Every so often we get a personal story about Minis/MINIs that so vividly captures the excitement of these cars that we must post it for all to share. This story comes from Bruce K and is sure to bring back some memories for some out there…
Please pardon me while I get all nostalgic. It was 30 years ago today, 13 August 1974, that I bought my first car, a 1962 Mini. So it is sort of like my anniversary today. I had been completely fascinated by Minis ever since first I spotted one when I was 12 or 13 (they were very, very rare in the US back then, the last ones having been sold in 1967). By the time I was 17 I'd saved up enough money and began the search for one of my own. I finally found one and the deal was stuck. There used to be an advertising campaign in the UK with the theme “You never forget your first Mini”. Very true. It was not the most reliable car in the world, having been through a series of previous owners. When I bought it, I had no mechanical skills at all. But after several years of ownership on a teenager's part-time job salary I had become a Mini mechanic of the highest order (or so I thought) by necessity. All of my mechanical skills were learned by studying a tatty old Haynes repair manual for the “BMC Austin/Morris Mini” cover to cover. I even accomplished a complete Mini engine rebuild by just following step-by-step instructions!
That Mini carried me through high school and college, and yes it did occasionally let me down. But I drove it like a madman believing I had the driving skills of Paddy Hopkirk winning the Monte Carlo rally. I loved it when it ran well, and I hated it when it broke down. When I graduated from college I got a “real” job and a “real” car and the Mini was stored in a friend's garage for 7 years. Now that I was no longer student-poor, I kept hoping that someday British Leyland (as the maker of Minis was known then) would see fit to begin reimporting brand new Minis to the US. I'd sure buy one if that happened! But being able to buy a new Mini in the US was just an empty dream…. (until 2002!)
Later, after I got married and had kids, I rekindled my Mini passion and pulled my old Mini out of my friend's garage. Time had not been kind to what was a fairly rusty car to begin with (I never really minded the rust when I was younger). Now, my tastes had changed, and I wanted to have a “nice” Mini, not a rust bucket. So I sold my '62 and purchased a newer Canadian-spec 1979 Mini 1000 from, you guessed it, a Canadian who a personally imported it to the US. After removing the huge ugly Canadian-spec bumpers, I dropped in a 1275 engine and enjoyed my first Mini with roll-up (rather than sliding) windows throughout most of the 1980's.
In the early 90's I stumbled on to a Aladdin's cave of 12 old Minis in a barn near Kansas City. They'd been put there in the 60's and were mostly untouched, very original, and not (too) rusty! Most of these time-capsule Minis were too expensive for me, but I settled on a nice Mini Traveller estate car (station wagon). Even though the Traveller was original, it had suffered from more than 20 years in the barn (home to lots of mice) and it needed a full restoration. It took me 6 years to restore it, and I still keep it as a weekend toy. In the mid-90s I sold my 1979 Mini and purchased a very original 1966 Austin Mini Moke 850. I loved the open cockpit and fun nature of the Moke, but I needed funds to finished the restoration of the Traveller, so I sold it after a couple of years.
In September 1997, I saw the first pictures of the “new” MINI concept car from the Frankfurt auto show. I was immediately in love! There was a little snippet in the press release that this new MINI was going to be sold in the US. Wow! My old dream of owning a brand new MINI might actually come true. I could not wait for the chance to own my own. Each month I'd scan the latest issues of car magazines or search the web (that's how I found MINI2) for more news on the new MINI, supposedly to be on sale in 1999 or 2000. Little did I know it would eventually take 54 months of waiting before I could buy a new MINI Cooper S of my own.
By 2000, it was clear that BMW's sale of MG and Rover and the switch of planned MINI production from the Longbride factory to the Oxford facility was only helping to delay the launch of the new MINI. I badly needed some sort of a Mini fix, and since I couldn't buy a new one, I decided to buy a used classic Mini Cooper as my daily driver. So I sold my daily driver Miata MX5 and imported a 1992 Rover Mini Cooper from the UK. Before it left the UK I had a full roll-cage installed as a rational reaction to planning on driving a 10-foot long car in the SUV-crazy US. This newer classic Mini Cooper was a blast to drive and dead-on reliable. But after less than a year of ownership, I began to wonder if its value (about $11K) would soon drop like a stone once brand new MINIs with warranties and all the modern goodies came on the US market for just $5K more. I decided to sell it before finding out if I was right.
In June 2002, I finally (!) got the opportunity to buy a brand new MINI Cooper S. In the 26 months and 29K miles since then, I have never been happier with a car. I may just keep it forever. Here's to the next 30 years!
Note: Bruce also posted this on the forums at MINI2.