I was a late starter when it came to learning to drive, mostly because of conflicting instructors (Mum: SLOW DOWN DEAR GOD WE’RE GOING TO DIE. Dad: You could probably speed up a bit. Brother: Drop the clutch, pull the handbrake up hard and turn the wheel far to the right. Give it heaps!)
I learnt to drive in a 1978 Mini. The specs elude me, but it was bright yellow, highly embarrassing, and somewhere in the family photo album there exists a photo of me and my brother in matching outfits next to it. I was six and I had a perm.
I found it hard learning how to use the clutch and was a prime candidate for stalling. To get over this, when I was home alone I’d drive the Mini up and down the grass on the back lawn, stalling madly with a success rate of around 10 percent. I always thought the parents wouldn’t know I’d been practicing, until one day Dad informed me he always knew. I don’t know how, but I became very careful about Doing Sneaky Things after that.
Once, my brother and I took the Mini (he was driving) down to the sandy flats of Orewa beach at low tide, where he performed a driving manoeuvre known as ‘doing donuts’. The Mini, bless its heart, got stuck in the sand and a group of road workers came to lift it out. We rinsed it off and we were home free. Or so we thought, until the neighbour, who’d seen it all, casually mentioned it to Dad.
“Wasn’t it nice of the road workers to help your kids get the Mini out of the sand the other day?”
“Hmmmm. Yes. Yes, it was.”
So when the good sorts at Mini invited me to test drive the 2012 Mini Baker Street, I couldn’t help wonder how the new models would compare to the old days with the canary yellow ’78 Mini.
The Baker Street is a sister car to the Bayswater, both limited edition fancy pants models named after their respective areas in London (as opposed to Bayswater, Auckland, or Baker Street, Huntly). It’s a six-speed (in your face, four-speed!) with a 1598cc engine, which means it still goes like a bat out of hell.
It’s still got all those original Mini features and feelings, right down to the circular dash and steering wheel and boy does it bring out your inner hoon. Sorry, I mean your inner responsible driver and polite citizen.
It’s much easier to drive than the old Mini; I swear I didn’t stall it even once. (I also didn’t take it down to the beach to do donuts – at $39,900 I thought I should pay it a bit more respect.)
I’m told I suit the Mini; I like to think this means I’m small and cute just like it is. Or perhaps I’m very fast. I drove it up to the bach at Ruakaka last Friday night with a spare mattress in the back for a friend who was staying over, which invited a few funny looks from other drivers. Alternatively, it may have been the Mexican wrestling mask I was wearing at the time.
The thing about the Mini (aside from it being fast and fun and a good homage to the original) is that everyone loves the damn thing. Everyone wants to drive it and look at it and stroke it. One woman ambled over to ask what it was like, as she’d recently bought one of Kim Dotcom’s Minis. Kim Dotcom in a Mini. There’s a thought.
And the best thing of the lot? It’s got Party Lights inside. They rotate through various colours so you can feel like you’re having your very own party in the front seat.
Here’s hoping Mini decides to expand its range to encompass other streets. I can’t wait to see what the K Road edition will look (and feel) like.
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