An army of Mini owners finished an unforgettable cross-country road trip this weekend when they pulled into Los Angeles, capping a 3,877-mile trek that began 10 days prior at Mini USA's New Jersey headquarters.
Mini Takes The States 2012 marked the fourth such event for owners of the miniscule British cars. The road rally debuted in 2006 and has taken place every other year since. While official figures are still being tallied, as of Saturday more than 4,000 Mini owners and enthusiasts took part in at least one of the 13 events that coincided with overnight stops in different states along the way. About 100 Mini owners took part in the entire event, driving all the way across the U.S. and -- for those who weren't shipping their cars -- all the way back home.
We met up with Mini in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to join this rolling party on its way to the final destination of sunny Southern California. Mini loaned us a couple of cars for the journey west: one of its new Roadster convertibles, and a high-powered John Cooper Works edition of its Countryman crossover, which we'll share more about closer to its 2013 model introduction. We even had the chance to ride in a Goodwood edition Mini, a $52,000 Mini Cooper S Hardtop developed with Rolls-Royce (technically a cousin of Mini under the BMW umbrella) that is limited to 1,000 units worldwide with just 140 allotted for the U.S. That most expensive of Mini Coopers features lamb's wool floor mats, cashmere-lined interior surfaces and walnut trim, among other exclusive items. More than an exercise in bespoke luxury, the Goodwood also speaks to how well this little brand has grown its lineup since being reintroduced to America in 2002 with just one model, the Mini Cooper Hardtop.
As we rolled over miles and miles of achingly beautiful Western landscape that included stops in the Petrified Forest National Park in the Painted Desert, we reminisced on how fast a decade has flown by for Mini USA, and how its brand is about much more than small cars. Here are our three biggest takeaways from MTTS 2012:
1. Mini = Fun
Mini has done an admirable job of endowing its cars with a playful nature. From the unconventional (and yes, sometimes frustrating) switches to the "Openometer" in convertibles that measures how long the roof has been down to let the sunshine in, Mini models don't take themselves too seriously. We saw firsthand that Mini's joyful nature comes from the top down. Case in point: Mini's "Chief Motorer" Jim McDowell was an ever-present bundle of energy at road-trip events, where he was often seen with a tiny squirt gun doing his best to sneak in a shot at unsuspecting revelers. His playful guerilla attacks were a welcome change from the image of an all-too-serious auto exec. And amid the triple-digit temperatures we experienced, they were also a welcome relief from the heat.
2. Have Mini, Will Travel
We had our doubts about driving hundreds of miles in the Mini Roadster, a car that's miniature even by Mini standards. Cars this small can be nervous at highway speeds and uncomfortable on long commutes. The Roadster Cooper S we piloted suffered neither of these woes. In fact, the Roadster was surprisingly stable at speed and felt very solid until we hit California's notoriously bumpy freeways. With 181 horsepower brimming from its 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbocharged engine and a short-throw 6-speed transmission, we were in our glory. As a bonus, we averaged in the high 30-mpg range and even with the top down were able to carry on a conversation at highway speeds. Our experience in the Roadster supported the notion that Minis can make for long-distance travel mates, not just cool urban runabouts.
3. The Cars Create The Community
Like the brand itself, Mini Takes The States is about much more than cars. The British automaker has long said that the Mini "experience" starts, rather than stops, when owners buy the car. MTTS is perhaps the highest-profile proof of that mindset. And it works. Here thousands of owners and enthusiasts from all ages and backgrounds come together. They are treated like rock stars by Mini executives and staff, dance to live music, dine on food provided by sponsors, and meet new lifelong friends -- all for just a $30 entry fee (not including travel and lodging, of course) and whatever time they could spare in their schedule.
By all accounts, Mini Takes The States was an experience that Mini owners will cherish and relive for years. If you didn't make this MTTS, or are eager to do it again, Mini has confirmed another for 2014 and will offer more info on its website on how you, too, can participate.