The title of the Mini Cooper causes all kinds of confusion with car enthusiasts. Is the car a small version of a Cooper or is it just a Mini and Cooper is the model or what? We address the issue and provide an answer in this article.
The Mini Cooper revival has been a stunning success this decade. Any revival, of course, presupposes an original episode. In the case of the Mini Cooper, the first was not built in 2000. It was built in 1959. BMW may own the brand now, but it was BMC [British Motor Company] that came up with the idea. The BMC was good at ideas, but not so good at running a car business. This meant the car was passed to different ownership through the years and much of its popularity waned as it was never serious updated for the times until BMW purchased it in 1994 and launched the modern Mini Cooper in 2001.
The name of the Mini Cooper gives rise to a lot of arguments. Is the car a Mini or is it a Cooper. History gives us the answer. In the late 1950s, the United Kingdom was going through a gas shortage caused when the Middle East OPEC countries cut off gas supplies given the UK's involvement in the Suez Canal mess. The English people were looking for gas friendly cars and there were no British made options. The people were buying [gasp!] German cars to fill the gap. The BMC decided to come up with their own small subcompact and you can guess what it was.
The first car launched by the BMC was not called a Mini Cooper. In fact, neither term was used. It was called an Austin Seven, but was also released as a Morris Mini-Minor under a second brand owned by BMC. In 1961, the Austin Mini was released in the UK, the first time the name Mini was used.
In the question of who came first, the Mini or Cooper, the Mini is the clear winner as applied to this car. So, what is the story with Cooper then? Surely that name played some role in the process? Indeed it did.
John Cooper designed Formula One and Rally cars. His company was known as the Cooper Car Company. He was friends with the original designer of the Mini and thought the car would be a tremendous rally car. In 1961, BMC gave John Cooper permission to build a Mini rally car. He built a base model known as the Mini Cooper. He designed a more powerful version known as the Mini Cooper "S". This second version was entered into the famous Monaco Rally and won it on one occasion.
Minis have always been sold through the years, but Mini Coopers have been produced off and on. Most Minis were not Cooper versions, but were instead known as Marks such as Mini Mark IVs and the like. There was even a Mini pickup! Regardless, BMW has exclusively used the Mini Cooper name for all of its models with a performance version known as the "S" being created for each.
So, who came first? The answer is Mini. The Cooper was a version of the Mini until the turn of the century when BMW launched the modern car and used the full name on all the models.