When I got it in 2004, my MINI Cooper S was my first new car.
It was nearly the first car I’d bought at all; but the wait for delivery was so long that I needed a temporary car after college. I ended up buying a friend’s Miata to use for the summer in Seattle — the perfect time to own a convertible around here.
The MINI arrived in October, and we picked it up in Portland on Halloween. The Portland MINI dealer had a shorter wait time and cheaper mark-up than the MINI dealer near Seattle, so I decided it was worth the extra trip. We took the train down, then someone from the dealer picked us up. We drove back up to Seattle in the brand-new car, through a patch of very heavy rain that had me quickly figuring out how the windshield wipers worked.
The MINI was a great car for a young couple living in a big city. It was small and maneuverable, so easy to park. It was fun to drive, especially on city streets. Despite the small size, the hatchback and fold-down rear seats gave it a surprisingly large carrying capacity: we once brought home a set of outdoor furniture with a two-person couch, two chairs, and a table, all crammed into the MINI. The rear sets were cramped, and there was only two doors; but we rarely needed to give anyone a ride, so the majority of the time we used just the front seats.
A year or two later I found the Puget Sound MINI club, which was a great connection with other MINI owners. It got me interested in events, and then in modifying my car.
One of our favorite events was the Tulip Rallye. This is an event hosted by the MG Car Club up in the Skagit area in late April, when the tulips are in bloom. Drivers and navigators follow a course through city and country roads, spotting landmarks as answers to clues. It is a popular event, with a large variety of cars, especially older cars and small sporty cars such as MINIs and Miatas. We did it for six years straight, and had a blast (almost) every time -- driving through beautiful country areas and tulips fields, figuring out which shop or restaurant fit the bad pun for this clue, and hanging out with other MINI drivers before and after the event.
We did other events with the club, too. Once we did a drive up to Hurricane Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula. That was a neat park, and a fun drive both up and down the mountain. We did a number of clinics at Griot’s Garage, which got us interested in and taught us a lot about car detailing. We learned the proper way to maintain a car, including washing, claying, polishing, waxing, tire and rubber care, and other areas. We’ve also become a dedicated customer of Griot’s, and have plenty of their products we appreciate. After a major accident in 2009 and new paint job, we participated in a club car show at the LeMay Museum. We had a chance to show off our car, and enjoy the customizations other owners’ had done to make their cars unique.
I became interested in modifying my MINI after seeing other cars from the club. There were mechanical modifications to improve the feeling of the car: both for power and handling. There were exterior modifications to make the car look unique. There were also some convenience modifications to make it a bit of a nicer car. At one point I had planned out a large set of mechanical modifications I wanted to do, but only ended up doing three main ones: replacing the supercharger pulley with a smaller one, resulting in a faster turn of the supercharger and more boost. This gives more power, especially lower-end torque. I also replaced the cold air intake and exhaust with more open versions, giving some extra power (and more engine noise) to the car. For convenience modifications, I installed a new circuit to allow auto-up of the windows (instead of having to hold the switch the whole time); and I added a shelf under the steering wheel that was only briefly available in the US before being pulled due to safety regulations. My exterior visual modifications were more extensive. I decided I wanted to black-out all the chrome on the car. Some of this was as simple as applying some black vinyl tape to the chrome line around main part of the car. Other parts were as complex as taking apart the headlights and taillights to black-out the decorative chrome parts. This culminated in having a bodyshop paint a stripe on the car, in addition to removing the front and back emblems and welding in new pieces of metal to smooth over the holes.
In May of 2009, we had our first (and only) severe accident. We were driving back home from Eastern Washington on I-90, and I was getting frustrated at the traffic. I decided to try passing on the right. Unfortunately, I had to squeeze through a small gap getting back into the left lane, and I think I tried to brake as I was changing lanes. The car started fishtailing, and we ended up going down into the large median between the two directions of the freeway. We were very lucky for several reasons: first, we didn’t go into the right lane, where there was a semi-truck; second, we didn’t hit any other cars; and finally, the median was a big grassy ditch that slowed us down without a sudden stop. We were both flung about, but the airbags didn’t go off, and we emerged without any injury. The MINI however, did not. As we went into the dirt, the car kept turning left; eventually the right rear wheel caught, and flipped the car onto the passenger side. It kept sliding, and then popped back up onto the wheels. We ended up upright, facing back towards where we came from. The right rear wheel was bent down 90 degrees (parallel to the ground), and the whole right side of the car was smashed up.
This was on a Sunday, so the car was towed to Ellensburg. The next morning I talked to my insurance company, and we got it towed to a great shop in Kirkland, just a couple miles from where we lived. We were lucky in that the majority of the damage was just bodywork. The engine and mechanicals were untouched. The suspension, especially where the rear wheel was bent, was also damaged. Despite that, the repair costs were estimated at around 75% of the original cost of the car. The insurance company originally stated they were going to declare it totalled. However, after doing an appraisal (and presumably finding the high resale values of MINIs at that time), they decided to repair it. I was happy to keep the car, since there wasn’t a comparable new car on the market that I liked. The repair ended up taking almost two months (part of which we were on vacation for), but the result was nearly as good as new (better in my opinion, since it had several professional modifications done to it during the repair). I may still not drive as cautiously as Erika would like all the time, but I’m much more aware of how things can go wrong, and am more careful now.
In December of 2014 we decided to sell the MINI. We had gotten a larger car when we had a baby, because getting her into and out of a car seat is a lot easier with back doors. Erika doesn’t drive, and I almost never drove the MINI anymore, so it was time to get rid of it. We mentioned it to some family members, and had a couple people interested. We weren’t in a hurry, so we gave them some time to mull it over. The first person had some other expenses, and she passed on buying it. The second person decided she wanted to buy it, but lived down in California. It ended up working out that she was able to fly up to Seattle at the beginning of her spring break, then drive back down to California, taking some time to stop and visit friends and family along the way. We were sad to see it go, but glad to not have to worry about the maintenance on it anymore. We were also glad that someone we already knew was buying it, instead of a random person. We hope she enjoys it, and we will always remember the MINI that we owned for so long.