, so when I came in, the project was on something of a slow boil. As it was, Rover’s planning was in flow, and there had been a few attempts, but there had not been enough energy for it to become a full project. So, we had Rover doing something and BMW was also beginning to think about how it was going to replace the Mini.

When BMW took over, it was working on getting all the brands aligned. The idea was that there would be the small cars, BMW in the middle and Rolls-Royce at the top for a three-pillar strategy. The MINI brand would support this thinking.

KA: What was going on?

FS: Quite a lot! We were going to try to come up with a new 21st century MINI just after the BMW X5 programme started to crystallise. I came from the new BMW SUV project, which at the time was something of a showcase for us, to work on the Mini replacement. Rover was working on the 200, its version of the new Mini, while the team in the gearbox factory at Canley was working on the Rover 75.

KA: What happened in 1995?

FS: Both Rover and BMW marketing teams decided that the new Mini programme would be so much stronger under the BMW’s leadership, and the impetus behind it was ramped up. BMW invited several studios to come up with proposals – and concepts from Giugiaro, BMW in Munich, Rover in Canley, Designworks in LA. Each design proposal was conceived to look like a 21st century Mini, but with the added requirement that they should be at least 3.6m in length in order to get a five-star crash rating.

With the initial kick-off, all of the Designers set about creating their proposals. In Munich, there were five Designers and we didn’t see what each other was doing, effectively working in isolation. That way, there were no overlaps. The teams were split up around various studios, and we had five Clay Modellers between us. Leading up to the October 1995 deadline, we’d all be building a full-size clay model.

KA: Tell us about the shootout at Gaydon 

FS: This was a big moment in the Mini programme. There was a 14-member committee, with seven Rover and seven BMW executives. Some were from Finance and Purchasing, which lead me to wonder why the finance guys would have a say in this.

These guys sat around and decided on the cars. I wasn’t present, but I received my information from Chris Bangle – it was a unanimous approval for my Mini proposal, with no discussion about using other designs. This was good as it gets, and it was a very happy day for me. And that was that – BMW Design out of Munich got the gig to create the 21st century Mini.

The Rover guys had voting power at Gaydon, but they went for the one that most honestly represented what the 21st century Mini should look like – and that was mine. They felt that my proposal carried the emotion of the past, the tech of the future – and, most importantly, it looked like a Mini. They saw the DNA link between the original and the new one.

KA: How did working with Rover go?

FS: How was it? Like dancing with wolves. After I was asked to do the R50 theme, things settled down. I was back in Munich and, once I was happy with it,  the plan was to digitise the model and send the data back to Rover in England. It’s 1995 and the car is planned for late 1990s – and it would not be deemed credible to do the car in Germany. So the idea was to send me to Rover and let me stay there to take the project from clay model to production.

Within a month, it was fully digitised and at a stage where it could be milled out into a clay model. This model would be made real as faithfully as possible.

At this point, Geoff Upex and Dave Saddington took me round the new Design Studios in Gaydon, and it was great to see the new facilities. I was looking for the clay model for the MINI, but I couldn’t find my car. They pointed to a full-sized model, saying it was that one. I was puzzled – that’s not the one I did! They said this was a globalised version of the car and they did the global modelling job while I was in Munich.

KA: Why did the British team want to change your Mini?

FS: They told me that they thought it was looking better this way – and had modified it here and there. I was aghast. My mission was to take my theme into production, and now I felt like a cowboy in the Indian territory. Dr Reitzle said I should call him if I encountered any problems, and I felt ridiculous calling in the first week. But it did need returning to the theme I did.

They wanted influence in the design, but it was too late in the game to do this. I couldn’t budge. I didn’t want to get into an argument. In the end, I suggested we convert my model by doing it again. They had 18 modellers, I had two apprentices. It was easy to get it back in shape, but they weren’t allowing me to push ahead with my design.

KA: How did that feel?

FS: I wasn’t getting support from Munich, as there were no Engineers to support me. Internally, I was upset I didn’t get the full ammo.

Reitzle would come over every three months – and, on the first occasion, he asked why were things different with their and my models? They kept changing things over the course of a year, and they wouldn’t accept the design as it was. Reitzle put his foot down, and forced the design to be as it was – and with full engineering support. All of this was about reverting it to the original design.

KA: How did it progress from there?

