Few cars are as instantly recognizable as the Mini. Loved for its diminutive dimensions and cheerful good looks, the British-born car has inspired passionate devotion both in the U.S. and abroad. The brand was briefly discontinued, but was revived in 2002 with help from BMW. Successfully paying homage to the original Mini Cooper of the 1960s, the reincarnated Cooper combines an athletic, BMW-engineered chassis with a space-efficient interior and a generous standard features list.
The history of the Mini make began in 1959. The original Mini car was produced by the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in England and its mission was to be a lightweight, agile four-passenger car that took up minimal space. In a sense, the brand was born out of necessity. The United Kingdom was subject to fuel rationing in the wake of the Suez crisis, and British consumers clamored for vehicles that offered optimum fuel efficiency.
The car was originally sold under BMC's Austin and Morris brands; the Mini name didn't make an appearance until 1961. Although it had just 34 horsepower, the Mini was the ideal urban car and proved popular in crowded European cities. In 1961, John Cooper, a man who built Formula One racecars, put his magic hands on the Mini and the result was the ferocious Mini Cooper. His Cooper S model had (at 76 hp) more than double the output of the standard Mini. That infusion of power, along with suspension tweaks and some really good driving, had Mini winning the Monte Carlo Rally four years in a row (1964-'67). The marque landed on American shores in 1962.
The '60s truly was the decade of the Mini. New variations on the car's theme came with the introduction of vehicles like the Mini Pickup and the Mini Moke, a vehicle that resembled a quirky cross between a Mini and a Jeep. The car's abbreviated proportions are even rumored to have played a part in sparking a fashion trend; the miniskirt raised hemlines and became emblematic of an era. Mini motorcars tore up the asphalt on the silver screen, with the brand's appearance in the 1969 film The Italian Job. By the end of the decade, more than 2 million Mini motorcars had been produced. Sadly, the vehicle was pulled from the United States in 1968, in the wake of strict new emissions regulations.
Though no longer available in the U.S., Mini remained in production in Europe through the '70s and '80s. By the mid-'80s, more than 5 million Minis had been produced worldwide. In 1994, the brand was acquired by the BMW Group. The marque went on hiatus in 2000, but was resurrected (and brought back to American shores) in 2002 with the launch of the entry-level, front-drive Mini Cooper hatchback. Thoroughly modern in every way, right down to its BMW-engineered suspension, steering and brakes, the Mini Cooper is sold alongside its cousins at BMW dealerships.
Today, Mini's offerings include various derivatives of the Cooper, including a coupe, a roadster and a convertible; the slightly longer Clubman; high-performance John Cooper Works variants; and even the crossover SUV-inspired four-door Countryman. With such a diverse, fun-loving lineup, it's no wonder that Mini has become one of America's most desirable small car automakers.