- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

Since the first Mini appeared in the late 1950s, it has been produced with various improvements, but little change, under various owners. BMW now manufactures an all-new, modernized Mini, but that’s another story.

In 1975 British Leyland was building Minis. One of the 10-foot-long cars was painted blaze red and was shipped off to New Zealand, where its right-hand drive blended in.

At the age of 27, in December 2002, the diminutive car was shipped to the United States and, eventually, found a home with a man who often has a vendor’s booth at automotive events in Carlisle, Pa.

At Carlisle in May 2003, the Mini and a couple from Fredericksburg crossed paths. Dan and Terri Javaras discovered that the little set of wheels was for sale and before long they found a shop manual for the Mini. The binder was the same orangish color as the car. “That clinched the deal for Mr. Javaras. “It was meant to be,” he told his wife.

They bought the car on the spot and arranged to have it trucked to their home.

A subsequent inspection did not reveal any unpleasantness.

“It looks like a bumblebee on steroids,” Mr. Javaras says. For safety’s sake both front-seat passengers are provided with shoulder belts. Rear-seat passengers get contoured back seats. As for external protection, Mr. Javaras says, “The bumpers are there in name only.”

Beneath the small engine hood, sitting sideways, is a cast-iron 1.0-liter (51.7-cubic-inch) four-cylinder engine. The radiator is mounted near the left front fender with the fan pushing air through the radiator and on out through the wheel well.

The engine produces a more-than-sufficient 35 horsepower that is directed to the front wheels, originally shod with 5.20x10-inch tires. Radial 145SR10 tires now support the car. Rack-and-pinion steering is so responsive that from lock to lock the steering wheel turns only 2.33 rotations. The car, with a 80.1-inch wheelbase, can be turned within a 29.5-foot circle.

Factory literature says Mini drivers can expect up to 35.6 miles per gallon. Mr. Javaras reports 42 mpg on one lengthy, all-highway, trip. A single S.U. semi-downdraft carburetor feeds fuel from the 6.3-gallon gasoline tank to the engine. “It has a venturi the size of a nostril,” the owner observes.

Around the perimeter of the top runs a continuous rain gutter with four drain holes, one at each corner. It sets on white wheels with a one-inch exhaust pipe peeking out from under the rear bumper.

“You can drive it anywhere,” Mr. Javaras says. All that is required is that the engine is kept full with 4.5 quarts of oil.

Access to the remarkably spacious black vinyl interior is through what Mr. Javaras describes as, “The two normal-size doors.” Although the tiny car is 55.5 inches wide and stands 53 inches high, four adult passengers can be seated with plenty of elbow room. The total combined capacity of passengers and cargo is rated at 706 pounds.

Instrumentation is in a central cluster with a 90 mph speedometer, although the factory reports a top speed of 73 mph. The dry weight of the Mini is 1,398 pounds, which is brought to a halt with drum brakes.

The pop-out windows in the rear combined with the vents in the front keep passengers comfortable. “There is plenty of ventilation,” Mr. Javaras says.

The odometer is approaching 67,000 miles, although its accuracy is questionable.

Each time he approaches the car, he has a recurring problem. “I keep trying to get in on the left side,” he says, “but there’s no steering wheel there.”

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