Source: MINI
Source: MINI

A Look Back at 15 Years of Mini in America

America's favorite little car has really grown up—and out—since it hit these shores.

In 2002, the then-43-year-old British marque known as the Mini and owned by BMW AG entered the U.S. market with its famous little hardtop Cooper. That car had a playful face, seating for four, and a spunky, four-cylinder engine—and sold 25,000 units the first year. Since then, more than 725,000 Minis have been sold nationwide, with more than 60 percent of U.S. sales still coming from its standard hardtop Cooper. It's a significant total for a semi-expensive little vehicle.

The Mini's popularity has been heightened by the addition of fresh models to its American family after that first hardtop. The Mini Convertible came in multiple versions, each with a fully automatic ragtop that could be deployed halfway to create a sunroof. The Mini Clubman, aka the “estate” Mini, allowed the brand to add more legroom, storage space, and functionality. The Mini Countryman was the first true SUV Mini, with both AWD and diesel-engine versions. Further variations on the theme joined the family such as hatchbacks, coupes, and John Cooper Works vehicles—Mini's top-of-the-line sport models—including a coupe that was the fastest production Mini (0-62 miles per hour in 6.4 seconds, top speed of 149 mph).

More recently, at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show, parent company BMW debuted an all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid called the Mini Cooper SE Countryman All4. The hybrid power train produces 221 horsepower with a 0-60 miles per hour sprint time of 6.8 seconds; it’s targeted directly at young, urban professionals.

The brand’s ability to inspire intense devotion most certainly comes from its unwavering connection to the famously plucky, practical, inexpensive (yet exciting to drive) rally racers that started it all nearly 60 years ago. (British Motor Corp. and a string of successors produced the Mini car from 1959 until 2000, six years after BMW acquired the marque; BMW revitalized the brand in 2001.) The round headlights, flat top, square shoulders and circular dials inside—not to mention that joystick shifter—have remained blessedly intact.

Here is a look at how the cars have changed, or at least diversified, over the years. There’s plenty to love.

'70s Style
'70s Style

The original Mini was beloved in the 1960s as Britain's answer to Germany's Volkswagen Beetle. It had a flat floor and roof, enabling more storage space, plus wide windows and a large rear door. Front-wheel-drive also invited storage in the middle and back of the car.

Shown here is a Mini 850 coupe from 1973, still featuring a long, low front grille, tiny round headlights, and flat hardtop.

Source: Mini

History in the Making
History in the Making

The myriad companies that owned Mini (British Motor Corporation, British Motor Holdings, Leyland Motors, British Leyland, and Rover Group, to name the main ones) produced many different models of cars, including the Morris Mini-Minor, the Austin Seven, the Countryman, Moke, 1275GT, and the Clubman. Seen here: a 1962 Morris Mini Super. 

The original two-door Mini was produced until 2000, then left the market to make way for BMW's brand relaunch in 2001/2002.

Source: Mini

Puerto Rico Debut
Puerto Rico Debut

In 2014, Mini debuted a Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door for the press in Puerto Rico. This was part of a third-generation range that included a hardtop, hatchback, convertible, clubman, countryman, coupe, and roadster. 

Some of those are still manufactured in Oxford, Englandfor nowwhile others are made in Austria. Hybrid and diesel engines come in many of those variants, as does all-wheel-drive and six-speed manual transmission.

Source: Mini

Record-Setting Stunt
Record-Setting Stunt

Mini set a Guinness World Record by stuffing 25 people into one 1967 Mini at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers in 1999, beating the previous mark of 20 people in a Volkswagen Beetle. The car was 10 feet long and four feet high, the steering column and gear shift temporarily removed. Body parts were allowed to protrude from windows.

Source: Mini

Art Car
Art Car

In 1998, British fashion designer Paul Smith developed a special car for Mini, based on the Mini Sprite. The auto came in a special "Paul Smith Blue," as well as black-and-white for the market in Japan. Smith also created this one-off version with 86 stripes in 24 of his signature colors, a pattern seen on everything from cuff links and briefcases to home furnishings.

