Running before they can walk?

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Autocar recently scooped the first description of BMW’s reborn Mini. There is much nostalgic respect still for Alec Issigonis’s original Mini of 1959. We may remember its many early defects — water leaks, ignition problems in wet weather, heavy oil thirst, etc. Yet what a remarkable and roomy little car this was, with incredibly good road-holding. The Morris Minor was about the first small British car to have decent grip, and the Mini bettered this.

In spite of Issigonis being told to get his remarkable and highly innovative design out quickly to meet the Suez fuel crisis, it broke so much new ground that I left the Press launch conscious of what a task it would be to adequately describe it. If much space was devoted to this, in those days I regarded motorsport as anything from driving good cars quickly to fun in the back of a blinds-drawn limousine. Rubber suspension, special tiny Dunlop tyres, a transverse engine with the gears in the sump using the engine oil, busman’s driving stance to save space — brilliant!

Now BMW is trying to revive the enthusiasm that this Issigonis miracle caused. But with the new powerful Mini Cooper, they have got it out of context. It was very exciting and welcome when the utilitarian economical Mini blossomed into the sporting Mini Cooper, and it is splendid that John and Mike Cooper are advising BMW about its revival. But may not BMW’s smaller-engined, fuel thrifty Minis come as an anticlimax after the high-performance versions that Autocar calls ‘pocket rockets’? BMC had time in the 1960s to develop a brilliant little car into a racing wonder. Will it work the other way round? The ‘ordinary motorist’ is waiting for a new utility small car, not necessarily a fast one, at least to begin with. I hope I am wrong; but I wonder.

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