Then & Now: 1961 Mini Cooper vs. 2016 MINI Cooper 2-Door Hardtop

February 19th, 2016 by

September 20, 1961.  To critical acclaim, the very first Mini Cooper was launched to the motoring world.  Tuned by racing legend John Cooper, the original iteration of “less is more” kicked off a worldwide revolution embraced by celebrities and general public alike.  Fast-forward 55 years, and Cooper’s vision has grown up – substantially.  The 2016 MINI Cooper Hardtop still proves that big things come in small packages, keeping its dimensions small (by today’s standards) and driver involvement high.  Ready for a head-to-head?  Let’s motor.

Looking straight on, the 1961 Mini Cooper’s dimensions are diminutive.  The car’s total length stretches just over 120 inches, end-to-end.  While that may sound like a lot, keep in mind, the 2016 Hardtop 2-Door measures 151.1 inches – a few ticks shy of three feet longer than the original car.  More surprisingly, the ’61 model’s weight tipped the scales at just 1,288 lbs.  Keep in mind, this is well before the advent of modern safety features such as crumple zones, airbags, and anti-lock brakes which, in and of themselves, add a substantial amount of mass.  Still, at 2,625 lbs., the ’16 model is extremely svelte by today’s standards.  Surprisingly, the 2016 MINI Cooper 2-Door Hardtop is only 2.7 inches taller than the original Cooper (55.7 vs. 53), with both about as vertical as an average third grader.

In 2012, a world record was shattered by stuffing 23 people into a classic (1967) Mini Cooper.  Though it may not have reflected the car’s “normal” duty cycle, it was widely known that six-foot-tall adults could fit into the tiny car’s front seats – an equally impressive feat, given its size.  While cargo specifications for the original are scarce, we do know that the 2016 MINI Cooper 2-Door has up to 34 cubic feet of cargo volume.  For more versatility, the available 4-Door Hardtop version boosts that number to 40.7 cubic feet, still retaining much of the 2-Door’s compact footprint.

While size matters, it’s what’s on the inside that really counts.  Not content with the original Mark I Mini’s power, John Cooper massaged the standard 850cc up to 997cc, bumping horsepower from 34 to 55.  This was enough to give the 1961 Cooper a top speed of 85 MPH (up from 73), enough to give the model some breathing room during both motorway jaunts and rally stages.  The classic’s 0-60 time came in 17.2 seconds, impressive for the time but paling in comparison to most modern vehicles.

On that note, the base 2016 MINI Cooper 2-Door Hardtop (we’ll save the “S” for another time) is powered by a 1.5-L twin-scroll-turbocharged three-cylinder engine.  Boasting 134 HP and 162 lb-ft of torque, the tiny three-pot shrugs off 0-60 MPH in a scant 7.2 seconds.  While John Cooper relied primarily on hot camshafts and high-flow cylinder heads to make more power, the most modern MINIs prove that small displacement and forced induction are the way to go.  The 2016 model’s 128-MPH top speed is surely something that would have made Cooper smile, as well.

Given the 1961 Mini Cooper’s size, fuel economy was expectedly high.  At 31 MPG (average), the single-liter engine was a true gas sipper thanks to its compact and efficient front-wheel-drive layout and innovative four-speed manual transmission.  The fuel tank was indeed tiny – 6.6 gallons, to be exact – but still yielded a respectable 200-plus-mile driving range between fill ups.  On the base 2016 Cooper Hardtop, fuel economy soars to 29/39 city/highway MPG.  Accordingly, the newest model’s 11.6-gallon fuel tank would impressively allow up to 450 miles of driving range.

Bottom line is, both the 1961 Mini Cooper and the 2016 MINI Cooper 2-Door Hardtop are incredibly innovative vehicles, offering driver-centric practicality in a small and maneuverable package.  It’s no wonder that the original Mini sparked a revolution among the entertainment industry which, to this day, hasn’t faded one bit.  Stop by Schomp MINI today to see why the Cooper Hardtop, as well as its Clubman and Countryman siblings, are a perfect exemplification of what has always made MINIs so special.

Posted in History, Vehicles