Summer Re-issue : Rocket’s Tale

A timeless flight may be drawing to a close as Rocketman, via China’s Great Wall, finally comes home. Well, maybe…

Rocketman. (c) ausmotive

The word icon is often bandied about and for the most part misplaced, but in the case of the original team-Issigonis BMC Mini, it is probaly a justifiable one. Of course, like most people or objects who have this soubriquet thrust upon them, the Mini’s iconography came about over time and in no small part from a combination of factors: motor racing successes, becoming symbolic of an entire epoch and a certain comedy motion picture filmed amid the streets of Turin.

All of which made its reinvention all the more fiendishly difficult – one Rover Group and later BMW dodged by homing in on a single lambent quality and executing it for all they were worth. But regardless of MINI’s visual and commercial success – and the 2000 R50 iteration was both – successive derivations have departed further from the original concept with each passing iteration.

In 2011, BMW went back to first principles with the Rocketman, a concept which not only was satisfyingly compact – just slightly longer than the 1959 original – but also a delight to behold. Created under the helm of former brand-MINI design director, Anders Warming, Rocketman wowed audiences at that year’s Geneva motor show and BMW was deluged with requests to build it.

It wasn’t to be, Veirzylinder management citing the costs inherent versus the likely return on investment. In short, the business case didn’t stack up. But this week, Autocar’s German correspondent Greg Kable reports that a deal has been signed between BMW and its Chinese partner, Great Wall Motors to build a car, based upon Rocketman’s premise on a shared EV platform, intended to be launched in 2022.

Now that’s what I call a door hinge…  (c) autoevolution

In many ways, it was perhaps obvious that the only way to make Rocketman stack up was to electrify it – certainly if the preservation of the concept’s pleasing proportions was the primary concern, while allowing for regulatory and safety matters. Additionally, as carmakers realise that the only viable small car is an expensive small car – particularly one built in low-labour cost China – and Rocketman’s viability gets another boost.

Given the lack of official clarification on BMW’s part, this could of course end up as yet another in a long line of wildly optimistic attempts at re-entry, but nevertheless, this could be the concept’s best hope yet. Certainly, if they can’t land it this time, they might as well burn out his fuse and call it a day.

So in the absence of anything more solid (evidence, fuel or otherwise), we offer you an opportunity to revisit our 2014 take on the 2011 Rocketman iteration, which you can read by clicking here.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

3 thoughts on “Summer Re-issue : Rocket’s Tale”

  1. Regrettably, BMW probably made the correct decision in canning the Rocketman. Trying to build a viable (in terms of sales) car within the dimensions of the original Mini would be extraordinarily difficult. Anyone who has sat in an original Mini recently would be reminded how marginal the accommodation and how compromised the “sit up and beg” driving position was. Neither is likely to be unacceptable to today’s buyers.

    The VW Up! is a modern day conceptual equivalent to the Mini, a four-seat, FWD car with adequate luggage capacity, and it is almost 600mm longer, 160mm higher and 250mm wider. A production version of the Rocketman would either be a strict two-seater or have no luggage space, making it very much a niche product, and MINI has arguably had too many of those in its reincarnated form; the two-seat convertible and coupé and the Paceman, a pointless two-door version of the Countryman.

    The current MINI hatch is, unlike the original, certainly no paragon of space-efficiency, but it can adequately transport four passengers and a small amount of luggage over reasonable distances. I couldn’t imagine us having anything smaller as our second car.

  2. I meant to add that the image above, of the Rocketman stopped on double-yellow lines with a charger lead plugged in, does nothing to assuage range-anxiety!

  3. A production Rocketman would not have been too bad a vague replacement for the original Mini had it been powered by 1.2 BMW B38 engines, however the current plan to electrify it while making financial sense basically detracts from what such a car is supposed to represent due to its limited range being akin to the classist regulations imposed on the UK microcar class (e.g. 3-wheelers, temporarily no reverse gear, etc).

    A production Rover Spiritual / Spiritual Too is much more preferable in comparison, even if both would have probably made better sense as Isettas.

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