Fossil Traces: From Minki to MINI

Before MINI, there was Minki.

Minki schematic - Minki 2 featured a longer and wider body. Image via Austin Memories.
Minki 1 schematic – Minki 2 featured a longer and wider body. Image via Austin Memories.

You’re probably never heard of it, and nor had I until comparatively recently. Minki was a Rover K-Series engined Mini re-engineered with interconnected hydragas suspension, much like that of Dr Alex Moulton’s own modified Mini – and a hatchback. Built to suggest a possible developmental direction for the ageing original, time ran out for the concept, given Mini’s possible sales volumes versus the costs involved.

Nevertheless, following BMW’s purchase of Rover in 1995, Minki was resurrected, forming a significant part of the creative basis for the R50 project culminating in 2000’s new MINI. Austin Memories hosts this fascinating story of a developmental cul de sac. While it’s tempting to see the millennial rebooting of new MINI as primarily BMW-inspired, it’s clear a small but significant group of Rover engineers not only endorsed this view, but in fact originated it.

As against this, the unadulterated 1959 iteration. Image via Telegraph
As against this, the unadulterated 1959 iteration. Image: The Telegraph

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “Fossil Traces: From Minki to MINI”

  1. It’s an odd story, nicely told. By which I mean that surely a lot of that ground had been covered already when the Metro was derived from the Mini over 10 years previously. But it sort of clarifies how MINI ended up the way it did. One thing we (by which I mean I) usually forget is that MINI was supposed to be just another vehicle in the BMW owned Rover Company’s range. As such, complemented by a Rover 200 replacement, it might have made more sense.

  2. Always felt that something similar to the Minki prototypes would have been in production prior to being fitted with the K-Series engine in the mid/late-1980s, especially had an evolutionary approach been deliberately taken to significantly improve as well as make the existing Mini cheaper and much less labor intensive to produce instead of the revolutionary approach chosen by the company.

    Then again Issigonis always had that habit of wanting to continually build clean sheet designs with little to no commonality with other cars, along with having no desire to further update his groundbreaking design once they were built when it was more cost effective to do so. But rather left such cars to wither on the vine to focus on new projects, the Morris Minor being another example that stands out.

    1. Bob, there always seemed to be a problem of opposing polarities within the engineering department at BMC/BLMC. Especially when it came to the ADO15 Mini/ADO16 1100. On one hand those who pragmatically saw how existing models could be revamped or repurposed and those in the Issigonis camp who either flatly refused to change a thing, or wanted to start from first principles.

      A good deal of time and money was wasted on various schemes to develop the original mini – all coming to nothing. Similarly, when all the 1100 series really needed was a comprehensive facelift, Stokes elected to press ahead with the clean sheet Allegro, when a fraction of that development budget could probably have reskinned both it and the Maxi – which would have proven a handier sized and potentially more profitable car than the subsequently too-small All-aggro. As has been pointed out elsewhere, had Issigonis not been promoted above his abilities and (perhaps unwittingly) created such a them and us atmosphere within engineering, the chaotic thinking and clumsy decision making that took place during the late BMC and early BLMC years might not have occurred.

      Getting back to the Mini, because it sold well despite its age and limitations, there was always bigger, more potentially lucrative fish to fry, so it never received the development it deserved. Minki was interesting, but in my opinion, making it bigger meant it was no longer a Mini.

    2. Eóin

      The Minki I was the same size as the original Mini while the Minki II merely had its wheelbase and width increased by 2-inches each in order to fit a 4-cylinder K-Series with an end-on gearbox, an earlier A-Series version of the Minki II might have possibly allowed for a more reliable end-on gearbox to be utilized in place of the existing gearbox-in-sump transmission.

  3. These stories along with ones from Lancia are horrific. I keep wanting to draw culturally specific lessons from BMC though I suppose I shouldn’t.
    The Minki makes sense: put a bigger, cheaper engine in the car. The Minki2 is essentially an 1100, right – since the 1100 is merely the Mini formula scaled a bit. Yet it would not have looked too different since 2 inches is hard to see in a car’s height and length. In fact, that small difference would have been as costly as a bigger difference: new tools, new parts, new lines et cetera. It seems whatever BMC tried was wrong. Where did that all stem from?

    1. No, the Minki II was still much smaller then even the Metro with a wheelbase of 82.2 inches, length of 122.2 inches and a width of 57 inches respectively.

      The original Mini (and Minki I) had a wheelbase of 80.2 inches, a length of 120.2 inches with it a width of 55 inches.

