This post comes to us from Brad, a friend of the Blythbros!
It’s 2001, I’m 14 and sitting in the driver’s seat of the “New” MINI at the Boston car expo. Up to this point, the only car I have driven involves pedals, a lever that applies a metal rod to one of the rear wheels for “Braking”, and is badged “KETTLER”. But in my mind and dreams, I have driven across the country a hundred times. I picture myself driving this MINI, I depress the clutch and pull the gear lever into second *CLUNK*, then into third *CLUNK*, it feels like a straighter path into third than it should be. I like it. I reach for the center console where my eyes have caught sight of the gleaming row of toggle switches. Tales of my father’s Jaguar XKE wash over me and my heart races as I flip them up and down. The battery is disconnected so nothing happens but that’s not the point, the simple mechanical click is reward enough. Then I hear my father’s voice, it is 10pm on a school night and we have to leave. As we walk away I glance back and know that someday I’ll get to experience the vehicle that closest resembles my beloved KETTCAR.
Four years later I find myself back behind the wheel of a MINI. My father sits in the rear seat while a 6 foot plus 300lb eastern European “Motoring Advisor” screams directions at me: “More throttle and less brake! Don’t you know it’s the guy that uses the middle pedal the least that wins the race?? Clutch in! Blip the throttle and downshift! Clutch out!” Just fifteen minutes prior I had told this man that I had never driven a manual and now he has me whipping a 2005 MINI Cooper S (MCS) through country roads. At that point MINI only offered the S with a manual and this attracted me to the car. Sure, there were a myriad of faster cars for less money but none of them had the quirkiness and focus of the MCS. I had test driven almost all of them and none came close to this experience. At the Acura dealer the salesperson wouldn’t let me near an RSX, the Subaru guys made me drive an automatic, but at the MINI dealer my Motoring Advisor simply grunted and said he’d replace the clutch after the test drive. *WHHRRRRRRRRRRR* The supercharger calls for me to bury the throttle and ignore that 90 degree turn rapidly approaching. “Good! Brake! Throw it in….Now back on the throttle!” I check the rear view mirror and see an unforgettable image of my father grinning. A grin I have never seen him give despite having owned a host of sports cars that most car fanatics would call their bucket list.
Deep into the polar vortex, it is January 2014 in Chicago, IL and as I drive pedal my bike to work I check my watch just to see that it is -13⁰F. I wonder what it “Feels Like” with the wind chill and admit to myself that it might, just maybe, be time to buy a car again. All of a sudden my feet go from spinning smooth 95RPM cadence to 110RPM+. My freewheel has frozen in the open position again, I hop off and kick it like an idiot but it is completely stuck this time. I throw the bike over my shoulder and begin to run. “Jingle Bells” carries me to my office with a smile but I decide to check out some cars that night. On the MINI CPO website I find my dream car, a John Cooper Works Mini Cooper Coupe in White Silver with a red roof, premium sound, lounge leather seats with red piping, deviated red stitching throughout, and NO navigation. It is features like these that make me love MINI, on top of the quirkiness and fun handling they give you this host of premium features to slap on top of an otherwise midrange car. And they do it with signature style. I decide to wait a couple of months and see if the car is still sitting on the lot, after all tomorrow is supposed to be in the positive single digits.
Three hours after finishing my test drive the owner of the dealership’s son and I are $200 apart on price and it is 9:45pm. In his defense, they’re already 17% under bluebook but I’m incredibly stubborn and am enjoying the free sparkling water and nut mix in the Motoring Lounge. They decide to send me home with the car for a few days so I can decide if it is worth the $200. As I pull out of the dealership and head toward Route 66 I accelerate then lift off the throttle to hear the exhaust burble and pop, the blow-off valve whistles. I feel 14 again and love it. I hit 55 mph and I glance through the rear glass to view the delectable dance of the rear spoiler raising up. As a mechanical engineer I find more satisfaction in mechanisms than most and I especially appreciate this one, I also note that the rear window appears to serve the sole purpose of allowing the driver to witness this event. No matter; there isn’t a need to be looking back there anyway. Three days later I sign the paper work and ride off into the sunset.
Since buying the car I have caught numerous little kids gawking at the car, teens in their parents’ Land Rovers giving me a thumbs up, and even one gentleman in his A8L pull up beside me, honk, and mouth to me that he likes my car. This is what I love about the MINI: it epitomizes fun and all generations can relate to that. It is quirky, different, and perhaps a little pricier than the competition but I’m okay with paying that premium. Unfortunately, the non-JCW MINI’s are in danger of becoming mainstream cars but as long as MINI keeps the JCW true to their values back in 2001 there will always be an option for enthusiasts. And the 14 year old kid in all of us.