When BMW launched its reinvented Mini in 2001, the car’s designer, Frank Stephenson, was adamant the new model had to look like a Mini. Granted, it was bigger than the original and since then it has grown even bigger and don’t even get us started on the bus that is the Clubman.
Stephenson did succeed in recreating the look of the Mini in many respects, as well as the famous go-kart handling. Since then the brand has been a runaway success, making more money for BMW than stealing a load of gold from the Chinese and legging it out through a gridlocked Turin.
If you don’t understand that reference you are not a real Mini fan and can go back to pottering around town in your Japanese hatchback. If you did, then you understand just how difficult it was for BMW to get it right.
The original Mini, or the real Mini as some might say, is an icon. Not just an automotive icon, but an absolute icon. I’m slightly biased of course, partly because I’m British and all British motoring journos are biased towards British cars (allegedly) but also because ’er indoors owns a 1977 racing version that I am trying to convince her to turn back into a road car that will still be track ready.
Failing me twisting the wife’s arm, there is another alternative. David Brown Automotive in the UK has revealed the Mini Remastered and I want one.
Granted, with a starting price of £75,000 the wife might come home to find the house has been sold but I’m hoping she would understand.
It is not simply a restored Mini fitted with some modern tech. The company is planning to handbuild the model, a process that will take 1,000 hours per car. It describes the Remastered as a Mini "reborn into a city car for modern living" and the timing could not be more perfect. Cities are becoming more crowded and downsizing is taking hold so what better car could there be for the urban landscape than a Mini?
The fundamentals of Sir Alec Issigonis’ classic design have not been messed with. It looks every bit the Mini but look closer and some changes are evident that bring it into the modern era in a way that should not have purists slamming their fists on their oak desks. The exterior design has been softened by removing the seams of the original.
The exterior lights have been redesigned to accommodate LED lighting, the iconic grille is aluminium and there are even puddle lamps in the wing mirrors. Paint colours can also be personalised.
The interior is the real highlight of the Remastered. It blends traditional design elements with technology and luxury, the latter being almost completely alien to the original. Come to think of it, so was technology.
The upholstery is all hand-trimmed leather and the dashboard features leather, paint and fabric finishes. There are classy Smiths dials, a David Brown Automotive engraved Moto-Lita steering wheel and even one of the essentials of modern motoring, a cup holder. One feature that might alarm traditionalists slightly though, is the inclusion of an engine start/stop button. That might be a step too far.
What does appear to work really well is the integration of a modern touchscreen infotainment system. Just imagine, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in an original-looking Mini. Remastered indeed. The system also features navigation for the true city dweller, USB connectivity and charging — and it is all connected to a four-speaker sound system.
Under the diminutive bonnet sits a re-engineered version of the original 1275cc engine, mated to a similarly re-engineered four-speed manual gearbox. Power is claimed to be up 50% over the original motor. The suspension and brakes have been upgraded to provide a slightly more modern driving feel.
"The car will have all the style and feel of a classic with modern dynamics," says David Brown.
"We’ve built this car to sit alongside any classic or modern collector’s garage and I can see this being a fantastic city car, too," he says.
While the company has not confirmed how many units it hopes to make, each one will have the option of being totally bespoke, with customers able to select paint options including contrasting roof colours and decals. The interior trim can be personalised and there are a number of accessories such as wheel choices and others.
Alternatively two package choices are available in the form of Cafe Racer and Monte Carlo. While the first appeals to the modern retro trend in look and feel, the latter slightly emulates the classic Monte Carlo-winning Mini of Paddy Hopkirk. We say slightly because with all that modern paint and interior it is a far cry from the one in which Hopkirk charged around the famous rally stages.
There are apparently no plans for a distributor for the car in SA, but that has never stopped anyone before. No doubt there will be wealthy collectors, or other serious Mini fanatics willing to sell organs to get their hands on one.
I’m off to see the estate agent, but don’t tell the wife.