      The Metro in both Austin and Rover forms had a wheelbase of 88.6 inches, a length of 133.9-134.1 inches with a width of 61-61.6 inches.

    1. Hello Pete:
      Welcome to DTW. Have you seen our articles on suspension? As a professional chassis expert you might be able to correct a few misapprehensions. Personally, I’d love to know what level of awareness exists about chassis tuning in upper management.

    2. Thanks for stopping by Pete. That sounds like it was an interesting project to have been working on. If you’d care to share more about it with us, we’d be delighted. I saw this car in the flesh quite recently. Minki-2 that is. You’d scarcely notice the stretched dimensions – I thought it looked rather fine to be honest. Nice to see it’s being preserved. I get the sense from speaking to ex-employees that there was a lot of innovative thinking at Rover Group during that era – very little of which ever saw the light of day.

  4. Thanks for the warm welcome guys. I started work at good old Longbridge as an apprentice back in 1977 and stayed there until the company folded. I was offered a position (during my 3rd year) in what was then Prototype build and development. Later on the prototype build moved to Canley and we became Chassis Development. I have the most treasured memories of what I believe to be the best department in the company. There was great team spirit and remarkable resource given the very limited budgets we sometimes had to face. In the latter days I moved off the shop floor and into managing the workshop. The work was fascinating. We built our own bucks and mock ups. Even built subframes from scratch and made our own suspension bushes from racks of rubber slabs we had. I once grafted an Allegro rear suspension into the back of a Metro. I’ve built a fully hydraulic suspension Land Rover 110. Built a Metro with anti-roll hydragas suspension. Built the first and only Maestro with ABS. As part of a shimmy investigation I was tasked with building a Maestro with solid suspension (that was fun to drive around Gaydon!). I also recall building a defender with a single front suspension spring mounted in the center of the axle. This was to reduce the role stiffness as they do on trials cars. It proved very successful at Eastner during tests against a standard Defender…..I am sure I can think of many, many more interesting things we did given a bit of thinking time.
    In addition to all these one offs there was obviously the main Chassis development work to support new vehicle introductions.
    Minki 1 ended up being scrapped off. It was a lovely little car. Such a shame it ended in the crusher. The photo’s you see on the Austin memories web site is all my work. I even did all the BIW mods on Minki 1.
    Minki 2 was a completely different animal. We had a proper budget this time. The BIW mods and the interior build were done at Canley then the car came to the Chassis workshop (now in the Flightshed) for all the suspension/brake and steering work to be carried out. I am so glad this little car survived and one day I would love to take a look at her. It’s a good feeling to know that a bit of myself is on show to the public.

    1. Pete. It’s great to hear from someone hands-on at BL. We occasionally put the boot in to the structure that was BL here, and deservedly to some of the vehicles that ended up in the showrooms. But I think the consensus is that you all did some fantastic engineering and development work, that should have been exploited more. All the more impressive is the resourcefulness you showed on sometimes shoestring budgets. It also sounds like a good deal of fun at times. Congratulations, and a privilege to hear from you.

    2. Thank you Sean. Very kind words. Oh it was certainly fun at times, but we all worked very hard and played hard too. At 25 I was invited to support a “Tour of Europe” test trip of pre-production Rover 100’s. 7 weeks of shear bliss. Through France, down the west coast of Italy stopping down near Nardo for a week for high speed testing then up the east coast. Into Austria for brake testing down Gross Glockner. Over to Germany for Autobahn testing for a couple of weeks. Stopping for a race around the Nurburging. Then back home via Holland. Great days.

    3. Great to hear about your time with BL and role in the Minki projects, have read many accounts of various experiments and projects within BL which never saw the light of day in the public realm outside of the odd comment or so (e.g. Hydragas Maestro / Montego, AP Bevel Epicyclic automatic Mini, 1.25 K3-cylinder, 1.4 S-Series, 1.8 M/T-Series, etc) that it is difficult to separate between factual accounts and outright nonsense (such as a rumor the Metro platform was allegedly derived from a shortened Allegro platform).

      It is a shame that such projects are not more widely known since it can potentially shift public perceptions of BL and events surrounding the company into something more sympathetic.

      While have read that the Minki-II was able to cruise at 100mph on the autobahns at Austin Memories, curious to know to what degree the Minki-II surpassed the ERA Mini Turbo and contemporary Rover Metro GTi in terms of performance or if the Minki-II incurred a significant weight penalty from the width and wheelbase being increased by 2-inches?

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