Matters of a Spiritual Nature

It’s Sunday and in keeping with our unofficial Mini theme, DTW suggests four good reasons BMW was correct not to proceed with Rover’s 1995 Spiritual concept. 

The 1995 Mini Spiritual twins first shown in 1997. Image via smallblogv8/MVerks
The futuristic 1995 Mini Spiritual twins first shown in 1997. Image via smallblogv8/MVerks

It would have cost a fortune to develop:
The investment in a bespoke floorpan and drivetrain, modifying hydragas, body & interior tooling and of course refitting the factory to build it would have been huge. New concepts also mean teething problems, so warranty costs were likely to have been high. Even as a sales success, Spiritual would struggle to recoup its development costs, meaning Rover would most likely have lost £millions on it.

The market would have shunned it:
To claw back costs, Spiritual would have been an expensive car, and what we now know is that small, clever and expensive doesn’t sell. Audi’s A2, the Smart, and (to a large extent) Mercedes’ original A-Class never met their sales targets because the market simply didn’t understand what they were offering, and had no incentive to pay what was being asked. Of course, even the original Mini incurred significant losses owing to its expensive technical specification and lack of component commonality. It also encountered considerable buyer resistance in its early years, due to its novelty.

BMW was too smart to risk it:
BMW didn’t get where they are today making radical cars. BMW’s offer few surprises and their conservative customer base demand no less. It’s a recipe that has worked brilliantly for them. Anyway, had BMW management wanted to go radical and rear-engined with millennium Mini, they had own Z13 ready to go. Why start from scratch on a broadly similar concept?

Issigonis would have hated it:
Romantics often state that Spiritual was the sort of visionary concept Sir Alec would have come up with himself. On the contrary, he would most likely have dismissed it as the work of inferior minds. Primarily, the engine was in the wrong place, and in addition the fitment of hydragas suspension would have sent him into paroxysms of rage. Worst of all, no sliding windows…

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

4 thoughts on “Matters of a Spiritual Nature”

  1. Thank you for this topic – i never saw this concept-car before.
    Very fresh and timeless design – i hope this is not contradictionary.
    Rover should have made a cooperation with Fiat and let them built a modern Fiat 500 of this 2-door-version. A real modern Fiat 500 with a very low fuel consumption – taylormade for typical Fiat clients, And Fiat knows how to build such a low-cost-car.

    And Rover could have produced a more sophisticated car for the right-hand-traffic markets, it might have been a success as a luxury kei-car in Japan.
    A sort of better Smart – much more convincing at economic tasks..

  2. It´s fresh in that it looks like nothing else and timeless in that it still looks good 17 years later. There are a lot of concept cars that look grim after three or five years. Your suggestion about a co-operation with Fiat sounds plausible, especially the idea of letting Fiat do the two door and Rover do the four door. That would have given the firms a believable distinction in the market that, say, the Fiat 500 and Ford Ka lack.

  3. I kind of buy the main argument here, which is really that neither of these cars would have made any money, or at least that BMW would not have taken the associated risk (the fourth point is kind of true, but the other “Smart Alec” (actually Alex (Moulton)) would have approved, I believe). History certainly suggests as much. I have a couple of “builds” on the thoughts expressed here, though.

    First, on the point about “it would have cost a fortune to develop”, well, isn’t that true of any bespoke platform, and the first generation BMW MINI, was itself built on a bespoke platform? True, as discussed elsewhere, it leveraged a pre-existing Chrysler engine, but a Spiritual (or the first gen car itself) could have managed very well (better?) on a revised K-Series, which had the advantage of having been designed from the outset to be configured as a 3-pot. I wonder whether the first-gen car ever really made a profit itself, in any case, and if it did, it was because of its ability to be personalised, at a pretty cost to the punter – I see no reason why either Spiritual could have been thus commercialised.

    Second, there is an interesting parallel for the postulated Mini – FIAT 500 JV, recently put into production, with the rear-engined, Renault Twingo – Smart ForTwo/ ForFour “twins”. This is clearly a case of Smart (OK, so M-B) learning its lessons about sharing development costs. I am not entirely convinced that this modern venture has produced cars of real excellence and/ or that re highly desired by the market, though, and therefore I fear even these will fail to make much profit. I had the pleasure to sit in the two Smarts at the weekend, and, although I enjoyed the bright colours and cloth covered dash, it all felt a bit childish (the sliding heater control is truly shocking in look and feel) and contrived. The ‘Two is fun for its lack of length, but the new exterior styling, in particular the new “face” leaves me cold and a bit queasy. Returning to the main point, a collaboration with FIAT would have been feasible, and might well have returned a more characterful drive for the 500 than the admittedly cute current car delivers. Given Marchionne’s recent comments about the need for the industry to share more components and BMW’s need to find a collaborator for the production version of the Rocketman, maybe there is potential yet for such an interesting tie-up to be brought into being.

    1. In spite of what I said in the piece I like the Spiritual concept – well the two-door version anyway. Incredibly, it hasn’t dated at all which does suggest BMW was correct in their view that it was too advanced. I agree a joint venture may have worked financially, but the atmosphere then wasn’t as conducive then to such collaborations – commercial realities have seen a marked change in manufacturer’s outlooks since the end of the last millennium.

      I also doubt BMW made any real money from the R50 – the initial outlay would have been too large, no matter how they priced it. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the money pit the Smart, A-Class or A2 proved to be.
      Given that Marchionne is desperate for a another tie-up, a joint venture on a small car would make sense. But I don’t see that as being satisfactory for Sergio – nothing short of a white dress and church bells will do for him – the romantic fool.

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