I had a 1959 Austin Seven Mini as a partner to my 1926 one (below). The proportions of the grille and headlights were just right, giving it a cheeky, friendly appearance suiting such a revolutionary small car, and making it acceptable because it looked like a miniature version of a conventional car of the time (although far more sophisticated in its design and details).
I’m not normally a fan of pastiche, false nostalgia, and reproductions, but I do like a well considered development of an original idea. Look at how successfully Leica does this. Their current M series is clearly a direct descendant of the original 1950s M3 but is still a beautiful modern looking camera. So when BMW re-introduced the Mini in 2001, designed by the Mini Design Studio under Gert Hildebrand, I thought they reinterpreted the old car brilliantly, though there were moans from die-hard Mini enthusiasts. It obviously had to be bigger to cope with modern safety requirements but the proportions and details had been enlarged in a way which still made the car seem small and nippy looking (of course every other car had increased in size since the late 50s) and cleverly retained the Mini character.
The front was slightly spoilt by the peculiar way the front grille was split by part of the body coloured bumper running through the middle of it – why? Stick-on chrome trims and spotty little lights didn’t help.
Version 2, launched in 2006, greatly improved on this by having a (visually) one piece grille, which looked much more authentic now. The front bumper looked better too, with bolder fog-lights, and it blended in well with the grille and air intake below. All of the panels on this version were different to its predecessor as the car was slightly longer. The rear was also an improvement being more rounded than the ‘kicked-in’ look of the previous version.
Comparing the original and this version side by side you can see how the design cues of the old one have been used so well in the new Mini despite being much bigger (the photo of the new one has been reduced to match the old). No overhangs – wheels at each corner, the A and C pillars, the curves of the roof and waistline, and the pert back end. Very clever.
Then comes version three!! Admittedly difficult to improve on version two but what a disaster! The new Mini design chief Anders Warming was presumably culpable, but influenced no doubt by BMW group’s overall head of design Adrian van Hooydonk, responsible for the hideous Mini Rocketman concept car which looked similar at the front to this one.
The front grille now gapes open and has a thick black bumper shoved inside it like a rugby player’s mouthguard. The front bumper moulding is ugly too with an oddly shaped surround to the foglights. The whole thing looks gross, is far too bulky for the front of the car, and reminds me of how the old MGB and MG Midget were ruined by those infamous black bumpers plonked at each end, bearing no relationship to the rest of the body.
There is absolutely no point in having a reinterpretation of something if it no longer bears any meaningful resemblance to the original and becomes a parody of it. This is why the Fiat 500 is so successful and the VW Beetle isn’t.
The Mini version 3 won the Auto Express ‘Car of the Year 2014’ which only goes to show that aesthetics played no part in the judging! I also noticed that the unfortunately named Dezeen on-line design journal features a full-frontal of the ghastly new Mini face to publicise their collaboration with the firm ‘Dezeen And Mini Frontiers’ . No rude critique of this awful design from them yet…..
Mini Mk3 image from Wikimedia Commons by Charles01. All others by me.