MINI Car, Max Fun

When I bought my MINI Cooper S, I was a strapping young twenty-year-old college student/car enthusiast. I was moving off campus in the Fall and would therefore need a car to get around. I wanted the most fun and interesting car I could get, but there was a catch: my parents were helping me buy my first car. And by “helping” I obviously mean in exchange for the full price of the car, I would be supplying an I-O-U napkin with CAR written on it. Since my napkin didn’t hold much actual monetary value, concerned-parent requirements were imposed. Safe, reliable, no convertible, no rear-wheel-drive.

Those constraints ruled out a lot of my favorable options. Minnesota is terrible to cars in the winter, so I played ball. I couldn’t get a Miata, no cheap Porsche, nor a funky old Volkswagen or ancient Saab.

As the interesting options fell away and my boy-racer dreams were slowly being crushed, I was left with one fun option: economic-derived hot hatches. Safe and practical, yet deceptively sporty. I looked at GTIs, Mazdaspeed3s, and WRXs. Speed3s were a tad too expensive and were prone to horrible rust; WRXs were too molested; I was too picky finding a GTI (Tartan seats on United Gray paint was a must). But then I stumbled across some MINIs and found that they were cheap and abundant. I was sold. They were fast, fun, safe, reliable, cool little carts that could be practical enough if I folded down the back seats and lied about their existence when people asked for rides.

My search eventually led to a 2006 MINI Cooper S in decent condition. I was smitten with this car that most people dismissed as too impractical and scary small. All the while I zipped around city traffic, darting between cars and drawing angry car horns. I owned it for two years, addicted to the whine of the supercharger, winding it up whenever I had an excuse, or for no reason at all. When I lifted off the accelerator pedal, the dudes from the Rice Krispy box danced in my exhaust: Snap, Crackle, Pop! “Why does it keep making that popping sound from the exhaust?” my passengers would often ask. “Because it sounds awesome,” I would reply.

As an auto enthusiast, the MINI was an excellent first car to own.  It performed  all the normal-car duties demanded of it, but in a style only the MINI could pull off. I’m not one of those nutty people who names their cars and gives them personalities, but I affectionately called her Elizabeth.

I took Elizabeth camping at Road America two years in a row, managing to pack a tent, sleeping bag, chair, coolers, and a fire pit into the back with the seats folded down (as my friends in their Porsche coupes had little room save for carefully stacked wood they had in the back, got to have even weight distribution, am I right?). That much handy equipment hadn’t been in something that British since Julie Andrews wrangled a few naughty children with only what she had in her deceptively roomy hand bag. If anyone ever said this car was too small to be practical, I can happily prove them wrong with pictures of a full armchair snuggled in the back. And the car was just special enough for me to be seen as a committed car-nut among other expensive and rare cars that were there that weekend. My MINI and I were accepted.

One of my favorite memories from my time with Elizabeth was one bright Sunday afternoon in early spring. I was going for a drive with my human girlfriend and I decided to drop by the local Jaguar, Audi and Porsche dealerships. I came to the end of the row of brand new F-Types and turned the corner to go down the next row. At that same moment, another MINI Cooper came around the end of another row. We both stopped and faced each other. In the opposite car sat a guy about my age and his girlfriend. All four of us burst into laughter at the sight of our doppelganger. We continued on, passing each other row after row as we explored the neat cars the dealerships had on display. To this day I still wish I had gotten out and greeted my twin. We could have been very special friends.

I ended up selling Elizabeth after I graduated from college. It wasn’t her, it was me. I wanted to trade up to something a little less reliable, a lot less new, a little more sporty and a bit more fun: a Porsche 944. But that  doesn’t mean I was happy to see my MINI go. I still miss her frequently. I get excited each time I pass a MINI on the streets, trying to catch the eye of the driver to convey that I too had once owned a MINI, that I was a part of their club. Maybe someday I’ll own another MINI, but I’ll forever be a MINI-evangelist.

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