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MINI's greatest concept cars

MINI design director Anders Warming tells us the stories behind some of MINI’s top concept cars

Used wisely, the concept car can show where a brand is heading, shape public perception and give a nod to the past. Since BMW took ownership in the nineties, a series of wonderful Mini and MINI show cars has been unveiled. We’ve picked our favourites from the past 18 years and spoken to design director, Anders Warming, about the thinking behind each one.

We've included all kinds of MINI concepts in our list including those that never made it to production. Not all concept cars are designed to spawn a production model though, as Warming explains: “It’s a ‘lighthouse’ to show what MINI can do. Like the Rocketman, it’s a ‘vision’ car that shows what we’re thinking.” 

Click through the gallery for a full run-down of MINI concept cars from 1997 to 2014...

• The future of MINI: head man Jochen Goller reveals all

MINI's greatest concept cars

1997 MINI ACV30

“This was developed by Adrian van Hooydonk, my boss, and was his first Mini. The whole idea was to celebrate Mini’s rallying success – the car was made for the anniversary of the [Monte Carlo] win. It’s very dynamic, with four driving lights, and it introduced the idea of a ‘floating’ roof and bonnet stripes, too. There was a hugely positive reaction and the rest is history. 

“It was built on an MGF platform, so it was actually rear-wheel drive, but it’s irrelevant for a Mini which wheels are driven; what matters is the go-kart handling. 

“The interior was progressive and modern, too. It’s still one of our favourites – we look at it for inspiration all the time; just look at the Rocketman concept – so it’s really the forefather of modern MINI design.”

1997 MINI Spiritual/Spiritual Too

“These were developed back in our Gaydon days, and made in the true spirit of the original. The 1959 Mini was a mobility solution and these concepts were based on the same idea of maximising interior space. One was a more traditional interpretation, whereas the ‘Spiritual too’ has a more practical five-door layout with a short snout. 

The idea was to put Mini back on the map and show we were thinking about the future. I still really like them – I started working at Mini in 1997, so didn’t work on them personally, but the fact that you can still say they look modern and forward-thinking is amazing.”

2005 MINI Traveller 

“The Traveller was designed to preview the first-generation Clubman and referenced the original sixties Traveller. But it was a new graphic for MINI, with its longer wheelbase and more upright grille, while it also previewed the frame for the back end of the car. 

“Split doors were famous in the past for vans, but this was the first chic little concept to make use of them. In fact, it was the start of the MINI fascination with different types of door openings – the double hinge you see on the Rocketman (see Page 90) is another example. This concept travelled around the world as a ‘rally’ and a ‘picnic’ version, showing the massive customisation options available on a MINI.”

2009 MINI Beachcomber concept

“We knew we were entering the world of four-wheel-drive vehicles – so it gave us the opportunity to reference the origin of MINI’s utility look, which was the original Moke. There’s also a wonderful historical reference in the Beachcomber’s design – the flat grille references the original Mini van. 

“Of course, the simple idea of this car was to communicate the look of a four-wheel-drive MINI, and I think everyone liked it. We knew it could be sold, even if you had to get owners to sign safety waivers, but at the end of the day there were concerns with the open design and safety is a main focus for MINI.”

2011 MINI Rocketman

“The Rocketman was a joy to work on because, as a MINI enthusiast, it was exciting to bring back a small car designed for the urban environment. A MINI has always been about clever use of space and the origin of the concept is the interior layout – the driver sits in the perfect position, while the passenger is set forward, thanks to a scalloped dash, so it’s actually a 3+1 layout. 

“The Form language was also important – this was the first MINI with sharp lines and creases over the wheelarches. The ACV30 had them, too, but this was the first to show this look in the current line of MINIs, and it was ultimately a preview of the new MINI we’ve just launched. 

"My exterior highlights include the three-quarter panel with the exposed hinges after the front wheel – a reference to the original MINI. The 3D tail-lights were a complete innovation, too. The idea was to create what looks like rally lights, but at the rear.” 

2014 MINI Superleggera

“The Superleggera was a concept we started because I wanted a high-value little car.

“I noticed at the Villa d’Este concours that it wasn’t just big cars that were the stars, which made it the perfect stage for MINI. I wanted something with a completely bespoke body, so thought it’d be great to work with a design house like Touring Superleggera – and it agreed. 

“It was a true collaboration – I was sketching in Munich, sending it to Italy, then Touring Superleggera would work on it, send it back and we’d talk on the phone. I had a bigger hand in the front design – I had to follow my vision for MINI in the future. 

“Touring Superleggera took care of the rear end, but its first attempt was too meek. I asked it to come back with something else, and it sent me the idea for the tailfin and tail-lights. Immediately, I thought, that’s it! 

“Not everything comes with a date for production, but we’re definitely in love with the concept.”

Tell us your favourite MINI concept car in the comments section below...

 

The Magic of MINI

The Magic of MINI: special feature

• The future of MINI: head man Jochen Goller reveals all• Classic Mini vs modern MINI: which is the better car?• How many MINIs? The MINI range reviewed• Eight design innovations that made the MINI• MINI's greatest concept cars• Paddy Hopkirk and the Mini that won the Monte Carlo Rally• Can the new MINI 5-door really be used as a family car?• MINI Countryman ALL4 Racing Dakar Rally ride review• MINI UK factory: how we make the MINI• MINI adverts: the campaigns that built the brand• Win a MINI for a year

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