by Dr. Iain Corness
MINI has unveiled
the new MINI Hatch
Ever since taking over the MINI marque, BMW has been trying every trick in the
book to make the public nostalgic hearkening back to Issigonis’ ground-breaking
concept of the original small Mini with a wheel at each corner, front wheel
drive and a transverse engine layout.
However, for me, any connection to the original Mini was lost as soon as BMW
insisted that the marque be known as the MINI (all caps). The last straw is the
size of these vehicles. Make no mistake, they are no longer small cars.
The body of the new MINI is 3,821 mm long (MINI Cooper S is 3,850 mm), 1,727 mm
wide and 1,414 mm tall. This makes it 98 mm longer, 44 mm wider and 7 mm taller
than its predecessor. The wheelbase has been extended by 28 mm, while the track
width has been enlarged at the front by 42 mm and at the rear by 34 mm. As I
said, there is nothing “mini” about this car.
BMW wax lyrical with press releases stating, “Even though the new MINI is
instantly recognizable - something which comes from having such a globally
identifiable design - the car is completely new from the ground up. Every
component has been back to the drawing board in an effort to optimize its
function, performance and style.
“The result is ‘The New Original’, a MINI which is distinctly familiar but
enhanced in every single way. It features significant improvements in
technology, engine efficiency and power delivery, driving dynamics, quality and
- of course - personalization. Inside, the new MINI Hatch is quieter than the
outgoing model, with improvements to acoustic refinement inside the cabin.” “New
Original” they say. What nonsense. Alec Issigonis is revolving in his grave over
that piece of PR-speak.
BMW beats the drum with the following: “Exterior: unmistakable design,
contemporary style. Behind the changes, the new car has classic MINI proportions
and an instantly familiar design that’s packed with character. Traditional cues
such as the hexagonal contour of the radiator grille, circular headlights, ‘side
scuttle’ indicator surrounds, upright rear light clusters and black lower body
edging have all been subtly reinterpreted.”
But it doesn’t end there with “Personalization: more of what people love. MINI
pioneered the concept of automotive personalization and that spirit of
individuality continues with the new Hatch. The list of interior and exterior
customizable components, and the options for them, is extensive. Most popular
are expected to be a John Cooper Works rear spoiler, various decorative trims
for roof, exterior mirrors, bonnet, seat upholstery, interior surfaces and new
Color Lines.” Think back to the original Mini – about all you could get were
bumperettes and you could spray the roof a different color and put some
‘go-faster’ stripes down the bonnet. That “spirit of individuality” came just
from owning a Mini. A roof mounted rear spoiler would have been laughed at. As
this one should be also.
Remember the dinky little 10 inch wheels on the original Mini? Don’t expect that
today. “The new MINI Cooper Hatch and MINI Cooper D Hatch ride on 15 inch forged
light alloy wheels, which have low weight and excellent aerodynamics. The MINI
Cooper S Hatch is fitted with 16 inch light alloy wheels as standard. Rims up to
18 inches in diameter are available as optional extras.”
I will acknowledge that this is 2013 and technology has progressed, and the new
MINI incorporates this. “Inside the cabin, new technology ensures that the new
MINI is the most connected car in its segment. A new LED display concept, the
first of its kind, provides the driver with visual feedback whilst operating the
car and creates a premium ambience. It reflects a maturity and confidence in the
brand’s design and engineering, a car which pays tribute to its unique British
heritage yet stands ready to lead MINI into the second half of the decade and
I’m sorry, but telling me that MINI is “a car which pays tribute to its unique
British heritage,” is really too much for me to swallow. I’m sure it will be
great to drive, will turn heads and give the owner pleasure. But the MINI isn’t
a Mini by any stretch of the imagination.
Dems is da brakes
A little history if I may. Ever since man managed to make
contraptions that were self propelled, man very quickly afterwards found that he
needed a reliable way to pull up. The first to experience this was a military
steam tractor, which with a top speed of three km/h managed to knock down a wall
on its maiden outing. The fact that it weighed several tonnes did not help the
retardation process either.
It was further back than you imagine, and was in 1769, and that very first
self-propelled road vehicle was a military tractor invented by French engineer
and mechanic, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot (1725 - 1804). Cugnot used a steam engine to
power his vehicle, built under his instructions at the Paris Arsenal by mechanic
Brezin. Apart from knocking down walls, it was used by the French Army to haul
artillery at three km/h on only three wheels.
