Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Car the second: my very own Mini adventure

I distinctly remember the first time I saw a new Mini in the flesh metal. It was the launch day, and as I swung my little ol' Fiesta into the forecourt of my local BMW dealer there it was - all silver and black and awesome. I almost crashed while ogling it. Somehow I eventually managed to park-up, then wobbled into the showroom.

I was stunned. I'd seen pictures - lots of pictures - of the new Mini, but it was so much better when it was right in front of me. There was a red and white one in the showroom, and I spent a couple of minutes checking it out - sitting in it, poking it (not like that), and generally imagining myself owning one, all the time half expecting a message to come over a loudspeaker saying something to the effect of "would the owner of the aging Ford Fiesta please remove it from our reputable forecourt - and you, little boy, get out of the shiny Mini."

Eventually I managed to book myself in for a test drive, but because it was proving so popular I had something like a two hour wait. That being the case I jumped back in my Fiesta and headed home where I vibrated with excitement.

Now, I really don't like taking cars out for test drives because I always feel like the salesman who sits in with you is going to think I'm a bad driver, or criticise the way I drive in some menial way, or, heaven forbid, tut under his breath. I'm also conscious of the fact that I might stall it and look ridiculous. It's all the old driving test phobias coming back to haunt me. Fortunately the test drive went very well, and as expected I fell even more in love with the Mini than I thought I would. I'd not intended on putting my name down for one that day, but that's exactly what I did; I was the salesman's first buyer, and against my initial plan to get a British Racing Green one, I ended up ordering a red and white Cooper based purely on the fact that the one in the showroom looked so damn awesome.

There was a two month wait between ordering the car and it arriving, and it was the longest two months of my life, but on September 18th 2001 I became one of the first 1000 people in the country to own a new Mini.

My first Mini parked up on the streets of Richmond.

It's funny looking back on that time now - and even funnier trying to describe the sort of effect the new Mini had on people. The original Mini was - and still is - a quintessentially British icon; they're not mere cars, not just a tool to get you from A to B, they're members of the family - they're something you form an emotional attachment too. It had been said that the original Mini was irreplaceable, but, as I was to discover, the British public took the new version to heart just as much as they did the original (at least they did until a certain estate agents started using them as company cars for absolute knobbers who can't drive).

Nice arse (I do apologise, how very crude of me … but true nonetheless)

Don't believe me? Well how about the hordes of smiling pedestrians that would stop and point as I drove by? The bunch of school kids that stopped on the pavement and applauded me as I drove down Richmond High Street? The old man who told his wife to wait while he came over to "talk to this young man about his nice car," and then spent five minutes eagerly listening while I told him all about it and let him take a seat behind the wheel. Oh, and let's not forget the Ferrari driver who was clearly rather peeved that his 150k supercar wasn't getting as much attention as a 13k hatchback. We Mini drivers would wave to each other; there was even a chap in an original Mini who would give me a thumbs up every morning as I drove to work through Brentford. Driving a new Mini in those first few months was unlike anything I'd ever done before. And I'm not ashamed to say that I missed the attention as they became a more familiar sight and people stopped staring; I know exactly how D-list celebs feel as they try to hang on to the last vestiges of their fame.

My favourite picture of my first Mini, and quite possibly the artiest photo I've ever taken…

The thing about my first Mini though, was that being one of the first 1000 it had a few … let's call them quirks. Don't get me wrong, I loved it to bits, but every couple of months there'd be a reason to head back to the dealers. Nothing major, really, just a little squeak here, or an annoying rattle there. And it was when I was sitting in the dealers for exactly such a reason back in September 2003 that I made the fateful decision to go sit in a Cooper S that was on display. Y'know, just to be nosy.

It's not like I was actually going to buy one, was it?


Ponita in Real Life said...

But did you buy one???

Tara said...

Tim, you're killing us with this suspense. The drama! :)

The car I have now went through a few stages in its life when the little gadgets that kept things together would fall apart. There was a little thingy that was malfunctioning and made my Check Engine light flicker on all the time..Then another gadget broke down which caused my serpentine belt to slip off. Frustratin', I tell ya! And expensive.

Tim said...

Ponita - But I've already got one…

Tara - A serpentine belt?! What the heck is that!? Are you sure the garage didn't just make it up?

Tara said...

I was pretty sure they did make it up, but I guess it's a belt thingy that goes in the engine and keeps things working as a team. It has slipped off twice in the past and the car has a nervous breakdown.

Nannette Henriquez said...

Man, I can feel the joy radiating off of you when you got that new Mini! It's definitely love at first site for you, and I am very happy for you. You're right, Minis have really been a traditional British icon and have always been a permanent resident of your streets. Did you get the Cooper S? It sounded like the first time you fell for the red Mini.

Nannette Henriquez

David Woodall said...

I’m a little confused (but in a good way). Did you, or did you not buy the car? You sound like an excited kid on his first trip to the zoo. Haha! Anyway, I do agree with you. That Mini cooper can really make you feel like a millionaire driving around the streets of London, right? 

David "Woody" Woodall