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sportscarpros Baby You Can Drive My Car

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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.

Kerry Morse
                                                                          July 2005

car wheels on a gravel road
Blow Up Bamber
still life moving
everyones a winner
a bird call
a cure for the blues
John, I'm only dancing
merging blond
feeling the oats