The little Mini Coupé Concept heralded the start of today's 50th Anniversary of the Mini in all its myriad forms. Now, in honor of this brilliant little car's first half century, we're listing these five all-time best.
Paddy Hopkirk's "33EJB" Cooper S
Five years after its introduction, the Mini was already somewhat of a hit. In 1964 Paddy Hopkirk made it into a sensation when he won the Monte Carlo Rally. Hopkirk and navigator Henry Liddon beat a factory team of eight fire-breathing V-8 Ford Falcons headed by Graham Hill with a combination of good recon, excellent Mini handling, and the skills Hopkirk learned on the cobbles of his native Belfast (and some help from the handicap rules, but that's hardly important or particularly romantic). Suddenly Hopkirk was the kind of celebrity that couldn't get arrested in London, certainly a rarity for an Irishman in the Sixties, and the Mini was a performance icon, certainly something no one expected from a car Alec Issigonis designed to compete with German bubble-cars. Minis won the rally three more times until 1967, forever cementing their reputation as giant-killers.
Photo: BMW Group
"Moke" means "Donkey," and there's perhaps no better automotive equivalent of Eeyore than the Moke, which like the cartoon donkey, seems terribly unsuited for its intended role—this was going to be a military vehicle?— but also like its namesake it endures, despite everything. It's a lot, well, cuter than Eeyore, it must be said, and because it's so popular as a light-duty beach buggy, it spends a lot less time being bedraggled in the rain. Our advice to the folks using the Mini name now: Drop this silly new coupe stuff and give us one of these, changing as little as possible.
Photo: Getty Images
Mini Countryman Woody
Simply put, it's a Mini estate car with wood framing. Mechanically, it's nothing unusual, nor is it particularly remarkable from a woodworking standpoint. But the net effect is comfortable, rustic, and makes one want to go get a tweed gamekeeper's coat and wingshoot some grouse. You know we like it if we chose it over the Coutryman pickup or "Minimino." Recent reports say the Countryman name, if not the wood frame, will be brought back soon, which we consider something of a job half-done.
Mark VII Mini
The last of the first, Rover's 1996 to 2000 edition of the Mini was still recognizably a Mini; it had gained a little weight, though not much, gained a little comfort, though not a lot, and gained a modest degree of power, although it never had much. The idea of a Mini with an airbag and some sound insulation seems almost wrong, but the Mark 7s are still highly desirable as the last "real" Mini.
John Cooper Works New MINI
The "New MINI" is not without its problems, but it's still a blast to drive. The first-gen John Cooper Works GP MINIs are easily the biggest blast, especially because they offered a lot of supercharged, backseatless speed in a fairly affordable package. If you were lucky enough to get one of the couple thousand made, it's gained value for you, although if you were persistent enough to get one you shouldn't really care about that.
So all in all a good fifty years for the Mini. Let's hope cooler heads prevail at BMW, or whichever company eventually winds up with the name so we can look back on these five decades as merely a good start.