Friday, April 20, 2012

Car of the Week: Mini Cooper (The real one)

The first Mini Coopers were a revelation in many ways and were so successful that they were built from 1959 until 2000 with only minor changes. The Mini was voted the second most influential car of the last century behind the Model T, and just ahead of the VW Beetle. For those that have never seen a Mini in real life they are little anomalies. The are small on the outside but surprisingly roomy on the inside. In 2000 the mini was redesigned resulting in a larger car and a smaller interior... how do they do that? (probably as a result of improved safety features but still...)
Here is the interior of the original. Notice the thin seat backs and the large amounts of space behind the front seats.

This is the interior of the new Mini. Notice the 2 inches of rear leg room that make the back seat a padded luggage shelf or a dog run for your purse dog, not a seat.
The Mini was a giant slayer. Upon its introduction it became a successful rally car, beating v8 powered cars. It was what cars should be; small, light, nimble, good on gas and easy to maneuver. Even the new Mini is a pain in the butt to drive because it is uncomfortable and it has a larger turning radius than a Volvo 240! Don't even get me started on the other behemoths on the road. Literally tons of metal that have to pushed around for no reason. One person in a Ford excursion when all it would take to is a Mini. It is brilliant!

Mini was also influential because of its transverse mounted front engine and front wheel drive setup. A setup that most car manufacturers are still emulating today. Though mini was not the first to use this layout, it showed the rest of the automotive world that it could be successful.  Now for some specifics: Engines were inline 4 cylinders from Austin (the British manufacturer not the town in Texas) and came in 970cc, 997cc, 998cc, 1071cc, and 1275cc sizes. To give you some perspective three of those are smaller than a lot of motorcycle engines. 0-60 times were slow (12 seconds) and the top speed is only 100mph (faster than I need to go). Fuel mileage is a respectable 30 but I am sure with a modernized injection system that number could be much improved. Over 5 million mini's have been produced!

The potential was recognized by a few people and tuned versions of the mini became available. John Cooper being the most famous, but others jumped in too: Jack Knight, Innocenti. The added a second cam, or supercharged them, tuned suspension etc. These are the cars that are really exciting. While these specialty cars a hard to find and expensive, regular minis can still be found relatively cheaply and are good fun for the money. You will never get the feeling you get driving a mini from any other car, maybe a go-cart but not a car. Think of the space you could save in your driveway...

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