When first introduced in 1959, the Mini Cooper was a revelation of automotive simplicity, economy, and delight. Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, primarily called upon to respond to the 1958 fuel crisis plaguing the UK and much of Europe, the diminutive Mini instantly won hearts, charming a wide range of buyers with its purposeful and reliable performance. The Mini was small, very small, but it was larger than the cheaply built and somewhat questionable three-wheeled micro cars, offered far more durability and comfort, and delivered nearly as much value as higher priced cars, while still offering comfortable seating for four. By 1967, the Mini Mark II was being built all over the world, under a range of brands, brimming with different configurations. The lightweight construction and engine tuning options allowed for performance besting even competitive sports cars of the period. Coupling the near slot-car like handling with just a bit more horsepower, the little Mini could hold its own against far more expensive performance cars proving so in rallies and track competitions. And while entire books have been written on the merits of the innovative Mini design—unibody construction, cost effective and simple features—the focus of this article addresses the significant and recent increase in size.
The Mini, has become the Grande
I suppose it was bound to happen. Even a large soda is larger than ever before. And if you want an extra-large, here’s your thermos and free refills. With no shame at all, T-Shirts are now available in XXL. Last week while attending a local car show, I saw a 1967 Mini Cooper parked next to a full-sized Ford Galaxie. I marveled at how both cars carried four people, yet the Mini could almost fit in the trunk of the Galaxie. Across the street was the new Mini Countryman, lined up just right so I could eyeball the two cars in comparison.
I was struck by how large the Mini had become, even from a distance. Easily 30% larger in all dimensions, the new Mini appears like Superman, while the original remains Clark Kent. But if the Mini were the only car to have experienced this bloat, it could simply be characterized as marketing to a larger (ahem) audience. The Mini, however, is not the only car visiting the all-you-can-eat buffet for a third serving. One look at the current iteration of the new Porsche 911 and you can see the same effect, albeit in a range of different proportional directions, but still quite a bit larger. Even the new Rolls-Royce, a modern bastion of grace and elegance, sports 22” rims and a belt line taller than a Lotus. So what’s behind all this bloat?