Forty-six years ago, Alec Issigonis fitted two engines into a Mini Moke in an experiment to create an all-wheel drive version of the open-air off-roader. Nearly five decades later, Issigonis' spirit lives on in the Mini Beachcomber Concept, set to debut at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show.
Largely based on the Countryman, itself based on the BMW 1 Series platform, the Beachcomber concept is an open-air off-roader that expands on the brand's Mini-malism theme by losing the doors, windows and roof. Should you find yourself in inclement weather, though, a fold-up soft top can be deployed complete with plastic windows, much like the Jeep Wrangler. For more serious storms, removable doors and plastic roof panels can be fitted.
The Beachcomber has been designed to be as light as possible to increase its off-road prowess. Though it wears 17-in wheels, they're lightweight alloys and wrapped in beefy off-road tires. The removable doors and top are likewise made out of lightweight fabrics and plastics to keep weight down and Mini has done away with the B-pillar to keep sheet metal to a minimum. All that remains of the body structure is the windshield, A-pillars and C-pillars, connected by two rails running the length of the passenger compartment and one cross piece that has cleverly worked in the Mini name.
Though the frame is as minimal as can be, Mini says the Beachcomber is as safe as any regular car. Copious amounts of high-strength steel make up for the lack of structure and heavily reinforced pillars act like a roll cage. In the back, the Beachcomber borrows a trick from the Clubman with a gate door on the left side and an open space on the right for easier cargo access and the hauling of mountain bikes, canoes, surfboards and the like. The faux spare wheel cover in the single gate door is actually just a storage cubby as the Beachcomber wears run-flats. A second door can be added like the side doors during bad weather.
Below all that, the Beachcomber is basically a Countryman, sharing its platform, off-road suspension and ALL4 all-wheel-drive powertrain. Mini won't yet say what engine powers the concept, or the Countryman for that matter, but the Beachcomber does appear to get a proper manual transmission. Despite its pumped-up appearance, Mini says the Beachcomber is about the same length as the Clubman, if not slightly longer.