Across the country, it seems you can't even glance at the road without seeing a MINI — they're everywhere, and for good reason.
For 60 years, the MINI has challenged conventions to revolutionize the idea of what an automobile could be. MINIs have a personalized drive and go-kart handling, are as fun to drive as they are efficient, and have a surprising size that's much more spacious than its name implies. More than that, though, MINI has a fan base perhaps unmatched by any other car.
To show just how significant this community is, we'll be profiling some of the most unique MINI owners as part of this three-part series.
How vast this community really is was evident in early October, when over 600 proud MINI owners, passionate about their cars and the MINI culture, invaded Ontario’s Prince Edward County as a celebration of the marque’s 60th anniversary. Meeting at rally points in Ontario and Quebec, fans with a variety of different MINI models decked out in bright colours and covered in bumper stickers, trekked from as far away as New Brunswick, New Hampshire, and Philadelphia to unite in celebration of the brand at MINI Invasion 2019.
I, myself, even drove from Toronto to Prince Edward County in MINI's British Racing Green (a colour emblematic of the brand’s motorsport roots) 60 Years Edition, an exclusive model highlighting the British origins of MINI. As soon as I stepped into the car, I could see why so many people were gathering to celebrate the MINI brand — I was immediately impressed.
My MINI 60 Years Edition (a version of the MINI 3 door) came with a large infotainment screen, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, wireless phone charging, a reversing camera, and rear LED lights with the Union Jack flag pattern for an extra touch of sixties cool. It handled like a go-kart (a standard MINI feature) and made the three-hour trip to Prince Edward County extremely enjoyable, despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic getting out of downtown Toronto.
Experienced and new MINI owners, grandparents, parents, toddlers in MINI apparel, and couples were out in the hundreds, crowding the grandstand, taking photos despite intermittent rain, and wandering the parking lot to admire the 60 years worth of iconic vehicles they came to celebrate.
After speaking to a few of the attendees myself, I realized the fans were as colourful and fun as their MINIs. One Canadian couple from Oshawa stood out to me in particular.
As I wandered around the parking lot looking at all of the different models parked up at MINI Invasion, Tyson and Nadine's MINI caught my eye immediately. A sticker on the side of their car read, "This car climbed Mount Washington." The highest peak in the Northeastern United States? Surely not, I thought. So I spoke to them.
"It was just this past summer," Tyson told me. "We were part of a larger group of about 25 MINIs that started in St. Ignace, Michigan. We did an eastbound road trip to Newfoundland and then moved south into the Northeastern United States. Finally, we stopped at Mount Washington."
It's a total of seven and a half miles from base to summit and the overall height is over 6,000 feet. "It's a harrowing drive," Tyson says. "You can do it at most, safely, about 50 km/h." Their trusted 2016 John Cooper Works took them up and down without a hitch.
With all of the modifications he's added onto it — lowering springs, a John Cooper Works valve exhaust, a large aftermarket inner cooler — he says it can hit up to 300 horsepower. He's proud of his car and being a part of the MINI community, and that's why he comes to MINI Invasion every chance he gets.
Like Tyson and Nadine, several other MINI fans can say they've been to more than one MINI Invasion, like Quebec's MINI Brossard team. Their 1977 Austin MINI Cooper drew attention during the parade lap around the Shannonville circuit and continued to be the center of attention throughout the event. Once I saw their car, I knew I had to speak to them.
"It’s insane the amount of attention this car is getting. We drive a $500,000 Lamborghini and we don’t get as much attention in that," said John Hollands, Sales Advisor for MINI Brossard, who drove 400km with his whole team for the event. "We're all MINI-acs. We love the brand, we love the cars, and Twiggy (the nickname for their 1977 Austin MINI Cooper) encompasses our energy as well as MINI's energy; she’s just pure fun."
But the Brossard team and Tyson and Nadine were just a few of the many interesting enthusiasts I came across at MINI Invasion. Among the dozens of attendees, I also spoke to a family of MINI-owners who run an annual MINI rally wine tour across Niagara.
But while the most interesting part of the event for me was being able to speak to all of these fans, the highlight of the event for them was undoubtedly having the opportunity to meet a member of the MINI royal family: Charlie Cooper, grandson of John Cooper (auto-racing legend and founder of the Cooper Car Company), who flew all the way from London, England, for the event.
I had the opportunity not only to speak with Charlie, but to ride shotgun with him for a few stomach-turning hot laps in a 301 horsepower MINI John Cooper Works Clubman, the most powerful MINI ever. "Everyone who comes to be involved with MINI, or touches or drives a MINI, does fall in love with the brand," he told me. After the first lap, I could see why.
As soon as Charlie hit the gas, I had goosebumps. The MINI JCW Clubman is a true sports car. We were going blisteringly quick around the racetrack, so much so that my body was sliding left and right in the seat every time we made a turn. This is a fast car, and it took me back to MINI's racing roots.
"A lot of MINI fans don’t know the racing history of Cooper, and that it came from what my father did and what my grandfather did," Cooper said. Despite the brand's international popularity, many people aren't aware of the company's iconic racing history.
The MINI has had a long and storied career, from its origins as a small and agile people-mover designed to use less fuel during a gas crisis to its many current varieties, it has evolved into a race-winner, a workhorse, and a personality-packed sidekick. But for Charlie and his family, the real story starts in 1961, when the humble little car fell into the hands of British racing legend John Cooper, Charlie's grandfather.
A more powerful engine, bigger brakes, and a few tweaks meant the little Classic MINI was outracing the larger and more powerful sedans of the day and winning numerous international races, including three at the prestigious Monte Carlo Rally from 1964 to 1967. Since then, MINI has always felt at home on the track, winning countless first-place finishes at some of the world's most prestigious competitions.
At MINI Invasion, I got to experience the sheer power of MINI's more modern models by drag racing the new MINI John Cooper Works Clubman and Countryman models with 301 horsepower. They're the most powerful MINI models ever approved for public road use — and, boy, are they ever fun to drive.