HOW A SMALL CAR INSPIRED A GREAT LOVE.
Motoring journalist Sophie Williamson-Stothert has driven many exceptional cars, but the only one parked in her heart is the MINI. To mark the launch of the new 3- and 5-door Hatch, the Brit describes her deep affection for the brand – and why millions of fans feel the same way about it.
My passion for the mighty little MINI began when I was 12 years old; the year my dad built me my first racing car – a classic MINI shell featuring a roll cage and tuned engine – and let me loose on short circuit ovals. I wasn’t too bad, either, collecting my fair share of trophies and earning my spot on the championship leader board against a predominantly male-dominated grid.
In my mind, I was competing in an – albeit distant – relative of the historic rally world’s superstar, bearing the license plate 33 EJB – the mighty MINI Cooper that won the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally piloted by legendary Northern Irish driver, Paddy Hopkirk MBE. This was my first taste of the best-selling trait the MINI is lovingly known for – its go-kart handling. If I asked you to name one car that has the potential to build communities and quench even the most talented driver’s thirst for behind-the-wheel satisfaction, I’m confident that you would at least visualise a MINI – classic icon or modern machine. The MINI, past and present, is so much more than just a car; it’s a lifestyle. It represents individuality and freedom of expression. What’s more, in its modern form, the MINI is even more accessible. It comes in a variety of sizes and with a range of gadgets and gizmos, such as interior mood lighting, to improve driver and passenger satisfaction. This year is a very special one for fans of the brand. MINI has not only unveiled a new version of the classic MINI 3-door Hatch, but also given its big brother, the 5-door model, a brand-new face that is friendlier, sportier – quite simply, cooler. A glance at these two cars in the photos framing this text clearly shows that the brand is moving boldly forward. Standstill is not an option.
MINI aims to lead on all fronts – design, technology and sustainability – but never neglects its own brand DNA: small car, fun to drive, and a look that never goes out of style. It’s this mix that electrifies fans like me, and when our community sees these brand-new MINIs, warm memories stir within us. Ever since Sir Alec Issigonis’ first MINI rolled off its British production line in 1959, the iconic small car inspired a cult following, earning the respect and love of thousands of enthusiastic fans across the world – on the road, on the race circuit and on a rally stage. This car, after all, was designed to help get families motoring again at an affordable price, following the Suez fuel crisis of 1956. Fast forward six decades to 2020 and the MINI continues to take the world by storm, just as its predecessor once did.
I’m proud to say that I am one of those dedicated fans and, since I could reach the pedals, I’ve been a MINI driver and owner. My love for MINI intensified when I turned 17 and purchased my first road car – a 2002 MINI Cooper, lovingly known as Minty. Since I’d fallen in love with a classic MINI at such a young age, there was never any doubt that my first road car would be of the same DNA. Only, this time, I was about to fall head-over-wheels for a brand, not just a badge.
I was pleasantly surprised at how similar the modern MINI handled in comparison to the little pocket rocket it’s based on – throw it into a corner and it’ll stick like glue! You can’t argue that the retro reincarnation of the little car was notably larger than the tiny chassis it was based on, but that didn’t impair its balance when cornering or prevent them from combining signature characteristics ofIssigonis’ or even the late classic MINI of the 1980s in its styling, too: a cute, downward-sloping chrome grille and prominent, rounded headlights.
I’ve never felt more comfortable with a group of strangers than when reminiscing with MINI enthusiasts.
BMW hasn’t only managed to resurrect a classic, it’s also managed to recreate and redesign many of its variants. The Clubman, for example, which was a popular state car in the 1960s, and the Countryman, which has grown from a wagon into a family-friendly SUV. It’s safe to say that my little racing car and the arrival of Minty on passing my driving test gave me a bug for a car that, even now, sparks great joy in my life. I’ve almost only ever owned MINIs. In 2010, I had saved enough pennies to buy a second car, another 2004 MINI Cooper -tuned at one of the hottest MINI tuners in the UK and sporting quirky extras, such as upgraded alloy wheels, brakes and callipers – which became my companion for MINI shows and events. My little family of MINI motors grew further in 2016when I traded in my only non-MINI car for a 2013 MINICooper SD – my little workhorse, lovingly known as DizzyDiesel – and my dad and I finally found the perfect restoration project we’d be searching for – a 1989 MINIMayfair, which we named Pearl to match her beautiful pearly paintwork. My little Pearl really is my pride and joy and was one of three special cars in attendance at my wedding, escorting my husband and I from the church to our reception – in style!
One may be red and the other one blue, but both little cars come with a “fun guarantee”. The MINI spreads happiness wherever it turn up (left and facing page). And as our author quite rightly claims, this iconic car enjoys a cult following of enthusiastic fans across the world.