A modern day take on the Mini Moke of the 1960s—of which more than 14,000 were manufactured—will be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this week. The Mini Beachcomber concept may look like a very unlikely production model, but it is based on production fundamentals and presages Mini’s fourth model, an ultra-compact SUV/crossover with an overall length around 4 m (13 ft) generally referred to at present as the Countryman, a four-door, four-seater due to be unveiled in the fall of 2010. (The original Mini used the name for a small, two-door station wagon.)
It is necessary to look carefully at the Beachcomber to see what the production car will be like because the concept has no doors, roof, B-pillar, or rear window. But it does have a four-wheel drive system (called ALL4), which will form a significant technology aspect option of the new Countryman.
It is not the first time a four-wheel-drive Mini has appeared. In the early 1960s, the BMC (British Motor Corp.) Competitions’ Department and Cooper designed and built the Twini-Mini, which had two engines (one front, one rear) to drive the front and back wheels, respectively. Power output was said to be abut 178 bhp (131 kW), which is similar to that of the current Mini Cooper S. But it was not a success; cooling the rear engine was just one of its drawbacks. A private twin-engined Mini was also built in 1962.
The new Countryman is expected to have a choice of transversely mounted engines (but only one per car!) including 1.6-L turbocharged gasoline and diesel. Several of the major styling cues of the Beachcomber are probably be clear indicators of future design direction for the rest of the Mini range. They include much bolder frontal treatment.
The concept’s interior is similarly likely to signal production elements including its seats, and the dashboard design, which has Mini’s signature ultra-large speedometer, and caged, chromed toggle switches. Rear seats of the Beachcomber slide longitudinally, something the New Countryman will also probably incorporate.
Could the Beachcomber go into production as a low-volume niche vehicle able to meet crash-test requirements? It is possible, although Mini will be very busy updating its current range and preparing for a generally expected five-door hatchback model that will also use elements of the new Countryman. But a question that these bigger Minis raise is whether the original small, short, Mini design philosophy is being replaced by these bigger models at a time when downsizing is de rigueur.
Mini may explain this by stating that the new Countryman will present an environmentally acceptable buying opportunity for end-users that would normally opt for a regular or even large SUV and want to downsize to the Mini SUV.