On the face of it you might think it unlikely that the first generation of BMW MINI could really be destined for future classic status. After all, more often than not it’s limited production, high-end supercars that seem to grab the attention of collectors, and it’s not like the MINI is one of those.
Yet as it turns out, we’d argue there’s a pretty strong case to be made for the original, first generation of BMW MINI (note the uppercase to separate it from the original Sir Alec Issigonis Mini) being an increasingly appealing buy.
WHEN THE MINI WENT BIG
BMW’s take on the MINI, with its cheeky retro styling, was the car to be seen in in the early noughties. It was a phenomenal success with more than 700,000 examples rolling out of the factory between 2001 and 2006, when it was replaced by an all-new model.
Truth be told, the MINI might have been a very different car altogether. As far back as 1993, Rover, which then owned Mini, had been trying to recreate the legendary small car for the modern day. However, when BMW bought Rover in 1994 it became clear that the two companies had differing opinions as to what the new Mini/MINI should be. Rover was keen to stay with the original car’s ethos of providing the most generous accommodation within a diminutive footprint, whereas BMW wanted a car with a more sporting bias (the picture below shows BMW’s and Rover’s early visions, left and right respectively).
BMW VERSUS ROVER
In the end BMW won through, publicly saying the new MINI would be very much a Rover project while behind closed doors it steamrollered the direction of the project, deciding upon the design (penned by Frank Stephenson), suspension layout, the engine and even the factory in which the car would be assembled. By the time the MINI came to market in 2001 BMW had sold Rover but shrewdly retained the MINI brand.
Launched with a huge fanfare – remember the ‘MINI adventure’ marketing campaign? – the MINI was an instant hit. Initially two models were available, the One and the Cooper. While both used the same 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine (co-developed with Chrysler), the One was a tad lethargic, developing 89bhp and 101lb ft of torque for a 0-62mph time of 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 115mph. The Cooper was a better proposition with 113bhp and 110lb ft equating to a 9.2-second 0-62mph time and a top speed of 125mph. Priced at £10,300 and £11,600 respectively, they were an instant hit.
THE MINI MAGIC
The four-seat accommodation was generous enough – although the boot was a little miserly – but it was the way the MINI drove that set it apart from other small cars. Its rack and pinion steering was well weighted with lots of feedback, and there was grip aplenty thanks to BMW’s insistence that the MINI would have a multi-link rear suspension setup to complement the McPherson struts up front. But most of all the MINI was fun, from its cheeky styling to its retro, but bang up to date, interior. It was safe too thanks to ABS brakes and BMW’s stability control system. Just about the only real criticism was that it needed more power.
THE COOPER S ARRIVES
Enter the MINI Cooper S in 2002. Where the One and the Cooper were code-numbered R50, the Cooper S was known as the R53 and the addition of a Roots supercharger to the 1.6-litre engine brought its output up to 161bhp and 155lb ft of torque, in turn dropping the 0-62mph time to 7.4 seconds. A six-speed gearbox was added in place of the standard five-speed unit, and there was a bonnet scoop to feed air to the supercharger, as well as a twin centre-exit exhaust. Those seeking an even hotter hatchback could enhance their Cooper S with dealer fit John Cooper Works accessories such as spoilers and an engine power upgrade.
More models joined the family as the years passed. There was a diesel in the form of the One D, and in 2004 a Convertible known as the R52. Then, just before the first generation of MINI was replaced in 2006, BMW rolled out one last hurrah in the shape of the John Cooper Works GP. This was a limited run, hardcore model with no rear seats, a reduced kerb weight, and 215bhp and 184lb ft from its supercharged engine. The 0-62mph time fell to just 6.4 seconds, while the top speed was just shy of 150mph. Just 450 MINI GPs were sold in the UK and it’s a nailed on classic already.
If you’re in the market for an entertaining hot hatch that may gently appreciate before assuming true classic status, we reckon the Cooper S is the one to buy. At the time of writing, prices start as low as £1,500 but, as with all potential classics, low mileage, condition, originality and an impeccable provenance are vitally important. Or, put another way, you’ll most likely need to pay a little more to bag a good one.
The good news is that despite being launched over 15 years ago a Cooper S in fine fettle is still a hoot to drive, which means that even if it doesn’t go shooting up in value you’ll still be as good as guaranteed to have a smile on your face.