The 2002 MINI USA Launch & How it Inspired MotoringFile

Ten years ago I played hooky from work for a few hours. After all it was a special day. A new brand from BMW was being introduced to the US that had completely captured my imagination. As a bit of an Anglophile and rabid car enthusiast, I just had to test drive one. If my hunch was correct, I’d likely put in an order afterwards.

As I drove up to the dealer (there were only two in Chicago at the time) I remember reminiscing about what made me a “car guy” in the first place. Some of my first memories are helping my dad under the hood of his BMW 2002. That car sparked something in me that grew into a fascination with design, engineering and of course cars in general. That car seemed like ground zero for a movement. The second shockwave in my automotive life came on that late March day in 2002 when MINI USA opened doors across the country. It felt like history was ready to be written. All I had to do was go drive the car.

It only took about 30 seconds for me to fall in love. That’s how long it took for me to reach the first corner. Sure the design and packaging of the MINI was completely fascinating, But the way it all felt got the blood flowing. Keep in mind, this was in a 112 hp Cooper. The Cooper S turned it up a few notches more, but with the high gearing it was a notch or two below my expectations. That, and I would have had to wait an additional two months to get a Cooper S. That wouldn’t do. I had to have a MINI as soon as possible. I walked away putting my name and my money down on an incoming car. 20 days later I got my Indie Blue MINI Cooper, with historically-accurate white top. It even had all three packages (remember when there were just three?)

My goal was to sell it later that year and order a Cooper S. The problem was that I started the process of MINI-fication that we all know so well today. Before I knew it, there was a real connection – one that I had never experienced with a new car.

Yet simply owning and driving a MINI didn’t satisfy the fever. My passion for the car seemed to gain momentum with every short drive. I started looking for others like me — for a support group of people with this same MINI sickness. I found a few. There were online forums and local owners. But later that year I realized that posting on MINI boards and talking to friends wouldn’t do. I had to create something. I had to tell the world how great this little car was.

From this fever, in late September of 2002, MotoringFile was born. It was humble beginnings; just a front end to my growing list of photos and MINI-related PDFs. Soon it grew into a blog and MINI news site. Now MotoringFile is the most influential MINI site in the world, visited by hundreds of thousands of people every month.

Through it all my attachment to the brand has only grown. Ten years, four MINIs and a website later, it’s all still there. The fascination with the brand, the products and the future of it all still drives me and this site. That people take the time to read it is icing on the cake. Thanks for that.

  • Roblivesey

    I bought my first ever MINI (and my first ever car) without ever actually test driving one. I was so smitten with the original R50 design that the asthetics alone were sufficient for me to immediately put down a deposit on it. Nearly 8 years on and being the proud owner of an R53, I still can’t bring myself to stray from the timeless design of the original MINI. Then again I’m perfectly content to remain in this R53 rut of mine:)

  • 0(=^=)0Capn

    I still remember the MINI emoticon post, you invited everyone to make up their own. What fun. 10 years already. 

  • Tony

    I think I speak for a lot of people when I say thank you for finding MINI, creating this site and taking us along on the journey.

    • hfred

      Right on!

  • frogberg

    Great story. I, for one, am quite glad you’re here. In my 7 years of owning my R53, this site has been a great resource whether it be looking for advice, shopping for gear or just keeping up on MINI news.

  • bluzeke

    For all the MINI things you’ve done – here’s to you Gabe!  (sound of a Bell’s Brew cap flyin’ ) 

  • Kec201814

    I’m relatively new to the MINI bug, having caught it with a 2009 R56. Our nearest MNI dealers are in Seattle (265 miles) and Portland (335 miles). I had never even put my rear end in a MINI, but had decided that not having had a fun to drive car since buying a new ’65 Mustang in November 1964 was about to end. Thanks in large part to reading Motoring File, I had decided on  a MINI, drove with my wife to Portland and bought a lovely Cooper S R56. I had thought that I wanted a convertible (R57), but did not like the lack of visibility. Apparently the top down bug remained, as I knew that I needed a Roadster as soon as it was announced. Last Wednesday, we drove to Portland to pick up our 2012 R59, BRG II Cooper S, Roadster. At 72, I hope that my love and need has been satisfied with this little beauty.

  • Adam

    Great work and congrats Gabe! You’ve come a long way from… I’m finally hoping to be back in a mini soon after almost 9 years with no car at all! Glad I knew you’d have all the info I could ever need and then some..

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing your love of the brand, Gabe. I can remember the old days. This site has been a part of my daily routine for 8+ years. This post really makes miss my 02 MCS.

  • Red Mini

    Motoringfile is the first thing I click on in the morning when I start my computer. Thanks for all the great info over these past years.  My love of the brand is stronger than ever: 2 R53s and 1 R56 and either a JCW Roadster or JCW Countryman is next! I have tracked all 3, and they love passing those more powerful sports cars!

  • Anonymous

    I go to this site several times every day and it’s been a great source for MINI news through the years. Right now I anxiously await anything new on the third gen hatch.

    How about a limited run of “old” new R50/R53 cars to celebrate 10 years 🙂

  • I just have to add that MF has had a profound effect on my own life. From helping me choose to buy my MINI when I did, to giving me a place to express my point of view, MotoringFile has been part of my daily routine since 2003. The reporting and writing I get to do now on behalf of MotoringFile (and by extension on WhiteRoofRadio) has been as much an honor as a hell of a good time. Because of MotoringFile I got driving lessons from Rauno Aaltonen, went on a road trip with Jim McDowell in Tennessee and drove half a dozen different Countrymen through the snowy Austrian Alps! I still pinch myself from week to week that I get to be involved. Thanks for that, Gabe! Thanks for putting my own MINI fever to good use.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for MotoringFile, Gabe.  While MINI being one of your passions, building and maintaining something like this is never easy.  Here’s to everything you’ve put into it, and on WRR.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    … Within 30 seconds of driving my then new ’03S, I knew I would buy it. The sounds it made, the size, the handling, and holy s**t, it had a supercharger!

