Driver: Classic MIni

1:46:00 PM

by Michael Satterfield
I first fell in love with the classic Mini Cooper in 2004 when I was on holiday in Europe, I was driving across the continent in a Peugeot 206 and had stopped in the small French village of Cassis. There parked across from my little hotel was a British racing green Mini Cooper with a retractable top. I was struck by how much fun that car looked and how it was the perfect car for a little village along the French Riviera. Visions of cruising it with the top open along the coast to Monaco danced in my head.

Upon returning to the states I sunk back into the usual routine, work, got married, building cars, traveling, but in the back of my mind was always that little Mini, an automotive icon and rare sight on US roadways. So when the need for a new commuter car came up, I decided to find a classic Mini.  

The car that would become mine was here in the US for nearly 20 years before the previous owner, found the 69 Mini that was rusty and in disrepair. The amount of parts it needed was immense and the parts suppliers here in the US don't stock much. So he imported a 1982 Mini Cooper front clip, webasto top from a 90's Mini and several other bits he would find. His son was stationed in the UK so it made it easy for him to track down parts. He used the 80's Mini front sheet metal, subframe, and 1275cc engine, installed  the rag top, and drove the car. It was 2008 when I found the Mini listed for sale just a few miles from my house, surprisingly enough I had never seen it at a local show. The owner did not take it out much, it was in his collection as one of those cars he always wanted to own, but being nearly 7 foot tall meant he hardly ever drove it.The car was British racing green with a rag top, and I when I got behind the wheel I was instantly transported back to the French Riviera (despite being in California traffic). 

I drove the car as I had it for a about four years when I decided to freshen it up. I had, at the time, recently gotten into driving a local Mountain road, one that is infamous for its challenges as well as its victims. The car did handle pretty well, but I began to modify it, wider wheels, larger fender flares, more lighting, header, weber carb, etc... so the car was now not only a great commuter, but surprising fast and agile on the downhill. Most people forget that the Mini was a world rally and touring car champion. 

In 2012 I decided to revamp the car and this resulted in the car being featured at the 2012 SEMA show. I ended up designing the custom camo pattern that is on it, a custom black interior, changed the top to white, and upgraded to a Motolita steering wheel, the car was a show stopper and has been featured in a number of publications and websites.  The car is a head turner and I never have to wonder which car is mine in the parking lot. 

Driving a car like the Mini presents its challenges, firstly the RHD makes some left hand turns a little scary, requiring more faith than a Snake-Dancer. The car is noisy at speed and not geared to really like living above 75 MPH, this makes some freeway drivers upset.  Like all classic Minis the gearbox whines like a member of the Occupy Movement, and electrical system has some demons. But the point and shoot handling and iconic status of the car more than make up for its shortcomings. Pull into a parking lot next to a Ferrari and the Mini will draw a bigger crowd. 

I have been hit twice in the Mini from people drifting into me while staring, thankfully the urethane wheel arches acted like an early warning system. Both drivers made the joke "I could not see is" referencing both the size and camouflage bodywork. But thankfully there was no damage in either case.

New MINI drivers have one of two reactions, the first is a big smile and a thumbs up, the second is a question "What is that?" I explain and then they reply the first reaction. Many people are simply confused by what it is, since again, they are not often seen on the streets of the US. Fiat 500 and Smart car drivers seem often have the same reaction of MINI drivers.

The Mini is the car I have kept the longest, having gone through 60+ cars since in the last 19 years, and most of them I would only keep 6 months to a year before I got bored. I have had cars from Jaguar, Maserati, MG, Mitsubishi, Ford, Austin-Healey, Moretti, Fiat, Triumph, etc... and the Mini is the only car that I get into and I can't help but smile. From thousands of miles on Route 66 to blasting up and down the mountain, the Mini is the one car that I don't think I will ever sell. You can often find the Mini cruising on the streets of So Cal or screaming up and down a local mountain road.

You Might Also Like