I did it! I finally did it! I finally got behind the wheel of a lovely blue classic Mini and boy did I enjoy every minute! For those who’ve been following this blog, you’d know about my recent trip up to the UK a month ago for the International Mini Meet.
While our drive to the event in Bristol was undertaken in Mini’s latest JCW-fettled Clubman, our chaperons from Munich had trucked in a few classic Minis to attend the same event. Always wanting to have a go in a classic Mini, I just had to ask, and they very kindly obliged. It was everything I imagined and more.
Everyone, meet William the blue “classic” Mini. I say “classic” because while William might look like something that popped out of a factory in the late 70s, it was actually built in a slightly more recent era, think mid-90s. Because believe it or not, these classic shaped runabouts only ended production in the year 2000 when the last Mini (a red Cooper Sport) rolled out on the 4th of October and was presented to the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust in December of that year. Over its extensive production run, a total of 5,387,862 pre-BMW Minis had been manufactured. Not bad for something that started life on a restaurant napkin.
Getting into a classic Mini is a rather amusing affair, mostly because the Mini’s external dimensions are absolutely minute when parked up next to modern-day automobiles. But looks can be deceiving as once I dropped my bottom into the seats, interior space is rather adequate with a pretty decent amount of headroom and legroom for both my front passenger and myself. Shoulder room though is somewhat compromised and shifting through the gears involves asking your passenger to shimmy their legs a little to the side to avoid any accidental close contact.
Swinging the somewhat unsettlingly thin door close with a satisfying vintage “Schunk”, the controls on this left hand drive classic Mini are not exactly placed intuitively. There are knobs and switches to do turn on the lights and other stuff (I don’t know what), and the little stalks to activate the wipers and indicators are pencil thin and very light to the touch. Pretty similar to the BMW 2002. The steering though, that’s probably one of the most unique aspects of driving this iconic car and just seeing it makes you realise where those go-kart references came from.
Unlike most cars with their steering wheels sitting almost upright, the one on the Mini is angled upwards like a bus or, a go-kart. This has the trickle-down effect on how you drive the car and instead of primarily using your elbows and arms to turn the wheel, you now have to adapt to this little car’s quirky steering position by rotating it with your shoulders. Again, very go-kart-like.
As this was a privately owned vehicle, I kept most of my driving in the daytime relatively sane, with the occasional spurt along tight country roads and just enjoying the moment. As an automotive enthusiast, driving a classic Mini was something I just had to check off my bucket list.
This go-kart driving reference would have fallen flat if the driving experience was dull like the weather we had, but it was very much the opposite. It wasn’t comfortable, it wasn’t quiet and it probably wasn’t very safe. But what it was, was fun. That’s not to say it was easy, it wasn’t, especially in left-hand drive form. There’s some getting used to, but once warmed up, you start to enjoy everything the car reflects back to you. The noise, the weight of the non-power assisted steering as you enter into corners, the light action of the clutch, that “click” as you engage the shifter through the gears, the eagerness of the engine on throttle. Everything just felt so together and it brings so much joy to motoring at speeds modern hot-hatches will easily achieve in 2nd or 3rd gear.
The classic Mini isn’t without its faults, of course, the ride on badly surfaced or cobblestoned streets can be ridiculously horrendous and well, let’s face it, even with an airbag-equipped steering wheel on our car, it probably wouldn’t help all that much if we were to get into any sort of trouble with a modern machine.
With the day at an end, our classic Mini rendezvoused with the rest of our crew in the city of Bristol and interestingly, everyone commuted out today in a classic, making for a rather cute sight outside the restaurant. It was a good day, and I would have been happy to end my classic Mini drive there, but there was still a quick drive back to our hotel after dinner to be had.
It turned out to be one of the most memorable drives I’ve ever had. Leading the pack in the beautifully stripped Mini was the owner of all three machines and when I said a quick drive back, I meant a QUICK drive back.
If you’ve ever imagined yourself being in that chase scene from the classic Italian Job movie, this was pretty much how it felt as our posse of classic Minis crisscrossed through the city of Bristol in tight formation, rocketing off from stoplights and making tight turns with nary a lift off the throttle. It was crazy. Crazy good.
At this point of the night, my trusty mobile phone had run out of juice, couple that with a lack of local road knowledge meant I had to keep up with the rest of the pack no matter what. I can tell you this, keeping up with a well-driven Mini though the city at night is an excellent way to invigorate your senses.
I loved every single minute of it and now, I want one.