MINI’s all-electric sports car concept, the Superleggera Vision, is making its first appearance in the UK at the 2014 Salon Prive classic and sports car show in London. We chatted with the man behind the design and in charge of signing off the styling of all modern Minis, ex-BMW and VW designers Anders Warming.
Anders, apart from classic cars, what inspired you to create a new Mini sports car?
"That’s a huge question. The first thing was how a Mini drives. Classic Minis and new MINIs are really fun to drive – they are like little sports cars. So we wanted a car that had modernity but the simplicity of the original Mini. We also referred to the idea of an Italian ‘barchetta’, or little boat in the look of the car. It is very Italian.
"Cars are special in Italy, so Italian fashion was important too. Even the colour, which is very elegant, is like a Milanese tailored suit. The purple accents all over the car on the brakes and inside are [a finishing touch], like cufflinks."
And what about cars – which cars have you been inspired by here?
"So many. I had an Austin-Healy 'Frogeye' Sprite when I lived in the US, and there is some of that in the rear of the car. The fin is of course a reference to the Jaguar D-Type, but so many great Jaguars inspired the car – I love the XK120, C-Types, D-Types and E-Types."
Did the Bluebird land speed record cars have anything to do with the fin?
"[Laughs] No, I hadn’t thought of that. But I might tell people that from now on!"
Why is a sports car the right candidate to show off the future of MINI design, instead of, say, a bigger-selling crossover?
"We have off-roaders already, but we’ve never done an exclusive roadster [until now]. Of course we have the Roadster and Coupe models but I would say [the Superleggera Vision] is one step beyond. And in the concept car world, you can be completely free.
"You’ve said before that round headlights and foglights, a hexagonal grille and round mirrors and the trademark MINI design cues. So, can they be applied to any car type and still be a true Mini?
"Theoretically we can do any segment, but I just don’t think we need to grow. We have seven models now, and this is the optimum number. I don’t think MINI has to cover every segment. However, MINI has always been successful in rallying, in Dakar and WRC, so to do sporty 4x4s is appropriate."
Where does the design of the MINI Superleggera Vision succeed where the MINI Roadster has failed?
"Firstly, there is no confirmation we will build this car yet! But mainly, we looked at our track record. We are rooted in history at MINI, but this car instead has a clean slate. It’s electric-powered too, which is a huge statement. EV cars are cool, because they are the future."
Tell us about the Superleggera Vision’s best details.
"We wanted to make the car’s taillights something you have never seen before. Everyone has seen round lights, but not lights that look like a flag. Having flags and a fin is such a great balance between the old and the new.
And the idea was actually Italian! All the way through the project we wanted British heritage with Italian style, but it was actually a designer at Superleggera Vision who came up to me and had the idea for the flags in the lights. The rear-view mirror on its metal rod support is inspired by old roadsters, and it was very important to me to have black wheels. They look like the classic minilites."
"I don’t think carbon fibre is the route to a superlight MINI, but aluminium is. We have used carbon fibre parts on concept cars in the past but it is not a key think for us like it is with the i3. We want to reduce parts, and do more with less."
Can you expand on that? The Superleggera Vision has a very light, minimalist interior. How will this influence new MINIs?
"To have a great cabin, all you need is a great steering wheel, a seat, and a great user-interface. We want no superfluous parts. Driving in the city is already stressful enough, so we need to have a reduction in the number of elements [inside the car]. One way to do this is to have synergies of materials. What do I mean? Look at the interior of the Superleggera Vision. The dashboard is one sheet of aluminium.
"Life is so complicated, so true luxury is now simplicity. I say to my design team: “luxury is not gold-plating things. Luxury is, for example, a loft apartment in New York City, with a concrete patio and a chair, where you can sit and read a good book. You can’t read a book driving in a MINI, but that’s the [relaxed] feel we want."
What ideas or challenges does designing all-electric cars pose to you?
"EVs are above and beyond anything else as a driving experience. The silence and acceleration plays tricks on your brain, and starts to get me thinking differently. So, we produce cars with new proportions. With the Superleggera Vision, we had to put the mechanicals around the rear axle, which means moving the passenger compartment to the front. So when you look at the car, you cannot really tell if it is front or mid-engined. If we had not made that change, the car would have looked too like an AC Cobra, and not Mini-like."
What do you drive which inspires you?
"You will laugh at this, but right now I actually have a classic 1960s Mini Cooper. It is not the Cooper S, only the Cooper, but it has the external hinges and is all-original. I love it. I drive it all the time. It gets a lot of smiles, not just from me while driving but people asking questions when I stop. It is so simple, and that, for me, makes it luxurious."
MINI has big plans for the future. Find out about the series of exciting new models it has in the pipeline here.