    Some time later, I stumbled across Motoringfile and I think about the same time Whiteroof radio. They were exactly what I was looking for; the perfect blend of MINI news and comment. I know the blog and podcast have grown at an astonishing rate and I suspect, far beyond any ones expectations.

    Thanks Gabe, Todd, DB, Nathaniel, Chad and Michael for your time and efforts towards WRR, MF and BF!

  • Nick

    I love MotoringFile. Its the perfect place to keep up with MINI.

  • Anonymous

    Hey Gabe.. Besides a thanks to MINIUSA and Motoringfile, I need to throw a huge thanks to you personally as well for introducing me to the MINI Community..  I’ve met a ton of cool people and participated in a bunch of really fun events and activities over the years..  I’ve gotten way more out of it than I’ve put in.

  • Evan

    I remember seeing the MINI in a car magazine from its Paris Auto Show debut. That started the research, info gathering and waiting… I was still in college and the hopes of buying a new car seemed far away. I went and drove a MINI Cooper, Indi Blue with white top and sport package in the beginning of April 2002 after waiting for an open test drive slot for three days…

    It was instant love. The way the car handled was incredible. Rails. Truthfully. I took a roundabout at full speed with zero lean and supreme body control. I was fully hooked and started plotting…

    While I was driving a 1989 Tercel that my friend’s parents gave me at that time, I had to go through driving a 1993 Plymouth Grand Voyager SE for a year and a half. Then, once I had a good paying job and saved up a little bit… I returned.

    I picked up my 2004 Indi Blue with White Top MINI Cooper on 1/2/2004 after spending months online plotting and planning and reading Motoringfile. It has always been an incredible source for MINI information with passionate contributors and commenters.

    Thank you MINI. Thank you Motoringfile.

    While my next new car will be a replacement BMW for my E90, I will always keep my MINI. Always. And I’m thinking the new F56 will be my next MINI…

    Motor on.

  • Strieby

    10 years has flown by, Gabe.  Your insight into thing MINI has been high on my list dating back to the Bridger days (I have often wondered how many folks initially caught on to the reference.)  Keep up the great work of keeping the community informed.


    • That reference. Funny story… I didn’t eve know about it initially. Its just my last name. 🙂

  • Thanks to Motoringfile, I come to know and love the MINI, and eventually bought an R56 MINI Cooper S. Some time later I started reading Bimmerfile and was convinced to buy a 1M. Gabe owes me a lot of money. 

    • Or you owe me and the site a lot of happiness 🙂

      via mobile

  • Trains

    Interesting that you blame your interests on the old BMW 2002.  The first car my wife and I bought together was a 1975 BMW 2002, after her father backed into my Volvo P1800 the day before our wedding.  I bought a new MINI with the factory JCW package in 2006, that will soon go to my son, but only because we recently were able to buy a beautifully maintained 2006 GP MINI.  I think both of those come as close as anything to the feel of the old BMW 2002. 

  • dpcompt

    I am very late to the Mini phenomenon. I purchased my first Mini in early ’08.When the Minis first came out. I was interested , but I waited. I have always been a car nut and the Mini was the next fix. Usually when I tell my wife that I am buying another car, its ok, get what you want. When I mentioned the Mini, she was excited. These little cars draw enthusiasm. And, they don’t disappoint. I have been reading your blog since ’08 and will continue to enjoy it. Thanks, Don

  • David Goh

    Love the website. 

    Had an R50 for 4 years, then had a R53 for 5. Then after reading bimmerfile bought a Z4M. Gabe has great taste – I still have the R53 and tbh, enjoy driving it more than the Z4M! 

  • This post made me want to nostalgia. Are there any original pictures of the very first mini dealership to open up in 2002? I’d love to see them. I miss walking into the MINI dealer and actually seeing R50’s and R53’s. Its like its old times already 🙁

  • Aaron

    I’ve been coming to MotoringFile for years (haven’t posted much in the past couple of years because I have to turn off Ghostery to do so). Gabe, thanks so much for all you’ve done in providing us a home on the web to come to, to reliably find out about MINI (and BMW) news. For a long time I stopped by NAM, MINI2 and MotoringFile multiple times a day.

    My MINI purchasing story is a bit different. I actually was NOT sold on the Mini’s looks and design at first. I grew up in a Civic/Corolla household, and didn’t own a car. I lived in Boston and signed up for Zipcar (a car sharing program…and a great way to test drive cars you’re thinking of buying). Usually I’d drive the jettas, priuses and civics at the Zipcar parking near my house. One day, I needed a car at short notice to run some errands and the only car available anywhere near my house was a MINI. So I grumbled and booked it. My girlfriend (now wife) and I spent the rest of that day driving around Boston, and every time we stopped to run an errand, we’d get out of the car, stand there and just look at it. And I was shocked…SHOCKED…at how it handled. When you have spent your life driving Civics, Corollas and Priuses, getting behind the wheel of a car that has responsive steering, that doesn’t have body roll on turns, that can stealthily hit 80 MPH without breaking a sweat…the MINI was like going from black and white to technicolor. I was sold. Within the year, I had ordered and received my 2006 Space Blue, Silver roof MCS. We are a one car family (with a 3 year old), and we still drive that car today. I do have one regret: not getting the manual transmission.