FS: In 1997, we took a ‘solid surface’ R50 along with some others to a few events for market research clinics, and it walked all over all those cars. But it was de-badged. This process helped the Rover guys understand that we had a hit on our hands with the new MINI.

At the Frankfurt Motor Show, it was shown to the public for the first time. We did an offsite reveal of it and that car (above) was made up of the MINI body (but it was all Fiat Punto underneath), and we put it together quickly. As you can imagine, it caused a commotion – the press jumped up, tried to open it, and it was a chaotic situation. The car turned to the right instead of the left as it should have done when it left the stage, and the press got hold of it.

From that moment on, Rover got on and we agreed unanimously to continue in this direction.

KA: What about engineering design changes?

Mini sketch by Frank Stephenson

FS: There were none at all – I hate those excuses. That’s why they pay us – where there was a problem, we found a solution that worked. The bonnet clamshell was there from the beginning, because I wanted to replicate the diagonal flange on the original Mini. This was an important visual cue, and what better way to achieve it than to make it a bonnet split line. It gave great access and looked dramatic.

Rover Engineers were upset about how the headlamps were going to work – if we left holes in the bonnet, it could be dangerous, but if we integrated the headlights, there could be vibration issues. But we found all the solutions. They said they couldn’t press that large piece of metal for the bonnet, but the Engineers solved the issues. They integrated the headlights, put two locks on it, and hydraulic struts so you could slam it shut.

I always felt uncomfortable splitting the grille: the jaw of a bulldog, that’s how I explained it and why I went in that direction. There are not many ways you can join them.

KA: What lasting memories do you have?

FS: I felt like I was going to Rover as a spy. They were upset their designs didn’t make it. Spiritual 1 and 2 were great designs, but they were not Minis, they were more like bubble cars. They weren’t passionate Minis for Mini lovers – they were thinking a long way ahead. They were trying to emulate Issigonis rather than caring about the way the Mini looked.

It was an enviable project to be involved in – we were going make waves. It’s turned the British car industry around, the whole experience of a premium small car. It was a small BMW under the skin in terms of engineering.

KA: Was it a career highlight?

FS: It was definitely one of the most recognisable ones. It was the most fun and an incredible story. How often do you get to redesign an icon like the Mini? You always want a project like this as a Designer. It opened doors for me…

Video: How I designed the MINI, by Frank Stephenson

Keith Adams


  1. The MINI is just a styling exercise and offers nothing of interest to me, the back seats are little more than a parcels shelf. I’d rather have a Suzuki Swift hatchback over a BMW MINI.
    The 2021 Honda Jazz hybrid is the most interesting car for 2020 / 21, 0 to 60 acceleration of about 9 seconds, yet owners report 60 to 70 mpg, the space utilisation shames many larger cars. The Jazz has 2- pedal gearless transmission, possibly the realisation of the Issigonis gearless Mini. I believe Issigonis would truly approve of the 2021 Jazz

  2. This is the man who thinks he can improve on the E type series 1 . I’m serious…. watch his youtube on it…. it’s truly painful

    • No worse than Peter Stephens writing into Octane when I was there saying how he could improve on the Lamborghini Miura. It’s a standard designer thing, I wouldn’t read too much into it.

  3. Like BMW or not, and I don’t particularly, they identified a niche in the market and hit the bullseye. Issigonis’s original had surely ceased to perform it’s intended function by the mid seventies. There were more practical, better built, and more reliable small “family”cars available and the Mini was mainly bought as a second car or a commuter car by those who liked it’s looks and evocation of the sixties. A lifestyle car, in other words. The present day MINI is a lifestyle car too, bought by those who used to drive the likes of Pumas and Tigras. It ain’t my thing but I have a friend who owns one and loves it. She’s single and sometimes transports two small grandchildren but otherwise just has herself to please. And her MINI does that.

  4. Amazing that the MINI is 20 years old now

    In this case BMW got it right, the only way they could make a living in this segment was with a premium “lifestyle” product, not a back to basics, radical vehicle, the numbers just don’t add up, especially if you’re going to make it in Cowley, and not Thailand.

    Interesting to hear about the Rover people trying to change the agreed design, yet another case of “not invested here” syndrome…

  5. I have never really related to the contemporary BMW MINI. Twenty years ago, I did sit in one, and “kick-the-tyres”, in the Edinburgh dealer’s showroom. But I was not impressed. For its size, the interior packaging was wasteful . . . the rear seat accommodation non-existent. The central, circular, instrumentation a cynical travesty, trying to echo, reference, the BMC original.

    The whole experience, the vehicle itself, and the new MINI company, representing, characterising the “criminal” destructive treatment of, and attitude towards, “Rover MG” . . . all that remained of the “volume” British owned motor manufacturing industry . . . by the then new owner BMW. Something for which I can never forgive BMW, and something that has and always will colour my thinking about and attitude towards the company.

    However, I found the following this morning, and it has caused me to rethink my attitude . . . even if only a little!! Seemingly the British Rover designers Geoff Upex and Dave Saddington in the new design studios in Gaydon, did themselves no favours, being deliberately obstructive and duplicitous. And, I am impressed by Frank Stephenson’s preparedness to acknowledge, to embrace, to accept and develop the original BMC Mini styling cues . . .

    “They felt that my proposal carried the emotion of the past, the tech of the future – and most importantly, it looked like a Mini. They saw the DNA link between the original and the new one”.

    All this in stark contrast to the “revisionist” attitude of the self-serving Ian Callum, who has single-handedly ignored, desecrated, dis-respected, and destroyed the wonderful curvaceous styling legacy that he inherited at Jaguar.

  6. I like the R50 MINI as a good design (on the outside) and as said above a good lifestyle vehicle. It had its flaws (that naff engine), but then you look at the replacements since they have become bloated pastiches without any of the original detailing.

  7. I still can’t get excited about it. Like the contributor above, I will stick with my Suzuki, although it does pain me not to be able to find a small, low fuss car made in the UK.

  8. Stephenson claims his MINI is an evolution of the Issigonis Mini. Please can someone point out that evolution?
    The wheels changed from 10 inch to 17 inches, the interior space shrank, the suspension changed from double wishbone to struts, the weight ballooned.

    All I see in a MINI is a contemporary car/ zero innovation,/ a massive styling and advertising campaign

    • I’m not sure they’re claiming that it’s innovative. What’s wrong with being contemporary? It’s clear you don’t like MINI and that’s OK, I wouldn’t buy one either. Lots of people love them though and I assume that’s at least partially because it evokes the original even though it continues to grow and resemble it less. I guess modern safety regulations are the main driver of this. Do you drive an innovative car? I don’t and I can live with that.

  9. If the internet had existed in the late 1950s, it would’ve been full of people moaning about how the ‘new’ Issigonis design was rubbish, badly designed, didn’t stand up to comparison with what had gone before.

  10. The BMW MINI was and is a massive hit and the people buying it frankly don’t care that it’s 50% larger than the original and / or not well packaged. It is premium, desirable and fun to drive. It also makes a profit which is clearly not something Rover were too familiar with at the time so it’s a bit disorienting for them. I don’t think it was the car that saved the British motor industry – that was the Nissan Quasqai – but it helped.
    BTW wasn’t Geoff Upex the guy who put the breadbox fuel tank on the original Triumph Trident?

  11. Trying to be objective, in his video Stephenson does not claim innovation in his product, and in the video there is no acknowledgement for the forward thinking of Issigonis and his groundbreaking FWD/ transverse engine layout which was revolutionary in the 1960s, Stephenson claims his MINI as an evolution of the Issigonis Mini. If there is evolution in the MINI it is backwards not forwards, bigger wheels, less space efficient, a ballooning of weight, an excess of flounce and frill. Remember Issigonis was contemptuous of such stylists, he considered stylists as an negative influence on car design, they got in the way of the serious work of design engineers, stylists promote obsolescence in the product and guilty of hijacking the word design in their favour, a word which truly describes engineers and inventors

    • And look where it got him. Engineering for its own sake rarely sells cars. When you’re in the business of making and selling cars for profit you overlook buyer appeal at your peril. This is how we got ADO17.

      • Funny, that, Standhill. Issigonis designs were the first british cars to sell 1 million ( Morris Minor ) , 2 million ( ADO16) and 5 million ( Mini) …. but then, what did he know about it? And why did all those designers and engineers follow his pioneering multi-cylinder transverse engine designs?

        • Minor and ADO16 hardly lacked buyer appeal. Mini was revolutionary in that it was a “proper car” alternative to bubble cars, but it took 40 years to sell that 5m. ADO17 and Maxi? Not my idea of desirable. From what I’ve read Issigonis was inflexible and doctrinaire, dictating what the buyer should have rather than providing what the might want. I’m no business whizz, but that doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

          • I understand the point you make about him being difficult, but then men of his ilk and talents often are.Have you ever actually driven a Mini ? They are sensational to drive in terms of handling, cornering and roadholding even by today’s standards , and while I would not wish these days to cover long distances in one , my 56 year old Cooper S is still an absolute hoot – there is absolutely nothing quite like it – and as for what people might want, were all those millions wrong ?

          • The game changed when the other manufacturers started to make FWD cars with transverse engines and the gearbox mounted next to it rather than in the sump.

  12. Oh boy, well the haters are always gonna hate I suppose. The R50 MINI is a great design, it has style, character and is certainly unique.
    MINI is not a packaging masterpiece but it was never meant to be. It is a masterpiece in marketing instead.
    What was arguably the least valued ‘brand’ in the BL universe was recognised for its true worth and has flourished into a global success story. That it took BMW to do it says as much about them as it does about generations of previous BL/Rover management.
    Guess that’s hard to swallow in some quarters.

    • Yes that’s true especially as the Mini design stagnated for a long time, only getting a few minor updates & special editions in the 1980s & 90s.

      I presume they were expecting the plug to be pulled in favour of the Metro even before it arrived, only for the Mini to outlast it by 3 years!

  13. So what is the next project by Mr Stephenson?
    The Alex Moulton bicycle? The BR HST125? Concorde? The Intel 486 DX2?
    Ah, the R.J. Mitchell Spitfire. I’m sure I Mr Stephenson may add his incisive evolution to the Spitfire

    • Hello cyclist. Since the launch of the new MINI, I moved on to the position of design director for Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat Group and McLaren Automotive. I now have created my own design studio, FSD, designing the new eVTOL jets for Lilium, Archer and AutoFlight. In addition, my design studio has just delivered the designs for the world’s most powerful quantum supercomputer and the world’s safest baby car seat. Currently we are designing the first 2 cars which will race on the surface of the moon’s south pole next year. Sorry that I can’t tell you about our most innovative projects that are in development, perhaps that is best and for your own good as I feel you are not a fan of progress or innovation.

      • I’m curious what level of involvement you have in ‘quantum supercomputer’ design?

        Did you or your design studio have any technical involvement in the design of the actual computer or was it more of a styling project?

  14. Really interesting to read!
    I was working on R59 doing body exterior feasibility at Canley – working towards the theme selection event at Gaydon, our team continued for a short time after this.
    It will surprise some people but, the communication to the Rover team was quite a contrast to this account. This probably says a lot about the turmoil at the most senior levels of the BMW leadership team – that was later to see the end of Rover group.
    The Canley based R59 team were allowed to view all the models after the event. The initial account was that the Rover model (evoloution) had been favoured at the event. However, on the plane back to Munich the decision was taken to go with the Frank Stephenson model. The communication to the R59 team was that design work would continue on this chosen theme (FS) with some elements of Evolution. This was a typical outcome from this kind of event for Rover – I saw it many times before and after R59. Obviously, it may just have been a way to break it to us gently!
    This was the strategy presented to the Rover team and work continued on this basis. It was not possible for the Canley design team to take their own decision or even put a spin on the decision – it was mandatory and a normal situation. In any case, Reitzle was in the Canley studio every week and was not known for concealing his views!
    The Gaydon event was theme selection – not design freeze. This is the start of the detail design process. The chosen theme had very little feasibility, and the small matter of no engine to fit it.
    Evolution had a full engine package and a lot of feasibility – this was a failing of the Canley team in comparison with the other models and indicated a different company culture and the fact that R59 had started earlier and progressed further.
    Engineering feasibility could not really continue without an engine package and the engineers moved on to other projects for a time. The global modeling was just an attempt to get the smallest group engine available ( 4 cyl. K) into the design. No conflict. It was all that we had to work with.
    My own view of the models was that the UK designers had their understanding of what Mini was supposed to be, and that outside the company – the designers thought “Mini Cooper”.
    R50 was a masterpiece and the pick of all the new Minis, it was never meant to be the same as the original. We will never know if the alternatives would have been as successful.
    Nobody at Rover group thought that we should make Spiritual – though BMW were interested enough to keep the two models, and they didn’t keep much!

