BMW’s early ’90s attempt at blowing the bloody doors off…
It’s been suggested that BMW management pushed through the decision to build an overtly sporting concept of Mini against the wishes of Rover engineers, who advocated a more radical approach. There is a nub of truth in this, but only a nub. With Mini’s centre of gravity shifting towards the sporting Cooper model, Rover engineers had been working on Minki, a heavily re-engineered version of the existing car, aimed not only at modernising the concept, but in effect refocusing it.
In 1995, BMW acquired Rover and with a new Mini a priority, Minki was recreated to demonstrate what some Rover engineers believed a plausible creative direction. Not everyone saw progress in this light, there being in effect three opposing conceptual strands: sporting, mainstream and radical.
Over in BMW’s Technik lab, ex-Porsche engineer, Robert Powell had also been working on a small car concept. BMW presented this as the Z13 at the 1993 Geneva show and despite some mild interest from the press, was largely overlooked. But it’s been suggested BMW management came close to sanctioning the car before the Rover takeover occurred. Perhaps its significance has been missed however, because looking at its specification, it was a Mini in all but name.
Yes the engine was rear-mounted, (like Rover’s Spiritual twins), and featured a three-seater layout, but in stance, proportion and intent, Z13 made a thoroughly convincing case for itself as a millennium Mini. To be frank, BMW could have reskinned Z13 to allow for a more recognisable face and left it otherwise unaltered.
But like Rover’s Spiritual, a rear-engined, three seater was probably too radical for the market. Given the costs involved, it would have been impossible to have costed the car in such a way as to make BMW a penny. Nevertheless, the Z13 looks a lovely thing – unencumbered by the R50 MINI’s weight, turret-like canopy and flaccid Chrysler engine. The three seat layout makes more sense than MINI’s useless rear bench and in luggage capacity terms, they’re more or less on par.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear there was only one way millennium Mini was going to go – the renewed success of the Cooper had seen to that. But perhaps it’s time to lay to rest the assertion that it was all BMW’s idea. Rover were just as likely to have come to the same conclusion – in fact it appears as if they already had. The unfortunate thing is the Bavarian concept looks, (on paper at least), superior to the Mini we actually got in 2000.