- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

The small British car that has attained near cult status in Europe for nearly 40 years, never quite reached that level of recognition in the United States.
This is not to say that the Mini didn't find a devout following on this side of the Atlantic, the car did find a small contingent of enthusiasts. Yet, almost any awareness of this little car came from the movies in which it had a role. Today, the new Mini, under the BMW product tent, is looking to take the U.S. market by storm.
The original Mini starred in many major, and not so major, motion pictures over its 40-plus years. In fact, as I talked with individuals around the country about their awareness of Mini, they were more apt to have a memory of a film role more than an experience of the car itself.
In Europe, and particularly in the United Kingdom, where the car is built, it is a different situation.
I recently participated in a road rally staged by the Irish Mini Owners Club that began at the lowest tip of Ireland (Mizen) to the northernmost tip (Malin). While I, and the three other motoring journalists, in the troupe were driving the newest version of the Mini, we had a number of wonderful opportunities to drive original versions of the car through the kindness of their owners. Handing the keys to a beloved member of your family over to an auto journalist is a leap of faith.
More than 70 original-version Minis were with us as we wound our way through Ireland on the narrow country roads. Roads that were barely wide enough for one small car, we shared with large delivery trucks, flocks of sheep and plenty of cows, as farmers herded them from pasture to pasture. Not only was the trip colorful, it was an adventure in keeping the cars on the road without becoming a part of the front bumper of an oncoming truck. Even with the concerns, it was a wonderful, albeit fast way to see the Emerald Isle.
The new Minis were greeted with a bit of suspicion and a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. It might have been because one of the cars was a modified model from the John Cooper Garage. Cooper is the well known name connected to Mini because of his successful racing modifications. Because of John Cooper the Mini is also know as the Mini Cooper, with an even more potent Cooper "S" available.
Because of airline flight schedules, we joined the tour at their first night's stop in the coastal town of Bantry. Here we got our first meeting with one of the most enthusiastic Mini owners we have seen. Gerard O'Leary is the quintessential Irishman, except that he doesn't imbibe the traditional pint at the pub. He does, however, exude Mini enthusiasm. Dubbed the "Wagon Master" by our group, Mr. O'Leary never seemed to slow down, nor did he seem to ever sleep. He continually rode herd on the program and its participants, always eager to talk with us about Minis, Ireland or any other subject that might come up during our conversations. We found it especially delightful to talk about his many special Minis.
The original Mini is a small car that changed very little from 1969 to 1999 when the last of the original body style came off the production line. In all there were purportedly 130 various models, including special editions that were adorned with bright decals. An interesting aspect of this experience was the wide range of ages of these Mini owners. I met men and women in their 50s who told me stories of how they learned to drive in their parents' Mini. I also heard many stories from young women and men in their 20s who told similar stories. Three sisters told me of how they loved their Minis so much that they couldn't imagine not driving a Mini, as they proudly gave us a tour about the car.
It is this unadulterated enthusiasm that makes the Mini more than just an ordinary economy car. It is just this enthusiasm the Mini car company hopes it will garner from a worldwide market, including North America.
While most of the participants were from the United Kingdom and Ireland, there were folks from as far away as South Africa. I am sure that as the passion for the Mini grows in the United States many American drivers will bring their Minis to the Emerald Isle for this fascinating tour.

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