    • Thanks for the interesting account of events at the time.

      Can you confirm rumours the MINI platform was to also underpin a parallel non-retro styled Rover supermini at one point during development or was the latter basically referring to Revolution? Speaking of Revolution, as it was described as looking like a typical small European hatchback could you give a rough approximation of its looks as far as exterior influences goes?

      Find the 3-door Spiritual rather attractive unlike the larger 5-door Spiritual Too yet accept they were unviable, though a bit confused regarding the 3-door Spiritual’s 3-cylinder engine. An Autocar article claimed it was powered by a 60 hp 800cc 3-cylinder K-Series (the Spiritual Too featuring a 1.1 K-Series 4-cylinder), however it is not clear if the 3-cylinder was directly derived from the 1.1 4-cylinder (making it a 840cc or so 3-cylinder). Whereas have seen other accounts claim the 3-cylinder in Spiritual was actually a 660cc unit sourced from Daihatsu.

      From the image of the Evolution / R59 proposal shown in the Mini development story, what stands out would have to be its compactness compared to the R50 if it was indeed the case R59 had a length of about 10-ft (any idea of its other dimensions?).

      Is there any truth to claims the BMW Z13 concept was also at the Gaydon event and were there any other little known yet unlikely entries that possibly found their way to other cars?

      • My memory from that time is not good. There was no work at the time on a future Rover supermini, this strategy was not key to R59. I think Revolution was a bit like that ACV 30 concept car – but again memory is not good.
        Most if the engineering teams time was spent on feasibility of David Saddingtons Evoloution R59 model, we did do a small amount of feas. On Spiritual with Olie Le Grice. This did not progress much beyond people package and engine package. The engine was K series, there was no data on 3 cyl. So 4 Cyl. Was packaged – size was not an issue anyway as it was under the floor. The BMW 4 cyl. Motorcycle engine was discussed briefly, but we were told by BMW that this was totally unsuitable due to the lack of torque. It was not considered again.
        The Spiritual model did not get an engine, none of the models did! They were clay with fibreglass see – through uppers. Any Autocar story was just PR. The brief for Spiritual was: The Spiritual modern Mini – a “mini” kind of car done today as if Mini had never existed. A difficult task, done very well.
        I can recall very little from the Gaydon display – similar size in house products were often used as reference points.
        In terms of Evolution, it had all the Mini design cues – to be honest, all the models did with the exception of Spiritual. It was quite bulbous like the earlier Barrel mini. The height of the K series raised the bonnet and scuttle and a vertical (Mini) stance to the A post added to this heavy feel. I did get the impression from the designers that its bulk was a problem. With hindsight, the design team should have dropped R59 and ignored the engine package! Note that this strategy would never have progressed in Rover group – a design proposal without an engine was not real. BMW had a different definition of theme selection.
        The last time I visited Canley the company were doing a sale of fixtures fittings and anything for employees – prior to vacating the site for demolition ( I got a fantastic ground box angle plate for my workshop!). The studio was not accessible because it still had stuff in it. The super secure engineering office just outside the studio was open to any bargain hunters! I was amazed to find my desk and layout table just as I left it – R59 layouts and schemes, rolls of drawings. The whole place was just as it was when the engineering team left! I often wonder what happened to the stuff.

  15. The Mini, like the Fiat 500 six years later, were the real successes of the retro boom of the nineties and noughties that also created the new Beetle, Jaguar S Type, Chrysler Cruiser, Rover 75 and Nissan Figaro. Only the Mini and Fiat 500, which have spun off into SUVs and crossovers, have done well as they have revived two iconic brands for the 21st century and are good cars to drive in all formats. Meanwhile, the Chrysler Cruiser, my candidate for one of the worst cars of the century, an ugly, thirsty heap that was dreadful to drive and deserved to fail.

  16. The Nissan Micra K11 1993 onwards, I owned one, I consider the curved shape of the K11 to be retro, styled with the themes of cars of the 1950s, such as the Austin A35 “Peanut” there was also the Minki Mini, a development vehicle by Rover as a competitor to the inevitable choice of the BMW MINI bythe BMW USA studio

    • @ cyclist, the 1993 Micra does have the friendly, rounded look like the Austin A35 and like the 35 proved itself to be a durable small car that cost little to run. I’m surprised how many K11 are still running today and a car that buried the myth that if a car was British, it was unreliable.

