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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Mini mania big in US
Classic and new Minis
Classic and coveted, the old and new Minis

The United States is the land of the mega-sized meal and super-sized motor.

Sport utility vehicles, aka SUVs, rule the road and the showroom floor, and the US auto giants love these generously-built models because of their massive margins.

In a recent debate in the US Congress over fuel economy standards for cars, Republican Senator Trent Lott pointed to a picture of a purple model of the micro-mover, Smart, and said, "After all, this is still America... We shouldn't have the federal government saying you are going to drive the purple people eater here."

But right now, one of the hottest cars in the US is an update of a car that is all about small, right down to its name, the Mini.

Bidding up the price

MiniUSA knows that it's up against a big car culture in the US and takes a tongue-in-cheek shot at the monster truck madness.

A classic Mini
It has been 30 years since the Mini was sold in the US

As you click on the option to build your own Mini, a graphic pops up as the page loads saying, "The SUV backlash starts now."

And the backlash appears to have plenty of backers. BMW recently announced that it was increasing production of the car to meet the unexpected demand in the US.

Brett Sholder is the general manager of a Mini dealership in Towson Maryland, and he had more than 100 people on a waiting list to buy a new Mini before the car officially went on sale in the US on 22 March.

And his waiting list is tiny compared to ones at California dealers that often grow to 300 or 400 people.

The car is in such demand that buyers are willing to pay $5,000-$6,000 above the manufacturer's suggested retail price, and dealers are not having difficulty finding buyers willing to pay the premium for the modern Mini.

True dedication

Fred and Betsy True were fortunate. They were on the waiting list of two Mini dealers and were able to get their new Mini in May.
Photos from club gatherings
The Trues are among the dedicated members of the Capital Mini Register club

Betsy True is the president of the Capital Mini Register, a Mini club that draws members from the states of Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware as well as Washington D.C.

But the Trues were way ahead of the trend, buying an original Mini in 1983.

Their 1968 Cooper S, which they affectionately call Hef, is well looked after with its own purpose-built shed in the back yard to keep it out of the elements.

It's that kind of dedication that is necessary to keep an original Mini running in the US. And now is the first time in more than 30 years that new Minis are being sold in the US.

The original Mini failed to meet US emissions and safety standards instituted in 1968, and it was never updated to meet the more rigorous regulations.

Of the 80 members of the club, most own Minis that don't run.

Many are in boxes or stored in garages all waiting for when their owners get the time and money to carry out their grand restoration plans.

The great Mini debate

When word went round that a new Mini would be sold in the US, it created quite a buzz, but it has also created a bit of a split in the Mini community.

One of the founders of the Trues' club has a bumper sticker on his original Mini that says "100% Free of BMW parts."

And the club had a spirited debate as to whether allow owners of the new MINI to join the club.
The Trues in their new Mini
The Trues were on two waiting lists to get their new Mini

Betsy True said that she had been reserving judgment on the new Mini until she found out if it retained the "fun factor" of the original. "If it does that, it's definitely a Mini," she said.

After all, she fell in love with the original Mini after she saw it barreling through corners on the racecourse on three wheels and leaving the much beefier competition in the dust.

BMW didn't forget the Mini's racing pedigree, and the new Cooper S has a proper Getrag six-speed gearbox and a super-charger.

Her verdict? "It's definitely got that fun factor."


See also:

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