Death of the manual Mini Cooper as classic car turns fully automatic

Carmaker confirms it will be discontinuing production of the gearbox on future models from next year as electric vehicles grow in popularity

Mini has confirmed that the company will be discontinuing production of manual versions of the car
Mini has confirmed that the company will be discontinuing production of manual versions of the car Credit: Bernhard Filser

Mini Cooper drivers changing gears is set to become a thing of the past as the carmaker announced it is to say goodbye to the manual gearbox on future models - and go fully automatic.

The car gained legendary status as the star of the 1960s film the Italian Job after it was used by Michael Caine and his team of criminals to pull off the gold heist of the century.

The film featured several scenes of the bandits switching up and down the gears as they sped through the streets of Turin.

But earlier this week, Mini boss Stefanie Wurst confirmed to Top Gear magazine that the company would be discontinuing production of manual versions of the car.

In the interview following the unveiling of its newest Mini Electric model, the head of the BMW-owned carmaker said: “We won’t have a manual unfortunately.”

The legendary Cooper, which was first launched in 1961 after being developed by the Cooper Car Company founded by Charles Cooper and his son John, became an icon of British car engineering but also popular culture, starring in films such as the Italian Job and Austin Powers.

However, now after 62 years of being produced with a manual gear stick, the last manual Mini Cooper looks set to roll off the assembly line in early 2024.

The Telegraph contacted Mini to ask the company explain its decision but it said that it was too early to speak about all future models of the car and their detailed specifications.

It follows a number of other manufacturers who have switched to automatic only, as electric vehicle production grows and consumer desire for manuals wanes.

However, car expert Stuart Masson believes that it will be a big loss for car enthusiasts, with the Mini often known as a “driver’s car”, with many enthusiasts opting for them because of how enjoyable they were to drive.

Mr Masson, the editorial director of The Car Expert website, said: “The Mini was always the driver’s car compared to your other small cars like the Corsa or a Ford Fiesta. It was a brilliant car to drive because it was so small, so nice and so agile.”

As well as being a popular car in the 1960s, it was also a three time winner of the Monte Carlo rally.

However, he added that in recent times that this was less of a pull as they had become a lot less exciting to drive, with people more attracted to the styling and branding of the cars.

Andrew Graves, auto analyst at the University of Bath, said he was surprised that Mini had taken the decision. 

He said: “Its ‘Cooper’ brand has been built upon the original Mini and its motorsport success, but commercial cost decisions seem to have prevailed.”

The decision comes as a number of manufacturers look to move exclusively to automatic vehicles due to falling demand and the drive to switch production to electric vehicles, which are solely automatic.

Research by Carwow last year found that 62 per cent of all new cars sold in 2021 were automatics, up from 24 per cent in 2011. The analysis also reported that only 98 out of 298 of new car brands on sale in 2022 were available as automatics.

Mr Masson said that the decision was just another step towards the “extinction of the manual car” as manufacturers increased electric vehicle production.

He said: “Anything that’s a hybrid or an electric car will be automatic only, which from an economy of scale point of view means there’s a reduced number of cars that can fit with a manual gearbox, this is combined with an increasing number of people who actually prefer an automatic gearbox.”

Mr Graves said that because of the growth in electric vehicles, so few people were ordering manuals now that it was becoming costly to offer both, and makers were rationalising their supply chains.

He said: “At one time manuals were much more fuel efficient than autos, but no longer and as road traffic congestion becomes more severe, customers tend to choose automatics for convenience.”

However, it might not quite be the end of the Mini Cooper manual, particularly if fans of “driving stick” have their say.

Mr Graves said: “Some high-end manufacturers, such as Porsche and Subaru, are now going back to offering manual transmissions due to customer pressure, purely for the ‘connection’ to the car, not for any improvement in performance, as modern automatics change gear much faster than any human can.”