The Beatles, Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie. That's just a small list of celebrities who have owned a Mini, and they are very cool people. Heck, even Enzo Ferrari had one. In the ’60s and ’70s, if you were famous and didn’t own a Mini, you probably weren’t considered, well, famous enough.
It was a fashion statement, an icon, and was a way of showing the world you had taste and personality. Sixty years after the Mini was first produced, the tiny car still has the same impact - still loved around the world by famous, and not so famous people, like you and I.
When we heard MINI was releasing a 60 Years Edition to help celebrate its birthday, we thought it would be a perfect excuse for it to catch up with an old friend. So, 2019 MINI Cooper S 60 Years Edition, meet the 1969 Morris Mini K.
Now owned by the German company, BMW, the Cooper is still made in its home country of the UK. The 60 Years Edition is essentially a visual package with exclusive 17-inch wheels, MINI Yours Leather Lounge in Dark Cacao featuring green contrast piping and 60 Year detailing, exterior badging, and three paint options; Midnight Black, Lapis Luxury Blue, and British Racing Green.
Available in three and five-door Cooper and Cooper S trim levels, and depending on your choice, it is packed with $8500 worth of features for a $4000 outlay.
The car we have on test is the three-door Cooper S and has the addition of a panoramic glass sunroof, premium Harman Kardon sound system, and a head-up display, and is priced from $43,900 before on-road costs and options. It is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and usually comes standard with a six-speed manual, however, this one has the optional seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
In 1969, the Morris Mini K, the renamed Deluxe Mk2, was produced at the Australian British Motor Corporation factory in Zetland, an inner-eastern suburb of Sydney, using a claimed 80 per cent local materials. The ‘K’ designation stood for Kangaroo and was named so because a kangaroo can go all day without drinking; a nod to the Mini’s low fuel consumption.
It was advertised as a “great leap forward”, and was distinguished with a kangaroo sticker on the side body panel (this example has been restored and the sticker is long gone, sadly), and wind-up windows, which was an Australian addition due to the hot climate.
Powered by an 1100c engine and paired with a four-speed manual transmission, it had features such as a padded steering wheel, a long-life alternator, addition of synchromesh to all gears, and 'hydrolastic' suspension. It was priced at $1780, and with inflation in mind, it would cost around $21,000 today.
It’s no secret the new MINI has grown so much it now dwarves its older friend, but it still is considered a small car when you look at the size of cars of today. The 2019 MINI is 767mm longer and 227mm wider than its 50-year older sibling, and almost twice the weight.
While the newer MINI is bigger on the outside, the same can’t be said for inside. It does feel a little cramped, but it still is a comfortable place to be. It’s hard to make brown leather seats work sometimes, but with the green and cream piping, they are probably one of the best brown seats on the market, and they even come heated. Everything in the cabin is well put together with quality materials and plenty of shiny aircraft-inspired switches.
The infotainment screen is placed in the same position as the instrument cluster in the old Mini and is a funky and colourful system which is easy to use. However, we encountered some glitches with the satellite navigation, the system cancelling route guidance without us having touched a button.
Storage space isn’t fantastic. Apart from a shallow folding central armrest suited for smaller phones, there’s no closed storage and a secure place for those with a larger phone.
Meanwhile, the 50-year-old Mini, is surprisingly spacious inside. Thanks to its transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel-drive configuration, it frees up a lot of cabin space, so the front passenger and driver enjoy plenty of legroom. The interior is very basic, with just a large instrument cluster in the centre, and stacks of room beside it. The door pockets double as a door pull and were famously wide enough for a bottle of gin, but due to the addition of wind-up windows in the local model, that would now be a struggle.
To cut down on even more space, the back side windows pop out. They are pretty cool, and I wish the new MINI had this option. The steering wheel is just about the same size as the new Mini's and sticks out a fair way from the dash. The position of it almost feels like you’re driving a van, and the gearstick rests against your left leg; perfect for quick shifting.
It’s interesting to see the difference in boot size. The 2019 MINI Cooper S can fit 211 litres of stuff, enough for a large suitcase, while the 1969 Mini can hold 154 litres; a difference of 57 litres. But where the old Mini really impresses is that the boot houses a fuel tank, a full-size 10-inch spare wheel, and a battery, and there's still room for a small suitcase.
Practicality aside, driving is when the fun really starts in a Mini, especially if there are corners involved. The 1100cc engine in the 1969 car produces 35kW of power, while the 2019 MINI Cooper S has 141kW of power but comes with a turbo engine.
While 35kW doesn’t seem powerful and a claimed 0-100km/h in 17 seconds doesn’t seem fast, the power-to-weight ratio in the older Mini is perfect. We didn’t have any dramas keeping up with traffic in Sydney.
The Cooper S is a pocket rocket and sounds like one too. It is comfortable in day-to-day driving, but the Sport driving mode is insane fun. You’ll occasionally get pops from the exhaust, and it would almost be a crime not to use the paddle-shifters because it really brings the car to life.
Driving the old Mini requires full concentration and a lot of patience. I discovered most cars, especially utes, can’t see it in the rearview mirror, so leaving a large gap is safest, and the brake pedal almost goes to the floor, so careful with braking distance.
First gear needs a decent push to be selected, second gear occasionally pops out, good luck finding third, fourth seems to be the best, and reverse requires two hands to pull the stick up to select it. You’re constantly looking out for bumps or potholes because the wheels are only 10-inches, so you can feel absolutely everything.
It’s true. Mini’s really do handle like go-karts. The 2019 version is a lot of fun on twisty roads and it’s confidence-inspiring to push it to its limits, especially when it’s packed with safety technology like dynamic traction and stability control, and electronic differential lock control.
Safety tech in the 1969 Mini? There’s zilch. But it won’t stop you from taking a corner without lifting your foot off the throttle. Because the Mini sits closer to the ground than the newer model, it barely has any body roll and sticks to the road like glue. You will laugh hysterically at how ridiculously fun this little car is.
It’s amazing how much the Mini has changed in 60 years. We all know new MINIs are giant compared to its older friend, but it doesn’t mean the 2019 model has lost its true essence. It is still fun to drive, is loaded with character, and is proud of its heritage. Here’s to another 60 years of happy Mini motoring.
Click on the Photos tab for an amazing gallery of new and old Mini.