MINI is set to display a modern version of its spartan MOKE open-body, four-seater of the seventies at NAIAS in January. The MOKE (pictured in background) was hugely loved in tropical climates, having the fundamentals of a MINI but not much more – the “Beachcomber Concept” takes the same sense of minimalism, freedom and adventure and enhances it with a roll cage, a lockable trunk and the 4WD drivetrain and design elements of MINI’s upcoming compact SUV.
The MINI press release portrays the Beachcomber as a “study of what the future may hold” and with the concept based closely on the brand’s fourth model planned for release twelve months from now, the MINI Beachcomber looks very likely to become reality.
The flexibility of the concept vehicle is exceptional, and it’s clear that the designers have spent time with a Moke and thought through the potential drawbacks of the original design and how they might be overcome. One of the greatest weaknesses of the original Moke was that it didn’t have a secure area of any kind – the Beachcomber’s rear-mounted spare wheel compartment is actually a lockable storage area as it comes with runflat tyres.
The Moke also lacked a roll cage, which has clearly been addressed with the BeachComber’s substantial, yet not overbearing body structure – enough open space to capture the same spirit of freedom and adventure, yet strong enough to look after the occupants in the case of a roll.
The original Moke’s softtop was more token than functional, and having done many (happy) miles in a Moke, as often as not, I elected not to bother with putting it up when it rained –as I only ever experienced it in tropical climates, it was never cold, just wet, and that went with the spirit of adventure the vehicle embodied.
The BeachComber’s tonneau-style soft roof will have a far more substantial base to stretch over and the press release claims it folds away and stretches over the body in moments, and that looks a far better solution than the original too, clipping to the windscreen frame, the rear panel and the side openings.
There are also lightweight transparent plastic inserts which can be clipped into the sides and rear which act as windows.
The two single rear seats can also be folded down to enable the convenient stowing of bulky sports equipment such as mountain bikes, and there’s apparently a special fastening system fitted, even though it isn’t obvious on the piccies.
When open, the MINI Beachcomber Concept is also able to carry extra-long objects such as surfboards without the slightest problem. Fastened firmly to the lateral support, surfboards fit conveniently into the car, sticking out at the top on the way to the beach.
The driver and passengers enjoy convenient access to the luggage compartment though the rear panel split vertically down the middle into two sections. Whenever necessary, the right-hand side may remain fully open for bulky objects extending out of the car at the rear. The left rear element, in turn, is a window-less door hinged at the side and extending up to the seat backrests.
As a further option for reliable protection even in bad weather, the MINI Beachcomber Concept is available with accurately fitting plastic inserts on the roof, at the sides and at the rear. Made of an extra-light plastic material, these robust inserts carry over the principle of the removable hardtop to the doors and the luggage compartment lid of the car. And again in the interest of clear design and superior convenience, the inserts come flush with the body of the MINI Beachcomber Concept.
The door elements maintain their defined position through their firm connection to the opening points and the A- and D-pillars. They are likewise transparent at the top to provide good visibility to the outside, with the rear element held firmly in position through its contact to the left door element, the rear body panel at the right, and the loading sill.
The hardtop as such is connected to the windscreen frame at the front and rests in special mounts on the rollover crossbar. Precisely arranged connections joining the hardtop with the side and rear elements keep the entire structure extremely strong and stable, the appropriate connection being unfastened in each case when opening a door.
With the Beachcomber Concept being intended primarily for driving in the open air, the number of air vents has been reduced favour of additional loudspeakers on the HiFi system as well as a liquid-sprung compass and an artificial horizon showing the angle of the car around its longitudinal and transverse axis.
Strongly contoured seats and an additional handle on the front passenger’s side optimise driving pleasure on rough terrain. Open-pore footmats allowing a good view of the floorpan characterise the robust ambience of the car as well as the stitching seams on the seats matched specifically to this concept car.
The range of colour and trim within the MINI Beachcomber Concept again reveals the car’s close link to nature, the surfaces and seat upholstery, in their design, following the elements of earth, air, water, and fire. All plastic surfaces on the instrument panel come in a newly developed grain look resembling the structure of dry earth. The Center Rail already presented in the MINI Crossover Concept plays a particularly important role in the Beachcomber. Extending from the instrument panel all the way to the luggage compartment, this fastening rail connects the front seats with the rear, emphasising the common driving experience enjoyed by the occupants on all seats.
A special fastening system developed for MINI enables the driver and passengers to place individual elements and components on the Center Rail, such as external music players and other devices, armrests for the front and rear seats, storage boxes, shelves and holders of all kinds.
The MINI Center Rail comes complete with an integrated cable duct allowing the user to connect a mobile phone or MP3 player in any position to the car’s entertainment system by means of a holder fastened to the rail. A further option is to connect additional sources of light, a cooling box, a laptop or a GPS tracker safely and securely to the Center Rail, each with their own power supply.
The range of holders has been further extended especially for the MINI Beachcomber Concept, now including a stopwatch specially made for the new model, a bottle holder, a compact meal box as well as a case for cycling and swimming goggles, clearly reflecting the sporting character of this concept car and simply ideal for the triathlete. MINI once again proves the ability of the brand to convey values such as driving pleasure, lifestyle and premium quality, that is the values so typical of MINI, to a completely new type of vehicle.
The MINI Beachcomber Concept will make its public debut at the North American International Auto Show on January 16, 2010 in Detroit.