The 2009 Mini Coupe Concept is a kind of birthday present, as the Mini brand celebrates 50 years since it began on August 26, 1959. And we'll all get to enjoy this present, because it will be presented in public for the first time at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show.
At a secret location near Munich, Mini's Design Director Gert Hildebrand tells us about his newest creation. "The idea to do a Mini coupe was born in our design center," he says. "New ideas never come from the board offices; they come from the floor of the design studio. BMW does trend analysis a lot and every three months we talk to Mini representatives from all over the world to discuss the needs of our clients. But we were never asked to do a coupe. We're close followers of blogs and so forth, and we just felt that people would like the idea of a car like this."
Hildebrand takes a look at this dramatic creation, a two-seater that looks low and sleek. "It's a pocket Porsche," he says. "Maybe we can bring back the same adventurous customers we had with the BMW Z3 coupe. And, actually, both cars have had the same designer — Marcus Syring."
Fire Up the Blowtorch, Hans!
The 2009 Mini Coupe Concept began with a Mini John Cooper Works and a blowtorch. Just like the regular Mini in Europe, it measures 146.1 inches overall and 66.1 inches wide. But thanks to the new greenhouse, it is just 53.3 inches high, some 1.4 inches lower than before. It's a pure two-seater, and there's only luggage space `behind the front seats.
"It is intended to be really sporty," Hildebrand says. "And because of the absence of rear seats, it weighs between 175 and 200 pounds less. It also has a better Cd in the wind tunnel because the windscreen lies back 16 degrees more than the regular Mini."
To lean back the windshield has had complicated consequences for the structure of the coupe, though. Hildebrand says, "Every new car at BMW has to undergo structural tests, where they put a certain amount of weight on the roof. A leaned-back A-pillar is inherently weaker than a pillar that stands up more."
Beneath the skin, this concept is still a Mini John Cooper Works, so the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 will make 211 horsepower. This will help reinforce the coupe's mission, which is, as Hildebrand says, "to emphasize Mini's masculine side."
Surprisingly enough, there was no big design competition for the 2009 Mini Coupe Concept within Hildebrand's studio. "We are actually quite a small team, so designer Marcus Syring made six sketches from which I picked one," he says. "They were simple sketches made with a pencil. All of the design work was done on the computer, though — virtual design."
To differentiate all the different forms of the Mini, the designers have focused on the roof, Hildebrand tells us: "Have a look at the different Mini models, like the Cooper, Clubman, and the crossover that is due for next year. They all have different roof shapes."
For the coupe, Hildebrand says his teenage son provided an unexpected inspiration. "The car has a baseball cap on its head, with the front backward, just like my son," he says. And in the same way, Hildebrand sees the coupe as the ideal car for a young couple: "It is simple, logical, but still erotic."
The baseball cap is functional, however, as the design director points out. "The roof spoiler has an opening in it. We need that to deliver air on the back of the car, for downforce. And it also keeps the rear window clean, as we don't have a wiper back there." The C-pillars also feature a little aero piece to minimize turbulence in the car's wake, which reduces drag.
Designer Annette Baumeister chose this car's color palette, and the selection hasn't been made by coincidence, as in the same year the original Mini was born, the Cooper T51-Climax driven by Australian Jack Brabham won the Formula 1 constructors championship for the Cooper Car Company. "Jack Brabham always wore light-blue Dunlop overalls and a helmet painted gold," Hildebrand says.
There's no crazy stuff for the 2009 Mini Coupe Concept's interior, since the dash design and the seats come straight from the regular Mini. Designing a completely new interior would have been impossible anyway, because of the short period in which the showcar had to be designed and built. The fabrics, however, are new. Hildebrand notes, "The interior is done by Oliver Leghart, and we also worked with Poltrona Frau, an Italian furniture company that works a lot with leather. They also do seats for Alfa Romeo and Ferrari."
The coupe has a big hatch, although it doesn't work on this showcar. There will be a small opening in the wall between the passenger space and the cargo area so you can conveniently grab stuff from the luggage compartment. The cargo space itself measures about 8.8 cubic feet, about the same as a regular Mini three-door. "Eventually maybe we can move the seats down even a bit more, but you must not forget that Mini already is one of the cars with the lowest seating position. Maybe we can develop a special seat together with Sparco, since we already do some stuff with them."
Coupe, Roadster or Both?
Aside from being a birthday present, the 2009 Mini Coupe Concept is a serious design proposal. In fact, it will be shown at Frankfurt in the company of a roadster concept. "This roadster showcar has not been finished yet," Hildebrand tells us. He's about to go on, when one of the BMW executives present warns him against continuing. But someone else in the studio tells us that eventually, they will decide to build either the coupe or the roadster. Or both. Or neither.
As Hildebrand says, "Everything you see is doable for production. It might not be cheap, but it's doable. Hopefully we can get the OK before the end of the year. We will need another two to three years to develop the car. For sure we have to do a thorough aerodynamic study, because we've only done a rough one on the computer."
There's no word yet about what such a production version of the 2009 Mini Coupe Concept car might be called. "This is always something that's done last," the designer says. "It's always one of the more difficult parts of bringing a car to the market. We have thought about lots of names, from Speedwell to Broadspeed, two traditional English tuning companies. Personally I like Downton, a company that made Minis for celebrities in its time."
Portions of this content have appeared in foreign print media and are reproduced with permission.