Natural Aspiration? Natürlich - The Not So New MINI
All you need to know about the poor man's future classic.
A long time ago in a land adjacent to the UK, a Bavarian man decided that the all too familiar and all too British Mini Cooper had run it's course, become outdated and production should be brought to a close. Undoubtedly a very sad day in motoring history.
However, only a year later the same Bavarian man that brought tears to the eyes of British people gave them a glimmer of hope - that being that in spirit at least the original Mini would live on. The car in question was brought to life by renowned British designer Frank Stephenson, featuring many of the same design ques as the original. This Anglo-German hybrid would go on to be one of the best selling cars of the 21st century.
This is all very grand and significant but more specifically I want to talk about the unsung hero of the model lineup. I want to give some attention to the car that allowed anyone and everyone to have one of these fancy new German toys.
Enter then, Das MINI One.
No, I don't know why the guitar is there either.
Is it not a bit big for a MINI?
Having owned one myself I can safely so that no, this is really not a bit big for a Mini. Unless you've got a couple of pals who don't mind leaving their arms at home, there isn't really any room in the back for two decent sized human beings - dogs however, not too much of problem - just no Dobermans. Around back, the boot is fit for a pot of jam and maybe a pint of milk but that's really about it. Not a big car then. But, just as in the original, it is clever with it's use of space. Drop the back seats down and your Mini suddenly becomes a Minivan, an almost flat load floor and acres of depth once you pop the parcel shelf out. I kid you not I had everything in that car - chests of draws, amplifiers, a full drum kit, you name it - it swallowed the lot.
Throw in fitting through the tiniest of gaps and being just about the easiest car in the world to park, I'd say it's suitably 'mini'.
What about Monte-Carlo, can it still move?
As we know, the original Mini in any guise is just about the most fun you can have on 4 wheels. Though painfully slow and liable to falling over, it has unparalleled steering feel and nippiness. The new car retained the skinny tires and bouncy suspension of the original, but in a much more 21st century way. The chassis is still light and stiff, but has been connected to the wheels by BMW dampers. In essence, this gives you the confidence to chuck it into a bend at any speed knowing you should come out the other side still facing generally the same direction. On top of this, the experience is aided by the fact that though it had power steering, it was still in the days of hydraulic, meaning you feel much more connected to the road than in any of it's more recent siblings. Once you're comfortable with the thing, it is simply a riot to drive. You will never cease to be amazed by it's seemingly endless grip and lively back end - oh yes, it's kept the lift off over-steer from the original too. Undeniably raw and unquestionably fabulous.
The original was cheap first and foremost - so the entry level car had to retain all that fun.
Now this is the point where I have to come clean about my bias. My first car was the base model of the new MINI - nothing fancy, just a 1.6 MINI One. Something which at 17, I thought I'd get bored with and want to replace after a matter of months. The kicker, is that even after driving my fair share of performance and high class cars, my mind always comes back to the rawness and unadulterated fun of that MINI - and here is why.
Size doesn't matter at 17.
No Turbo, No Problem
The 1.6 litre, naturally aspirated, BRAZILIAN engine that powers this humble little car is characterful beyond belief. Producing a mere 90 horses, it'll get this little gnat from a standstill to 60 in around one Ice Age, it was unquestionably slow. But it just didn't matter. On a summers day with the windows down, the joyful purr that came out the back made you feel like Seb Loeb, nothing compares. This little engine proved to me that big numbers and stupid speed alone don't make a car special - it all comes down to the sense of theatre. The driving experience of a raw engine paired to a comically notchy gearbox is completely visceral.
But it wasn't just a toy. On a motorway, it genuinely feels like a big car. With effortless acceleration at highway speeds and the car sitting steady as a rock, it is no chore to take it hundreds of miles - and boy did it prove it's worth. In the space of two years that car did over 25,000 miles and the engine never missed a beat. It really was the perfect mix of characterful and reliable.
No love affair comes without sacrifice and this one was no exception. The engine was bulletproof, it never coughed, spluttered or let me down even once. However - the same cannot be said for the rest of the car.
The month after purchase, I was stuck behind a group of cyclists on a twisty B road - nasty. Finally, a lengthy straight opened up - now was the moment. I pulled out, dropped the old girl down a cog and planted it. A big crash, an even bigger bang and a significant wallop later - I was sat at the side of the road waiting for the AA. That'll be a new clutch please sir.
The thing ate it's tires and brakes - discs and pads.
And finally - the cardinal sin. The gearbox was, well catastrophic. The unbearable whine when it started to go signalled the end. I've never heard a sound like it - it was as if a small dog had it's paw stuck in the driveshaft. Long story short, £1500 and a bruised ego later, it was back on the road. That's a late model with the German box by the way - the early cars got a midlands box that really was made of nothing more than strong cheddar.
Reliability not fantastic then.
So why on earth is this a future classic?
Well aside from the character (which it has in spades), the original new MINI has plateaued in price just nicely now. Everyone bought the more powerful Cooper and Cooper S models, leaving the One as a rare commodity. A good one with reasonably low miles will set you back around 2500 pounds and the figures are just beginning to climb. A good spec is even rarer, more and more so each day and mark my words that before long - we will all be wishing we'd bought one.
Your point is?
I want mine back more than I want my next breath. Own one and so will you. It is truly childish, safe fun and god knows we could all use a bit of that. It'll remind you of the fun to be had in simple motoring - it's humble and I respect that above all else.
So here's to you Gerry, you made my teenage years a blast - I miss you dearly.
The times we are facing right now are unprecedented and for want of a better word - a bit mental. Covid 19 has caught us all off guard and is without doubt scaring a large portion of people shitless. I wish only to say that no one is alone in facing this and we will all get through it together. In this desperate time think of your loved ones and the vulnerable - for their sake please, stay at home. With that in mind - let us reminisce about our favourite motoring memories we hope to relive as soon as this pandemic is all over.
I send you best wishes and please if you need help during this time you need only ask - the world can still be a kind place.