I have always loved the look of Minilites and the many variants thereof.
First introduced to them via mid 80's Saab 900 turbo when I ran the factory Saab Minilite version which were initially made by Carroll Shelby,
here's a good read regarding those:
Later I upgraded to a set of Panasport Pro Rally for the Saab and those are indeed totally awesome.
I now run a 2006 MINI R53 JCW equipped with Rota RB which have served me well despite Rota getting a good bit of criticism online --- they are very affordable as well as lighter in weight to their competitors who also make these famous 8 spoke style wheels.
Just wanted to post up a thread for putting as many pix as possible with all variety of cars featuring different variants of Cooper style wheels, which I call them due to legacy heritage and is not a dis on Minilite at all because I most often use that descriptor so it is more easily understood what I'm referring to --- the Cooper angle will be addressed shortly further down in a pedantic fashion which will annoy and irritate the TL/DR crowd LOL
threads already exist on this topic,
It was actually in large part the Watanabe angle that prompted me to construct such an elaborate effort fumbling toward an origin story.
Many times I've come across people steeped in JDM world who posit as fact that Watanabe originated the 8 spoke design, like in this video that I won't embed because I get easily annoyed and irritated by most automotive related youtube content but even moreso when it's like a rapidfire linguistic machine-gun from an adderall'd teenager LOL
The printed word is great, no?
Onward to the geekout ~
In the past I've searched for the definitive answer but could not find any one authoritative exposition which encompasses the full historical arc of origin, so what I'm going to write here is like a patchwork of differing sources filtered through my personal lens of perception and as such it is just a speculative theory of how I view it all may have happened, so your view on the topic is most welcome and I'd very much be keen on a thorough discussion along with many many pix of these cool cool wheels.
The Cooper Cars book by Doug Nye has been a tremendous resource for me.
I have only recently got it and haven't even finished reading it yet.
His book is truly top shelf.
Simply the best.
tracing the origin of the Minilite inevitably led to the witnessing of birth to the alloy wheel itself.
The innovative American racecar designer Harry Miller first filed a patent in 1919 for his design of a revolutionary wheel which utilized aluminum alloy.
Here is his patent drawing:
But the H.A. Miller wheels never went past the design phase and were never actually made.
It was Ettore Bugatti who succeeded in producing them first, in 1924 --- casting aluminum brake drums, wheel spokes, and wheels at the Bugatti foundry in Molsheim France, using molds he had developed himself, and which were intended for fitment to the Type 35 which could be said to be the most famous racecar of all time.
Note that the Bugatti wheel design very closely echoes Miller's earlier design, but instead of six spokes it was eight.
Those wheels were 19" and incorporated integrated brake drums to help facilitate quicker pit stops.
this is where we visit Charles Cooper when he ran a small garage in Surbiton and who happened to maintain the various cars of famous local racer Kaye Don.
Kaye Don was so impressed with Charlie's spanner turning mechanic abilities that he was made crew chief for his racing team, and when Don-the-Brooklands-ace decided to get himself a Bugatti Type 54 in the early 1930's, Charlie Cooper was sent off to the Molsheim factory to build up the 4.9 liter straight-eight French racecar, as well as to learn all about it while he was there. This was somewhat common practice back in those days and even later at the Cooper Works garage they allowed favored customers' mechanics to assemble their cars on premises.
I would think that Charlie learned and picked up quite a bit with his time spent at the Bugatti factory.
Due to the high monetary value of early Bugatti cars there is a tremendous amount of research spent on them, and thanks to that we can see the actual car that Charles Cooper built up and worked on, it is chassis number *54203* with a stated build date of 1932.
John Cooper grew up immersed in a wonderful world of hardcore motorsport and from a very young age was bitten by the bug, tinkering and building "specials" was in his blood.
By the time of 1946, John was getting serious with his intention, to move beyond hobbyist level and into full-fledged production mode.
The burgeoning 500cc movement gave him the opportunity.
As in America, the post-war years in England saw many servicemen returned home who had a bit of a thrillseeking bent, men mad about motors and modding them beyond belief, forming clubs for fun like rumbling the ton.
In England in 1945 there was an official 500cc class formed and it grew to be quite popular because entry to the field was much more within reach to the workingman, so it was like a poor-man's racing formula, as opposed to the upper echelons of racing which had always been a playground of the wealthy playboy.
The 500cc car that John Cooper developed proved to be an excellent design,
it is now known as the Mark I.
Here is some incredible vintage footage of silent film from 1946 showing him testing it on public roads!!!
If you watched the film you may have noticed that the wheels are quite plain and have not a small sliver of anything even remotely related to the look of Minilites, this is because the car was built up using bits from a Fiat Topolino which crucially had an independent suspension, so it was only natural to use the wheels as well. John had acquired the Topolino from a broker down the street from the garage for cheap money because it had been crashed in the rear and was an insurance write-off.
Here's what a 1946 Topolino, which means "little mouse" in Italian, looked like:
Please bear with me reader, although it may seem this may be veering off topic, I feel it is a necessary part of the story to understand the overall evolution.
The Cooper Mark I proved successful and generated much enthusiastic interest, but there was no way that Cooper could source an infinite supply of wrecked Topolinos to build them from, so in 1948 the Cooper Car Company was born and incorporated to make an updated version which was to be produced in-house.
It was then that with the new 500cc car that a newly designed wheel also came along. Not quite a Minilite but did have an eight spoke element.
The design is credited to Charles Cooper's nephew Colin Darby.
John Cooper wrote:
"My cousin Colin Darby was a draughtsman for a firm called Celestion, who made loudspeakers in Kingston. One evening we got together and discussed supply problems with wheels. We wanted a 15" of our own which would be stronger and lighter than the old Fiat type which we just couldn't find anymore. So with Colin we designed our own, including integral brake drums like Bugatti prewar, and patented them and had them cast in aluminium by a foundry in Croydon, I think."
The wheels were made of cast Elektron which was a trade-name for a type of magnesium alloy.
This pic shows them well, with Charles standing and John in car.
Some action shots:
we can get past the germinal stages and get to the point where the Minilite proper is fully realized.
The year is 1956.
The car is the Mark II T39 "bobtail",
The new wheel was designed by the famously eccentric Cooper designer Owen Maddock,
nicknamed "the beard".
His mercurial temperament and volatile temper sometimes grated against his employers' nerves. Once, when a potential new recruit arrived for a job interview, Charles Cooper asked his secretary whether he had a beard. On being told that he did, Cooper told her to "Send 'im home. I've got enough trouble with the one I've got!".
It was his design that gave us the "banana spoke" as we know it.
So here we are,
The brand name Minilite magnesium wheels came into existence some time between 1962-1964.
Trade mark number 1415893, MINILITE, is registered in Class 12 in respect of “Lightweight eight spoke magnesium wheels, all for motorcars; lightweight magnesium or aluminium wheels for motorcars.”
They were made by a company called Tech-Del Limited which was formed by Derek Power who was an atomic physicist.
The original Minilites came packaged as a full set in a barrel box,
just too damn cool.
Here's John Cooper in a Mini sporting the de rigueur wheels:
please post up good pictures of cars fitted with this type of iconic wheel!!!
Stone cold classics.
Almost any car looks good with them, even more modern stuff,
like this Fiesta: