- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2001

FRANKFURT, Germany — BMW, known for its Teutonic precision in churning out luxury muscle cars, has undertaken the greatest cult car rebirth since Volkswagen brought back the Beetle.
This time it's the British Mini, the boxy little car famed for its squat silhouette and Spartan design that has changed little since it first rolled off the assembly line in 1959.
Untouched, that is, until BMW started building the sleek, updated version that recently went on sale in Britain earlier this month.
"You can't compare the new Mini with the old. It's still a chic product, extroverted, a British icon. But the old is based on a concept 40 years old, and the new is a modern car with BMW quality," BMW spokesman Rudolf Probst said.
To ensure the new Mini lives up to BMW standards, 150 German workers are being flown in on weekly rotations to the Oxford assembly plant to coach their British counterparts on modern Mini making.
It's a risky venture for BMW, which bought Mini in 1994 bundled with Rover passenger autos and the flagship Land Rover off-road vehicle line.
The new Mini goes on sale in Britain two months before its debut on the European continent. It arrives in the United States in March.
Already British demand is outstripping production. Mini has about 3,000 orders, meaning many customers won't be driving their new cars home until October, said Mark Harrison, British spokesman for Mini.
And the new Mini is even winning converts among Mini purists.
"It's not the same as the old Mini, but it's still a fantastic car," said David Hollis, who owns three Minis, one dating from 1963. "There was a backlash at first, but any resentment has faded away."
The original Mini made its debut in 1959 as British Motor Corp.'s version of a people's car. Sales were slow at first, but after Peter Sellers, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began driving customized Minis, the car rocketed to cult status.
The new Mini has a base price tag of $14,420, compared to the $657 sticker on the original Mini in 1959. BMW hopes to sell about 30,000 new Minis this year and ramp up production to about 100,000 a year after that.
When the last old Mini rolled off the assembly line last October, only a few thousand were being made each year.
The new Mini maintains the general look of its predecessor but with sleeker lines, rounded corners and a longer, wider chassis. On the inside, however, it's an entirely different car beefed up with a new engine, better brakes and a tougher suspension.
It has also been injected with BMW's electrical systems, axle design and pedal and dashboard layout.
"People love the car for the heritage," Mr. Hollis said. "And for me, to have a modern Mini is Mini heaven."

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