I guess it’s just another variant of the million-dollar question: What defines a real classic? Only this one is even more difficult to answer, as it’s of course virtually the same car – or at least it looks like the same car – only one version is quite old and the other is relatively new.
Just to be clear, we’re not considering the New Mini. Great car I’m sure, but that is definitely not a classic. We’re only looking at the real Mini. The one that takes up a mere 46 square feet of tarmac – not the later so-called Mini which is as big as a medium-sized saloon from the 60’s. Of course, I also realize that not all of the original Coopers are equal. Between the Cooper, the Cooper S 1071 and the Cooper S 1275 produced between 1961 and 1971, some versions are obviously more sought after than others. But there’s no doubt whatsoever that they all still share the honour of being fully-fledged classics. But how about the later incarnation of the Rover-built Cooper S produced between 1990 and 2000? It entered production a full 19 years after it had originally gone out of production. In normal car terms, that’s long enough for a car manufacturer to introduce at least two if not three new incarnations of any given model. So can we regard the 90’s Mini Cooper S as a proper classic?
This question had me thoroughly perplexed as I was booting my mates ’97 Mini Cooper S Works down an amazingly twisty piece of countryroad in the Peak District. My dear friend Moray Wedderburn who resides in Hong Kong has kindly left his newly purchased Mini Cooper S for me to enjoy, so that he has a toy in the UK every time he’s visiting. I can’t possibly complain about that! But is it a classic car? I just don’t know…
Visually there clearly isn’t much difference between the first run of Coopers from ’61 – ’71 and the second run under the Rover banner during the 90’s. Okay, so the hardcore purist might point out the lack of external door hinges or even sliding door windows. But that’s really a bit silly, as the mk. III Cooper S also didn’t have either of these. My own biggest gripe would be the 12” or even 13” alloys on the later Coopers. But seeing as a previous owner of Moray’s Mini has partially back-dated the car with an earlier grill, earlier bumpers and more importantly fat small 10” Minilite-style alloys with chunky Yokohama’s, this late Mini Cooper S really does present largely as the true and properly classic article from the 60’s.
I have to be honest though, and the interior doesn’t quite do it for me. The seats are actually fairly comfortable – well, as comfortable as they will ever manage to be when a 6’2” Scandinavian tries to fold himself into the minute confines of a Mini. But they just don’t appear very classic. They are too big for the small Mini interior and also look much too modern. Then there’s that dashboard. To me, a classic Mini just isn’t meant to have a dashboard at all. It should have a full-width shelf across the front with three centrally placed instruments sitting atop. While this vast slab of wood in front of me is clearly trying very hard to look old, it still just seems wrong. The white-faced dials are also oh–so-90’s, and the chunky modern stalks either side of the steering wheel seem rather misplaced in a classic Mini. On a positive note, at least the windows have to be wound up and down manually, just like the doors need to be locked individually using a comically small key. I suppose it’s as oldschool as a ’97 interior will ever feel. But is that enough to make it a classic?
Then there’s the driving experience, and arguably this is perhaps – at least for me – the most important factor when judging a classic car. I want to truly feel that I’m driving something old. If that’s lacking, then I might as well be sat in some random plastic & microchip econobox. Luckily I must say that the Mini does most certainly not feel like something out of the 90’s. The 80” wheelbase ensures that the archetypical twitchy and bouncy Mini ride is perfectly preserved in this ’97 Cooper S Works. I wonder though if it would have felt less authentic on the factory 12” alloys that this Mini would have been wearing when it left the factory? Before I launched down the road, I feared that the multi-point fuel-injected 90hp engine would feel too modern, but it’s actually not bad at all. I’m not about to claim that it feels the same as a proper 1071 Cooper S, but it does nonetheless feel as if it’s from a bygone era. Despite the lack of carburettors, it’s still loud and buzzy like a proper Mini should be. It’s no doubt faster than a 60’s Cooper S, and it probably also manages to be both easier driven and I imagine more reliable. Hurling it through a sequence of backroad bends it certainly entertains in a very old-fashioned manor. But later I find myself on the motorway, and to my big surprise I see 70 mph on the speedo with a mere 3000 rpm on the tacho. Can that be right? Surely a classic Mini ought to be revving its little heart out when cruising at 70.
All in all, I’m still left slightly confused as to whether I view these 90’s Coopers as a proper classic yet. Values – if they are to be regarded as a measure of whether a car has made the transition into being a classic – are certainly on the up. It also doesn’t feel or look anything like a typical 90’s car. What I can definitely say is, whether it’s a classic or not, it most certainly is a grin-inducing, characterful bundle of joy. Revving the little 1275 for the sky while chucking the agile little Mini through the corners, delivers smiles-per-mile like not a lot of other cars will. So if nothing else, now that values of the proper 60’s Coopers have gone ballistic, go buy yourself a 90’s Cooper for the fun-factor. Me personally – I’ll spend my money on an Imp instead, but that of course is a totally different story for another day…
But what say you? Are the 90’s Mini Coopers fully-fledged classics yet? Would you add one to your garage? Or perhaps you already have?