Future Classics #1: MINI Park Lane
A tale of how I convinced my other half to buy a not-so sh*tbox.
I have a confession. My girlfriend can't drive. She may be at the ripe old age of 22 years old, but I managed to select one that hadn't (until I came along) cared all too much about bobbing about in a big metal box. Needless to say this is no longer the case and she is well on the way to ripping off her L's and taking to the open road.
This did however present a problem. Everyone has to have a first car and let's be honest there's only two routes to go - finance or shitbox. Now, most normal women of her age would have a cushy finance deal on a new, reliable if slightly predictable Fiat 500. Most normal women though don't have me in their ear - and I detest the 500. Rusty banger it is. After perusing the classifieds for a while to no avail, I stumbled across a rather sweet looking first gen MINI sat looking extremely sorry for itself on the forecourt of our local car dealer. After taking the Mrs for a quick glance later that day, things were in motion. A tyre sorted here, suspension bushes replaced there and after great difficulty - a clean MOT - the car was ours.
Now I hasten to add that in spite of a couple of small mechanical niggles that are now sorted, this is a VERY tidy example of not just the R50 MINI, but the much rarer Park Lane Edition.
Now a google search of that is likely to turn up a fat, ugly countryman with a few red flairs on the side, no - we're talking about the original Park Lane. Produced only for the 05'-06' model year, the Park Lane was part of a trio of special edition Minis that took the base formula and added the flair needed to become something a little more premium. This particular car would have held an on the road price of just over £21,000 with options way back when but we'll get into the spec later.
The design of the first generation is proving itself (if you avoid that god awful banana yellow) to be properly timeless and these are no exception. The Park Lane gains a few styling quirks over the base car, you'll notice things such as white indicators, chrome mirror caps, model tags below the A pillar and model specific 16' alloy wheels. Of course all this is additional to the U shaped decal on the bonnet - also specific for this edition. Moving inside, all Park Lanes received the sought after lounge interior - grey leather paired with ivory piping as well as a slightly altered dash trim. Extras on our car include cruise control, dual zone climate, parking sensors and the unbelievably rare panoramic sunroof.
Now, let's talk about the drive, there's my full review of the R50 generation car here but we'll cover the headlines. Without doubt, the first generation remains the best handling of all the modern Minis. With a far more intuitive steering feel than the later cars thanks to a more 'agricultural' set up of the rack., this is the one to buy for enthusiasts. The front end just grips and go's with no need to add coil overs or super sticky tyres to get a balanced cornering feel as the chassis (in traditional BMW fashion) is just so well sorted out. Engine wise, not only is it's 1.6l Chrysler unit absolutely bulletproof but seriously peppy too. With 115ish hp it won't win many drag races, but being naturally aspirated and with the added benefit of a decent flywheel it has throttle response a plenty, pulling you out of sweeping bends with ease. An auto was offered, but this car, like most, has the somewhat industrial 5 speed manual. The throw might be reasonably long, but is also fabulously notchy - making it seriously satisfying as you row your way up or indeed down the box as the fast revving 4 cylinder is perfect for a spot of heel and toe.
Bonus points if you spotted the 'R50' Plate.
Reliability varies dependent on how harshly the thing has been driven but generally speaking there are usually very little in the way of issues with these later models. Gearbox bearings are the only real car killer but can be sorted for around £900. Engines are bulletproof and suspension/chassis components are easy to work on making this a cheap little runner.
The best part of all this though? This example, pristine in and out with only 80 thousand miles cost under £3000. Now, after only 5 months of ownership, the car is already worth more than we paid - they're appreciating at an alarming rate. This is helped no end by the spec on this particular car (and a very good deal) but the Park Lane is undeniably increasing in value. As a result, ours isn't going anywhere anytime soon and that's a very good thing. Because whether you're clued up and love your cars or only want to get from a to b - it'll make you smile mile after glorious mile.
- Any more ideas of appreciating modern classics? Let me know in the comments. -
*For all the MINI fans, this isn't the first R50 I've had...*
Not biased I promise.