Magazine article Management Today

Motor Mouth a Ghost on Wheels

Magazine article Management Today

Motor Mouth a Ghost on Wheels

Article excerpt

When I first saw the Morris Mini-Minor I was holding my father's hand. Even as a seven-year-old, I was astonished, We'd driven to the showroom in aHumber Super Snipe, a huge car of black paint and smelly brown leather. The contrast was compelling and probably initiated my interest in design. When I first saw BMW's new Mini, I was disappointed. It seemed bloated and overwrought, atravesty of Alec Issigonis' purist intentions. But when I drove it, I soon changed my mind. It is brilliant.

The 1959 Mini was a turning point in the history of industrial design: one of the most original and influential machines ever made. How something so radical could have emerged from the stultifying culture of Longbridge and Cowley is an eternal imponderable, but the Mini changed the way people thought about cars. It had more innovations than you could wave a stick at: front-wheel drive, transverse engine, advanced suspension, brilliant packaging. It had been designed from the inside out, Just for once, form actually did follow function. And it showed.

The original Mini was also a blast to drive: its handling, road holding and steering have hardly been bettered in 40 years. And it was awesomely minimalist. The windows slid (horizontally) and there were string pulls for the handles, leaving the doors empty of stuff so you could store milk bottles there. But it was not perfect: the driving position was atrocious, it had DIY heating, a corrugated ride, medieval electrics, gaps, rattles and leaks everywhere. But these were, so five million customers thought, small prices to pay for cute convenience.

The new Mini preserves the good bits and has subjected the bad to the ferocious scrutiny of BMW. Truth be told, all that's really preserved is a ghostly aura of the past and that famous name. The new car is, in fact, a small front-wheel drive BMW made in Oxford. Mini is now a standalone brand with unique past and present credentials. Quite how BMW expects to recoup the costs of all this original engineering in a one-use application is mysterious, but then I always suspected it knows something we don't.

You could conduct a post-graduate design seminar just walking around this car. BMW probably did. The glasshouse ingeniously preserves the 1959 look without aping anything other than the near-vertical screen. …

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