The charm of the Mini rolls on at 50
About 5,000 'Minimaniacs' set up camp opposite the old factory that produced the first Minis in an industrial suburb of Birmingham, swapping advice, stories and spare parts.Longbridge – The Mini might be 50 years old, but the love for the little British car showed no signs of waning as thousands of 'Minimaniacs' gathered earlier this month to celebrate the anniversary.
"They come from everywhere: Australia, Japan, Germany, France... We have 450 Miniclubs from all over the world," marvelled Glenys Price, one of the organisers of the meeting in Longbridge, central England, where it all began.
About 5,000 ‘Minimaniacs’, driving Minis of every colour and model, set up camp opposite the old factory that produced the first Minis in an industrial suburb of Birmingham, swapping advice, stories and spare parts.
"Oh yes, the passion's still alive. It was a young people's car but the fathers passed on to their son and now the grandchildren have one," Price said, ahead of the August anniversary of the Mini going on the market in 1959.
Mathieu Faucon, 25, arrived with his father Michel at the event, and admits that it was "love at first sight" for him and the little cars.
Despite their tendency to break down—causing critics to describe them as less a car, more a tin can on wheels—he says he "caught the bug" from his father and now owns three of the little cars.
"It's true, you have to enjoy being a mechanic," Faucon said, admitting he has spent hours under the bonnet.
His father Michel Faucon, 60, bought his first Mini in his 20s and recalls fondly how "having a Mini was the coolest thing", especially when it came to attracting women.
Despite also admitting its flaws, he says, "It weaves its way everywhere, you feel like you're going fast. Normal cars are so mundane."
"You are so close to the ground, it's like a go-kart. You can feel everything through the steering wheel. In the back, too," chipped in a family friend, 26-year-old Mathieu Duval.
When production stopped in 2000, Minis only became more collectable. A new version was released in 2001 following BMW's takeover of Rover, but for many fans, "the big one," as they call it here, simply cannot compete.
"Since they stopped making it, the passion's gone to the roof," said John Griffin, the 46-year-old secretary of the London and Surrey Mini Owners' Club.
Holger George, the 55-year-old president of a German group which incorporates 40 clubs from around the country, dismissed the new car, saying: "It has nothing to do with the old Mini."
With its basic construction, the original car is a dream for a mechanic, says Holger, who is here with his 15-year-old step son. "You can do everything yourself, its very adaptable. It's a real toy for adults," he said.
Some Mini fans are more flexible, however, including Barry Tilbury, a member of the London and Surrey club who owns 16 cars, including a new Mini.
"It's my investment, it's like putting your money in a bank," he said.
In a tent nearby, two little blonde boys sing the song from 'The Italian Job', the cult movie starring Michael Caine which put Minis centre stage.
Aged just nine and six years old, they "already have the passion," said their father, Mattias Wahlstedt, 39.
He proudly introduces himself as president of the Mini Seven Club Sweden, "the first Mini club in the world, created in 1961, six months before the English one."
How to describe the allure of the Mini?
"Kids don't recognise a Saab from a Volvo but they always recognise a Mini," Wahlstedt said.
AFP / Expatica