“I am working in the best design shop in the world,” Mini’s chief designer Gert Hildebrand said in a recent interview as he paced around the models which will make up the brand’s six-pack line-up.
“Only Ferrari is more exclusive than Mini,” he enthused, but he is keen to point out that while the brand’s heritage is important, the new models are far from retro in their design.
“Never forget the history going back to Alec Issigonis’s design in 1959. Mini’s heritage is money in the bank and it will continue to provide interest but the new Mini is not retro but authentic design.
“We have kept the soul of the car because without emotion you can’t make an emotional product – we have gone from the original to the original.”
The task of evolving one of the most iconic brands in automotive history is one relished by Hildeband who has an impressive CV. After completing university studies in engineering and design in Karlsruhe, Braunschweig and the Royal College of Art in London, he joined Opel where he was part of the Kadett E design team and the Opel Junior show car of 1983.
Hildebrand moved to Volkswagen to work on the Golf III and IV, as well as the Sharan face-lift and the Bora (Jetta). In 1995 he was appointed chief designer of the group’s Spanish subsidiary Seat in Martorell, Spain, working on the 1998 Toledo and Leon models, he also created the new face and the future design direction for Seat.
After the VW group, he ventured to Mitsubishi’s European Design Centre as chief designer before moving to the Mini design studio at BMW in Munich in 2001.
The new Mini was launched in 2001, refreshed in 2004 and the second generation was launched in 2006.
Hildebrand said: “The original Mini was a car born out of the Suez oil crisis of 1956, the need for a fuel efficient, small, front wheel drive car. Getting the most out of that design was down to the ingenuity of Issigonis.
“The Mini went on to become a big success in rallying, it achieved cult status when it appeared in the film The Italian Job. It’s a car that gets given a name by its owners.
“It is one of the few cars that you can still recognise even as a burnt-out wreck. If archaeologists dig one up in 3,000 years time they will instantly know it’s a Mini.”
Since his arrival at Mini, Hildebrand has been developing and expanding the model range. He said: “The old model was never one car only. There was the Countryman, [Clubman], Minivan, Moke, Marcos, pick-up, etc.
“We now have the new Mini hatchback, convertible, the Clubman and now the new Countryman, an SUV born out of the Beachcomber concept. People told us that they wanted a larger Mini to carry more people, more luggage – more dogs.
“The most important aspect of this car is its four doors. We built the car around the additional doors to achieve the best possible headroom in the rear. The interior has seating for four full size adults. In fact, the Countryman has the same interior space as a Volkswagen Golf.
“With the option of four wheel drive, it has off road capability but on the road it drives like a Mini with great agility and traction.”
The Mini six-pack will be completed by the coupe and roadster models from next year.
Hildebrand added: “It is only right that a British brand makes a small, two-seater sports car. But you will also find there is plenty of room for luggage. We will launch these two products in a very short space of time.
“I look upon them as my children and, when the roadster goes on sale, I will have the first one!”