    • The Micra K11 does deserve more credit then it did during its production run, even if my sole experience was an underwhelming 1-litre model that could not keep up with traffic and despite the lack of a Saxo VTR/VTS challenger. It even made a decent basis for the ADO16-inspired Lotas Princess March and can understand why some people consider it a spiritual successor to the Mini, with even its CG engines being a fairly straightforward swap into a Mini.

      There was also the original Daihatsu Mira Gino whose Mini-inspired looks, Metro/100-size and ability of owners to fit larger 1.3-1.5-litre Daihatsu/Toyota SZ 4-cylinder engines from the Daihatsu Sirion and Terios in the regular non-Retro Daihatsu Mira/Cuore (MCM’s Blue Turd being one of many examples) IMHO represents the closest thing to my own subjective vision for how the Mini should have been replaced. Its Metro/100-like dimensions striking a balanced medium between the original Mini and the ADO16-like size of the BMW Mini R50 (the latter’s success notwithstanding).

      • I had a 1 litre K11 as a replacement car from the garage, and thought it was quite nippy in traffic, I certainly didn’t feel it was unacceptably slow

        • I had the 1.3 K11, the extra 20 bhp made a difference, Wrotham Hill on the M20 London bound, top gear 70 mph, , press the RH pedal and watch the speedometer needle move, 75 bhp and 16 valves twin cam, in such a light car, not far short of the 100bhp / ton which was the benchmark for a GTi in the 90s

  17. The original Micra was a dullard and never totally caught the public’s imagination, but the K13 with its friendly looks, British construction and very low running costs really did well and was like a new Mini. Having driven a 1.3, this was a car that seemed far more powerful than it was and unlike the old Mini felt like it was made from granite. Also at the time, it was one of the most British cars you could buy, with over 80% of its parts being made in Britain.

  18. Coming back to the MINI R50 theme I’ve seen a lot of moans about this car not being a ‘proper’ Mini, about how it was too big outside, too small inside, too heavy and that its a lazy rip-off which degrades St Alec’s engineering skills. All of those are well-worn points of view as old as MINI itself. But MINI was not meant to be a small economy car which was designed to see off the bubble car era. Instead BMW set out to exploit the original’s enduring appeal for a market which simply didn’t exist in 1959, namely that of the premium small car. So while Mini rode on tiny 10″ wheels it did so because anything larger would have encroached on interior space. MINI R50 has more room for bigger rims which allow for the large disc brakes required to cope with the modern car’s extra weight and performance. Similarly no wishbones or clever rubber cone springing were required – R50 is big enough to accomodate struts instead. And as Frank Stephenson says in the interview, the increase in length was to allow for a five-star crash test rating. There’e enough discussion elsewhere on this site about the Rover 100’s notorious euro-NCAP crash test to show why that was so important to build-in.
    I remember being somewhat sceptical about R50 myself when it was launched. As a former Mini owner (’76 Mini 1000) I remembered how good the original was to drive (and how bad it was to work on) and wondered about how this copycat design from the hated BMW could possibly better it. But that was until I drove an early Cooper. Yes, of course it was a bit of a pastiche, but done in a way which honoured the original. Some facets are still there – the need to lean forwards and look up when stopped close to a traffic light for example. But it drove really well, was quick, grippy and had that same ability to make you feel good. Overall I think that Stephenson and BMW did a great job with the MINI R50. I was gazing at one in a supermarket car park at the weekend and wondering whether it’s time to buy one.
    And don’t forget that they’ve shifted 5 million examples all over the world since 2001. Not all made in UK of course, and I agree the current crop are somewhat aesthetically-challenged but BMW/MINI keeps three manufacturing facilities going here (Swindon, Cowley, Hams Hall) and many external jobs as well.
    If nothing else, surely that’s something worth celebrating?

  19. The original Mini was completely past it by the time it was pensioned off in 1999. It was selling to a tiny fan base who bought Mini World and the car was totally outclassed. The R50, like the Fiat 500 of 2008, was a contemporary take on a well loved product from the past and both cars have been huge successes, the 500 probably saving Fiat, whose range of cars in the early noughties was totally underwhelming and often unreliable. Also the Mini has spun off into an SUV, estate and crossover and has saved and created thousands of jobs in the British car industry and is a well liked car among its owners who keep buying them again.

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