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Business Car Trailblazer: BMW Mini Cooper

Date: 22 December 2021   |   Author: Martyn Collins

A look back at a model that led to a rebirth of the brand in the early noughties under German ownership.
Standard equipment:
15in alloy wheels, chrome grille, chrome rear boot pull, chrome 'Coke' can style exhaust finisher, 1.6-litre, 16-valve engine, disc brakes all round - ventilated at the front, electric windows and door mirrors, tape/stereo, remote central locking, silver interior trim, rev counter, remote central locking.

On sale for 41 years, the Classic Mini seemed irreplaceable, as the iconic Issigonis-styled original even outlasted its replacement - the Metro. 

Over that time, the Classic Mini built a reputation for its keen drive, cool image, and the fact it was easily customisable - so no two cars were ever the same.

It took a change of ownership in 1994, with BMW now at the helm, for the Germans to see the real value in the brand. 

First revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1994, the 'New Mini' as it was called, was styled by then BMW Senior Designer, Frank Stephenson. He had won a competition against other BMW and external design houses to style the new small car for the revived brand. 

Probably the hottest car property of 2001, buyers were attracted by the Mini's revolutionary styling, the vast list of options, quality build, impressive safety features, low running costs and most importantly, a great drive.

R50 One and Cooper models were available from the July launch, but the range quickly grew with the addition of the fastest supercharged R53 Cooper S, plus R52 drop-top convertibles. 

Before the Mini, the idea of a premium supermini was relatively untapped - would other premium superminis such as the Audi A1 have existed if it weren't for the revitalised Mini? Perhaps not. 

This 2001 Cooper at the front is mine; I've owned and improved it over the past seven-years. Car 122 off the Oxford line, it is in fact one of a set of late pre-production Minis built for the UK launch and training purposes, fitted with the Y***OBL number plate.  

Powering the first-generation petrol Mini models is the 1,598cc, 16-valve, four-cylinder Tritec, in various states of tune. Although One D diesel models used Toyota's D-4D diesel from the Yaris. Built in Brazil, this petrol engine was also used in the Chrysler Neon saloon. In the Cooper, it develops 116PS, plus 149Nm of torque at 4,500rpm. 

The 2001 Mini might have grown significantly over the 1959 original at 3,626mm, but the use of BMW's clever rear Z Axle means that both the rear and boot space are compromised.  

This Cooper's 2,591lb kerb weight means performance is warm rather than hot, but the sharp steering, playful handling and the slick five-speed manual still add up to a fun drive 20 years on. 

One Cooper and Cooper S models received a light facelift in 2004, which consisted of new lights, bumpers, trim, colours and options. Of greater significance was the fitment of a stronger and more reliable five-speed gearbox. 

The first-generation Mini was discontinued in 2006, after 130,000 had been sold in the UK alone.