The history of the MINI Cooper has seen the brand develop from an innovative idea into one of the world’s most successful marques. The origins of the MINI Cooper can be traced to the late 1950s and demands for an efficient small car, and to the subsequent adaptation of the Austin and Morris Mini into the Mini Cooper by John Cooper; the appeal of the Mini Cooper as a pop culture icon was then reinforced in the 2000s as BMW relaunched the Mini brand as the new MINI.
In terms of the early history of the Mini, the car was developed by BMC as a response to the Suez Crisis and energy demands, making a low cost, efficient petrol engine a target for manufacturers. Designed by Sir Alec Issigonis, the Mini represented a four cylinder, transverse mounted engine car with a groundbreaking front wheel drive design. The Mark I Mini was developed to feature Austin and Morris variants, with the Mark II Mini then produced from 1967 to 1970.
The Mini Cooper and the Cooper S were spun off from the original Mini through a deal between BMC and John Cooper’s Cooper Car company. Used to making and tuning race cars, Cooper saw the potential of the Mini’s go-kart-like handling for motorsports, and created the Mini Cooper in 1961 as an upgrade on the Morris Minor’s 848 cc engine, which was pushed up to 997 cc. The even sportier Mini Cooper S followed in 1963 with a 171 cc engine, and achieved success at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965, and 1967.
The popularity of the Mini Cooper was reinforced during the 1960s by celebrity ownership and a prominent role in films like The Italian Job (1969). The ease by which the Mini and the Mini Cooper could be customised by owners also strengthened its appeal. However, with BMC, now part of British Leyland, cutting production, the Mini Cooper license was transferred into Italy and Spain in the 1970s; during the 1980s, Cooper and Cooper S models continued to be produced outside of the UK as cult cars, and received a brief limited edition resurgence in the 1990s as part of a Rover Special Products line.
BMW’s take-over of the Rover Group in 1994 eventually led to a full relaunch of the classic Mini marque as MINI in 2000 and 2001, with the Cooper and Cooper S trims produced for MINI Hatch and Hardtop models. Using Tritec engines, the new MINIs were further enhanced by specialist kit deals with the Cooper Car Company to produce high powered models like the John Cooper Works and the Mini Cooper S Works. John Cooper Works GP Kits were also created in 2006.
Today, MINI Cooper and Cooper S trims are regularly produced for new MINI models like the MINI Coupe and the MINI Roadster. The classic Mini Cooper and Cooper S design also continues to be referenced onscreen in film and television, while the general reputation of the MINI Cooper is maintained by the extensive range of special features and approved used offers provided by authorised Cooper MINI dealers; dealerships have been particularly able to benefit from the huge fanbase still enjoyed by the MINI around the world.