Mini with a greasy heart, Automatic Man Kerry Morse picks six
The BA flight from Stuttgart was crowded and hot and seemed to take an
inordinate amount of time. I had flown from L.A. to London and then on to
Germany because I like Virgin's premium economy when you can get on the
upper deck. Done deal and after a week at Porsche I was ready for a tall G & T at a
fashionable dive bar in London. Jim Bamber was waiting in his BMW to act as the
taxi for an afternoon and we hit the traffic.
Goodbye Baby and Amen.
Purely on a whim, I mentioned that I had always wanted to visit the park that
Antonioni had used in the 60's art film "Blow Up". Bamber was in art school at the
time of the movie's release and it had been a fave of his and he stated that he
always wanted to visit the place but had been to lazy after all these years to do so.
Jimbo also fancied himself the next David Bailey but he never did get Jane Birkin.
( Neither did I… )
For those who know the story, I can report that the place looks pretty much the
same except the trees and shrubs has been allowed to overgrow. The tennis
court is still there and I had a game of mime tennis. How fab…
Have you seen her face ?
Not counting being at airports, it had been a few years since being in London.
Last time I was at the wheel of a new Bentley with Pastorious's bass runs from
Hejira's Refuge of the Roads emanating throughout the monster four door. This
time is was the muttering curses of Jim Bamber. Soon enough we were in a pub
not too far from my all time favorite bit of London art deco architecture, the Michelin
House located on Fulham Road. There was also something else that I was
curious about and that is how well the new Mini was doing. Did it have the hip
factor that made the original a fixture of every class of Brit ? By my unofficial
observations, the new Mini is indeed holding up well. One area in particular and
one that would make Mary Quant proud is that the new Mini has become an
automotive accessory to a new breed of fashionable woman. Yeah, baby… but
what is happening today in the U.K. is a far different market than the California
sunshine of the West Coast.
Loosen up automatically…
It took the Japanese to really introduce the electric starter to the bike world back
in the 1960’s. This naturally appalled the British as the “proper” way to start on
their oil leaking 500cc was by the manual use of one’s foot via the kick start. It
would be simply unthinkable that a Mini would ever have such a negative as a fully
automatic gearbox, VW was having enough problems back then convincing the
public that there semi- auto box made sense. The word today is stop making
sense. The new six-speed Steptronic Mini Cooper S is the new black. So many of
us jaded characters that would not accept an automatic slushbox need to spend a
few days in the bowels of a major metropolis to appreciate just how good the
combo of the blown 1.6 can be with this transmission. Upon my return to L.A. via
Virgin Atlantic, I picked up the cheerful hyper blue Mini S at Airport Valet and was
immediately confronted with a snarling backed up 405 freeway. The forty five
miles to my house took close to three hours and I have done this in press cars
with manual gearboxes too many times to recount. The lesson learned that
judging by the appreciative stares and waves, a Mini can still be hip automatically.
I arrived home without a hint of leg cramps or road rage. Of course, the true proof
is how well the new Mini S does with the paddles or shifter in the let’s play mode.
The last run…
A weekend blast through the hills above Santa Barbara and Ojai proved the six
speed manual mode to be up to the task but my individual preference was to
leave the box in the “D” mode. It has superb shift points, plenty of revs and power
and when applied correctly, can be as rewarding as the manual Mini Cooper S.
Even more so if you are a resident of Southern California. I wouldn’t want it any
other way, I have been sold on this package automatically.