Source: Mini

 John Cooper Works
John Cooper Works

Throughout its history, Mini's performance versions were named after the famous racing driver, John Cooper. Mini first started selling the John Cooper Works as a 200hp performance package enhancement for the Mini Cooper S in 2003. Full, stand-alone production cars emerged in 2008, after BMW bought the name from Cooper's son, Michael.

Since then cars with the John Cooper Works logo have paid further tribute, with "enhanced" tuning and an upgraded 228-horsepower turbo engine. They also have oversized brakes, sportier suspensions, and body kits that scream: "This car is different—and fast."

The JCW lineup currently features four models: a two-door hardtop, four-door Clubman, two-door convertible, and four-door Countryman. Sprint times from 0-60mph are as low as 5.9 seconds. Pricing starts at $30,900.

Source: Mini

All in the Family
All in the Family

This was the 2012 launch of the Mini Coupe. The fastest in production was a John Cooper Works Coupe, which went 0-62 mph in 6.4 seconds, with a top speed of 149 mph.

Source: Mini

The Italian Job
The Italian Job

The 1969 film, The Italian Job, helped make the original British Mini famous. In the 2003 remake, seen here, with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron, Mini again made the cut, with a red Mini Cooper S Hatch R53, a blue Mini Cooper Hatch R53, and a white Mini Cooper Hatch R53 in starring roles.

Source: Mini

Future Dreams
Future Dreams

Mini debuted this cool, so-called Superleggera Vision Concept on the lawn at Pebble Beach in 2014. As the name suggests, it has Italian design style in a two-seat roadster with leather, aluminum, and black chrome accents. The car has yet to be built—and there has been no confirmation it ever will be—though it's been displayed at many subsequent auto shows.

The same goes for the Mini Vision Next 100 electric concept the company showed in 2016. For now, the autonomous, color-changing car remains a development exercise.

Source: Mini

Mini Meet-Up
Mini Meet-Up

Annual rallies, such as this Mini Takes the States event in 2016, bring together tens of thousands of enthusiasts to drive, brag, and indulge their love for the brand.

Five hundred devoted people from such groups were among the first to try the Mini E electric car when it debuted in 2008; BMW delivered the car to private drivers as an exercise to help it research the field.

The Mini E uses front wheel drive with an electric motor, giving it the equivalent of 201 horsepower and a top speed of 94 miles per hour.

Source: Mini

First Birthday Celebration
First Birthday Celebration

Mini celebrated its first birthday in the U.S. at the New York Auto Show on April 21, 2003. To mark the occasion, stunt driver Russ Swift drove the length of New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on two wheels. The brand has since grown from 66 dealers to 127 dealers in 2017, now in 39 states.

In 2002, the base price for the 115-horsepower Mini Cooper Hardtop was $16,850; for the 163hp Mini Cooper S Hardtop, it was $19,850. Prices have changed little: The modern Mini Cooper starts at $20,950, and the Cooper S starts at $24,400.

Photographer: Anders Krusberg/ Medialink Photography

Flying High
Flying High

Pro skater Tony Hawk has long worked with Mini, filming Countryman commercials and doing partnerships to promote his foundation. He designed and autographed 250 limited-edition skateboards that were given away at Mini dealerships. Hawk also pulled a stunt, jumping a Mini Cooper hardtop, as seen here. The car in the shot is nicknamed Maximillion, named after Gumball 3000 race founder Max Cooper.

Source: Mini

Make It Your Own
Make It Your Own

Mini won Strategic Vision's "Most Loved Mass-Market Brand" title in 2016. Fans say the biggest thrill of buying a Mini is being able to customize it with crazy colors and combinations to really make it your own.

The Mini Cooper Coupe and the Roadster were discontinued globally after 2015, with the Paceman retired after 2016. Four modern models remain on sale in the U.S. today: the Hardtop (available in two doors or four doors), the Convertible, the Clubman, and the Countryman. 

Photographer: Chris Tedesco/Courtesy of Mini North America