The limited edition Mini Cooper arrives, rapidly engineered by Rover Special Products division to ‘hold the fort’ until the arrival of the new mainstream Cooper model in September 1990. Mini enthusiasts jump for joy, for while the new Cooper is somewhat emasculated by emissions control equipment (it is the first Mini, other than those destined for Japan, to be fitted with a catalytic converter) it certainly looks the part and sees the first use of a 1275cc engine in a production Mini for 10 years.
The Mini Cooper 1.3i becomes the first Mini to receive fuel injection (of a type known as Throttle Body or Single Point Injection) in place of a carburetter. The model’s release also sees a return to standard equipment of most of the goodies seen on the Rover Special Products Cooper which had been absent or classed as options on the mainstream carburetter Cooper that followed it.
The 998cc engine finally ceases production in UK built Minis (it continues in very limited numbers for another year for the Portuguese built Moke and Venezuelan MiniCord). It is replaced in the Mini Mayfair and new Mini Sprite model (which replaces the City, using the name the City had been sold under in Japan for several years previously) by a detuned 1275cc Cooper carburetter engine, more capable of producing reasonable performance when saddled with increasing amounts of emissions equipment.
The British Open Classic limited edition sees the introduction of what would become one of the most recognisable and enduring optional extras on 1990s Minis: the electrically operated full length fabric sunroof.
Encouraged by the success of coachbuilt Mini Cabriolets from specialist companies such as LAMM (whose product was officially endorsed by Rover), a factory-engineered and built Mini Cabriolet is launched. Using saloon bodyshells converted by the Rover sheet metal prototyping division, Midlands Engineering Centre in Saltley, Birmingham, the Cabriolet is based on Cooper 1.3i mechanicals and heavily revised and upgraded Mayfair trim. At a cost of £12000 when it finally reaches the showrooms in July 1993, it becomes the most expensive production Mini ever.
The interior of the Mini Cooper changes drastically with the enormous (well, in a Mini, anyway) new front seats adapted from concurrent Rover Metro items. Sprite and Mayfair interiors follow suit two months later. The old style seats, while getting noticeably plusher in recent years, had still been basically the same shape and size as those fitted in the first Minis of 1959. The new seats, while gratefully received by occupants of more recent Minis tired of being thrown around by the car’s now comparatively crude suspension, put the last nail in the coffin of Issigonis’ amazing cabin space-efficiency, which had been nibbled away at ever since the loss of big pockets in the doors in 1969.
The last carburetter-fed Mini is built, as the Sprite and Mayfair follow the Cooper of three years previously in adopting a single point fuel injected 1275cc engine. The engine is detuned from Cooper specification, though Coopers destined for some countries end up using this engine. Automatic Minis continue in production with fuel injection, and many Japan-bound Coopers are now, bizarrely, automatics. Japan, by now taking the biggest share of Mini production at nearly 45%, is the recipient of several Mini models not sold anywhere else in the world. Rover, owned by BMW AG from February 1994, finally responds to the multitude of Japanese aftermarket and Rover Japan-fitted air conditioning kits by announcing air conditioning as a factory fitted option for Japan. It is a very popular option, but the Mini engine bay is now full to bursting.
The limited edition Cooper 35 is unveiled. Conceived to celebrate 35 years of the Mini Cooper and limited to just 200 cars, the Cooper 35 will become one of the most desirable, if not the most desirable of Mini limited editions. With almond green and white paintwork, sports fittings including gunmetal alloy wheels, porcelain green leather interior embossed with Cooper logos and delightful ‘Monte Carlo’ style decals it really puts to shame many of the rather lame limited editions that precede it.
The biggest re-engineering of the Mini to take place arguably for three decades results in the unveiling of just two Mini models – the Mini (replacing the Sprite and Mayfair) and the Mini Cooper. The Cabriolet is discontinued. Radically made-over under the skin to ensure compliance with safety and environmental regulations until BMW’s new Mini is unveiled in a few years time, the Mini now features an airbag and distributorless ignition. UK and mainland European markets cars also get a front mounted radiator, a significantly higher final drive ratio and new ‘Multi Point’ fuel injection, but automatic transmission is no longer available. For Japan however, where regulations differ, the Mini will continue with its traditional side mounted radiator and Single Point injection; nearly all Japan-bound Minis from now on are automatics.
Inside the car there is a further move upmarket with leather and wood everywhere, and even retro 60s-style trim options. Drawing on the idea of the successful German market Silverstone limited edition of a year or so before, large wheel arch extensions with 13 inch alloy wheels and uprated suspension are now marketed as an option; a large proportion of all Minis built from now on will feature this ‘Sports Pack’.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mini production, Rover unveils the Mini 40, a 13 inch wheeled model incorporating as much wood and leather and seemingly as many items from the options list as possible in a production Mini.
BMW cancels the last production run of 3000 Japan specification Minis, ending the car’s association with its lifeline marketplace of the last ten years. This is in preparation for the complete end of production; while the Mini is actually capable of staying in production for another three years before regulations will catch up again with its ancient design, BMW insists that there must be no overlap between what is now known as the Mini Classic and the new Mini. Production will therefore end in May 2000.
It becomes public knowledge that BMW is preparing to sell Rover Group, but will retain the Mini trade marks and the new Mini. The production line built at Longbridge for the new Mini will be transferred to the Cowley plant, Oxford which is also to be retained by BMW. In an ironic twist of fate as production of the Mini Classic winds down at Longbridge, production of the new car is transferred to the factory the Mini Classic left behind 32 years ago.
The end of production (run-out) models of the Mini Classic are announced. Collectively known as the Classic 2000 models, they are the Seven, Cooper, Cooper Sport and Knightsbridge. The Seven alludes to retro 60s styling inside, while the Cooper and Cooper Sport receive new leather interiors in black with silver (Cooper) or nickel (Sport). The Knightsbridge, looking very similar externally to the Mini 40 of a year before, is a super luxury version featuring unique Alpaca leather and is only to be sold in mainland Europe.
BMW sells most of the Longbridge plant to the Phoenix Consortium, who name their new company MG Rover. They quickly and successfully negotiate with BMW for four months extension to Mini production.
BMW unveils the new Mini to the public at a special ceremony at the Paris Salon. It is to go on sale in early 2001.
The last Mini, a red Cooper Sport to be registered X411JOP, is ceremonially driven off the production track at Longbridge by 60s icon singer Lulu and Geoff Powell, a long time Longbridge employee deservedly known within the plant as ‘Mr Mini’. Actually the last car to be built is a blue Cooper Sport some days before – however a red car is selected as ‘more appropriate’ and spends a week or more being specially prepared for its big day. It finishes the day by being displayed in the Roundhouse at Longbridge, the building used for the Mini’s launch back in 1959.
After protracted negotiations with MG Rover (not helped by the fact that until November 2001, British Motor Heritage was still owned by BMW), all of the tooling to assemble the Mini’s bodyshell is transferred into the custody of British Motor Heritage Ltd. This allows bodyshell manufacture to recommence at BMH’s Witney factory. The story of the car voted internationally ‘Car of the Century’ continues…