Mini ha-ha

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Given the modern motoring environment, the Mini makes no sense at all. Leastways theoretically. The art of chassis design has come a long way since the Mini was uncovered in August 1959. For instance, it has long been possible to buy a small car with suspension that doesn’t leave you feeling as though you’ve had a Mike Tyson body massage every time you tackle a Welsh B-road. Although such as the Daihatsu Charade and Suzuki Swift don’t offer generous rear passenger space to sumo wrestlers, they do at least allow conventional humans to sit without their chins resting on their kneecaps. And they also have luggage space for more than a couple of packets of cornflakes and half a dozen tins of Kattomeat.

At almost £8000, the range-topping Mini Cooper is certainly cheaper than other performance hatchbacks. That, some would argue, is just as it should be. Rover’s tiny anachronism is a good deal less practical than other tiddlers, and quite often less potent.

But who cares? To my mind, there is still a market for the Mini, particularly in its revived Cooper guise. As and when Rover finally axes it, the word is that the Japanese will swoop in to buy the tooling in order to continue production in the Far East . . .

Rover has recently revised the Cooper, ditching the twin carbs that were so long a feature of its specification sheet in favour of fuel injection. That, in turn, has allowed the fitment of a catalytic converter as standard. The upshot is 60 bhp at 5700 rpm, but while we’re not talking Project Thrust potential that’s still a respectable 90 bhp/ton power to weight ratio.

As ever, the Mini is at home in town or on tight, serpentine lanes, and all at sea on fast, straight roads where the combination of wheezing four-speed transmission and high revs render the standard Philips radio/cassette superfluous. At least the latter now has an auto-reverse facility, which reduces the frequency of having to grope your passenger’s knee every time you want to switch tapes.

While even the humble 1.0-litre Minis are city traffic friendly, the Cooper is on a different plane, perhaps still the finest town car there is. Its modest size and instant throttle response give it access to spaces that are usually grabbed only by kamikaze dispatch riders.

Its amazing to see the reaction of passers-by to the Cooper, too. In the south-east, particularly, nobody bats an eyelid if a Porsche 911 or Mercedes 500SL cruises by. Perversely the Mini attracts consistent stares and smiles, in roughly equal measure. Like the Morris Minor, it is an important and charismatic part of British motoring heritage. That it should still be readily available at a time when nostalgia is big business is a plus. Sadly, our demonstrator proved just too appealing for one low-life, who attempted an early morning entry via the unsubtle – and ultimately unsuccessful – means of a screwdriver.

Advances in technology may have brought about greater engineering sophistication, but in too many cases they have also led to the disappearance of character. While many sports hatchbacks from both Europe and Japan are masterpieces of efficiency, they are often dull.

Nowadays, the Mini Cooper may appear crude, but it has a fun factor that you won’t find anywhere else this side of a Caterham Seven. If you like your motoring sunny side up, buy one now, while you still can. SA

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