Twenty years ago today I decided to take the afternoon off from work and head down to the local BMW dealer to check out something I had a hunch would be something pretty interesting. After years of development and even more rumors, the reborn Mini brand was coming to the US. As a bit of an Anglophile and rabid car enthusiast (especially BMWs), it would seem the new Mini might check every box. And if my hunch was correct, an order was going in that day. But what I didn’t know was just how game-changing this new car would be.

Employees at MINI USA felt that same way. Employee #1 Rich Steinberg and #2 Andrew Cutler both left BMW to help launch a brand that had little to no history in the US. As much as it was a leap of faith of buyers, it was a leap of faith for them and the other early employees of MINI USA as they were in uncharted territory trying to market and sell a premium small car in the truck and SUV crazy US market.

March 22nd 2022 was launch day and I still remember it vividly. As I drove up to the dealer (there were only two in Chicago at the time) I was 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. Looking back, the second shockwave in my automotive life was about to happen as I walked into Knauz MINI for the first time.

new MINI
One of MINI’s first advertising campaigns in the US before the car was launched. Many say that the ingenuity of that time period’s marketing helped propel the brand.

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 and feel the immediacy of the steering and chassis. Sure the design and packaging of the MINI was completely fascinating. But driving it was nothing less than a revelation.


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. And all three packages offered (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. Over ten MINIs later it’s still there.

And I wasn’t the only one. This experience happened to thousands of others who headed into their MINI dealers with a hunch this might just be a special car. That special car created a movement, a community and plenty of life-long friendships that have impacts countless lives.

For the early employees of MINI USA it was a smash hit. The car quickly sold out and waitlists grew across the country. Driven by both positive early reviews and a new wave or owners read to tell anyone who would listen about their MINI, the brand became nothing less than a sensation.

Perhaps the most surprisingly thing? 20 years onward and that enthusiasm is still here. So join me in wishing MINI USA a very happy 20th birthday!


How the Launch of MINI USA Inspired MotoringFile

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 largest, most influential MINI site in the world, visited by hundreds of thousands of people every month.

But the more impressive thing is the community that’s been built and the never-ending enthusiasm for the brand that permeates throughout all corners of it. Whether it’s the folks who started with an R50 20 years ago or those who just recently brought a new or used MINI, the people that own, love and even sell these cars is really what we’re celebrating.