During the late 1800’s, we began to see many more self-propelled vehicles, and
with the diversity in designs, there were also many different retardation
devices. These included brakes on the fly wheel, or on the prop shaft, rather
than at the wheels. And if you would like some other interesting facts, the disc
brake was patented by British engineer Frederick William Lanchester in 1902. It
did not gain immediate acceptance as although it was reasonably efficient for
the slow moving vehicles of the time, it was noisy. Very noisy, with the copper
brake pads running against the disc.
The next technological advance to come to grips with Lanchester’s disc brakes
came from another engineer, Herbert Frood (later to become Ferodo). Frood lined
the pads with asbestos and solved the noise problem but the disc brake would not
become standard in Europe until much later, by which stage, the world had found
out that asbestos was a dangerous material.
Another of the famous names in automotive history is Ransom E. Olds (Oldsmobile)
who demonstrated just how much better deceleration he could provide with his
early drum brake which featured a stainless steel band wrapped around a drum on
the rear axle. It certainly was better than the stick on a tyre brake of the
hansom cabs of the day.
This external drum brake was not without problems either. On hills, where the
brake unwrapped, motorists could not rely entirely on this design. This led to
another very crude piece of technology called the ‘sprague’, which was a metal
spike which when released would stick in the ground behind the car and stop it
We have certainly come a long way since then. My racing Escort for example, uses
EBC pads giving it a stopping power of the next best thing to a brick wall!
What did we learn from the Brazilian GP?
Well, we didn’t get the fairy tale win for the retiring Mark
Webber (Red Bull) nor for the final Ferrari drive for Brazilian Felipe Massa.
However, we did get the best Grand Prix of the year. More action in 71 laps than
we have seen all year collectively.
So it was another record breaking performance from Vettel (Red Bull).
Undoubtedly the star performer of the year, and probably many years to come.
Now, if he would only stop waving “the finger” and stop his girlish screams he
would have the world at his feet. However, he should go to bed each night saying
a prayer to Adrian Newey, the most talented F1 designer on the planet who has
given him the best toy on the track.
It was second place in the final GP for Mark Webber, the very straight shooting
Aussie. A case of always the bridesmaid and never the bride for Webber. So he
goes to pasture with Porsche and Le Mans. Let’s hope he has better luck in
sports cars than he had in F1.
One driver who has matured in the best possible way is Fernando Alonso. I used
to describe him as the ‘sulky Spaniard’, but he has certainly grown up in the
past couple of seasons and has been team leader at Ferrari. He will be joined by
the eloquent Finn, Kimi Raikkonen for the 2014 season. Will this be a good
driver pairing? Somehow I think not. Latin temperaments and Scandinavian humor
will not go together in my opinion. Ferrari had to buy him out of his contract a
few years ago. Will history repeat itself?
Fourth place went to Jenson Button, who drove sensibly to the best placing for
McLaren all year. His team has given Sergio Perez the flick, which is probably
not the best decision, as he has outdriven Button on more than one occasion,
however incoming Kevin Magnussen is reportedly a huge talent. We shall see.
The Mercedes management must be wondering if they spent their money wisely.
Fifth placegetter Nico Rosberg has been outdriving Lewis Hamilton of late, and
my spy in the pits reports that his fellow competitors are muttering that
Hamilton has changed recently, taking a dog with him everywhere and he is
proclaiming that he has found God. Helmet spotters will have noted the religious
motif on the back of his helmet. We have had notable drivers in the past who
believed that God would take care of them in all situations. Most of them died.
Sauber’s star Nico Hulkenberg finished in eighth with a restrained drive, and we
still have no news as to who he will be driving for in 2014. The most obvious
seat is “Lotus”, but with Maldonado and his millions, and “Lotus” being
financially strapped, he could easily lose that seat.
And while on the French team, Grosjean managed to pop his final V8 engine in a
spectacular fashion. Never mind, next year he gets a 1.6 liter V6.
And now we must wait for the 2014 season with the new engines, larger KERS and
other distractions. However, will Pirelli be able to make tyres that last more
than eight laps, for example? Will the stewards continue with inexplicable
decisions? Will the FIA come up with even more silly ideas in the name of
‘competition’? 2014 will tell us all.