A page about my discovery of MINI Coopers and how long it took me to talk myself into getting one!
I first discovered the Mini Cooper watching “Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002). The featured spy car was a new-model MINI painted all over with a Union Jack, and it was adorable. Since the MINI was re-launched in America in March 2002, I started seeing them on the roads at the same time. Bill and I stopped to look at one (I believe it was Hyper Blue with White Roof), and after viewing the retro-hip interior, I knew I wanted to get a MINI. Bill liked it because of the rich British racing history associated with MINI. I liked it because it looked cool. It was cute, and stylish, and different, and kick-ass funky. I started telling people that my next car was going to be a MINI. It was just a matter of when.
Fastforward to 2005. My dependable Hyundai Sonata sedan started to show lots and lots of tiny corrosion marks after being peppered by a salt truck the previous winter. It was debatable whether the insurance would cover the damage or not, and I couldn’t see investing several thousand dollars into a car that only cost me $15, 000 brand new and got a mere 25 MPG on the highway. My rule of thumb is if the cost of a repair is equal to about half of what I would put down on a new car, then it’s time to get a new car. The time had come.
Still, I took a few months to talk myself into it. I knew I was getting a new car, but I wasn’t 100% sure that a MINI was the right choice. I loved the car, I loved the mileage, but I worried about the reliability and maintenance involved in owning a MINI. All cars have issues sooner or later, and I knew MINI’s had to be serviced at MINI dealers, the nearest of which were in Chicago and Detroit, a good two hours in either direction. I read horror stories online from MINI owners, and even though I knew MINI had a user reliability rating in the high 90s, I obsessed about the bad instead of the good. I wanted a hip and stylish car, and I started to think that maybe a Mustang would be a better choice. It wasn’t as cool, and the mileage was abysmal, but I saw fewer and milder horror stories, AND it could be serviced just about anywhere. Perhaps I should get a Mustang now and get a MINI a few years down the road, when maybe I could find closer servicing. In a few years, perhaps a MINI dealership would open in Grand Rapids, or maybe all BMW dealers would start servicing MINIs, whether they sold them or not. I didn’t really want the Mustang, though. Gas prices were soaring, and, well, the MINI was just cooler. I wanted the MINI, along with the reassurance that I wasn’t making a mistake getting one. Although he didn’t try to influence my decision either way, Bill gave me all of the reassurance needed. He sorted through his Car and Driver magazines and gave me every magazine with reviews of the MINI and the Mustang. The review I was most interested in involved several people testing the MINI over an extended time span, and the tests were all conducted in Michigan! Everyone drove the car hard, and yet the worst gripes were petty ones such as the leg room in the back seat (there just isn’t any) and the shifter knob materials (part metal, part plastic means that it gets hot in the sun and freezing in the winter). Furthermore, I found out that Brock Yates, one of the most respected automotive journalists, is rumored to be a MINI owner, and he lives in inhospitable places such as upstate New York and northern Minnesota. If he can own one and live in northern Minnesota, then I can own one and survive our lake-effect snows. Even then, I still checked my decision with Bill. Since he is both the ultimate gear-head and the person who will help me deal with whatever car issues arise, I wanted to make sure my choice was okay with him. I didn’t want to spend $24, 000 and find out the next day that he really thought the car was a piece of shit and he just held his tongue for the sake of my feelings. He told me midway through my decision process that he thought I would wind up with a Mustang, and in my indecisiveness, I thought he meant that I should get the Mustang (he figured I would want the smoother, simpler ride of an automatic Mustang versus the bumpier, more complicated ride of a MINI). So I kept saying, “But you said I could get the MINI, right?” and he always answered “Yes. Get the MINI.” But he did insist on two things: 1. That I test drive a MINI and 2. That if I get a MINI, I get the S model. A MINI is a race car, and as such has a “go-cart” feel to the ride. You feel the bumps and the curves a lot more than in a sedan, and Bill worried that I wasn’t ready for the British racing experience. He also wanted to make sure that if I got such a tiny car, that it had the extra zip to it for safety.
So he and I took a short test drive in a used, automatic MINI Cooper at Alan Christian Motors, and then later Dad went with me to the Detroit dealership so I could test drive a manual transmission MINI CooperS. (Helga, the sales rep that I talked with, was so plastic she was scary to the point of barely being human. I hope she sued her plastic surgeon for millions). That test drive in the 6-speed manual S is what won me over completely. The drive was just that fun! (Although I admit to some less-than-perfect shifting during the test. It‘s been years since the Geo, and the MINI is sport-tuned. Dad thought I slammed into gear too hard, and I‘m sure he was right). I also realized during the test drive that Bill was right about getting the S model; without the extra horsepower, it would be like driving another Geo. The other thing I got sold on during the test drive was the color. All along I had planned on getting a Hyper Blue MINI with white bonnet stripes That changed when I saw an Electric Blue MINI with white roof; I knew I was getting a MINI, and it would look like that!
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