I recently had the opportunity to drive an original Mini back-to-back with my original Hummer. This was a very unusual experience, and it felt a lot like that scene in Castaway where Tom Hanks is floating through the ocean on a raft made of sticks until he's rescued by a cargo ship the size of greater Baltimore.
You'd already know about my Mini versus Hummer comparison test if you followed me on Twitter, because I posted several interesting photographs yesterday of the two cars next to one another. Almost immediately after these images went up, I received a slew of strongly worded Tweets from panicked readers who were afraid that I might crush the Mini.
But fear not: I haven't destroyed the Mini. Instead, I created a highly informative, tremendously enlightening comparison test video that you are free to watch at your leisure, unless of course your tyrant workplace bans the combination of sound and moving pictures.
Since the video covers most of my actual comparison test between the Hummer and the Mini, I've decided to primarily devote today's column to my thoughts on the Mini, which is an exciting, unusual-looking, iconic little car that has roughly the same horsepower as an escalator. But before I do, a little background on the Mini I drove.
Just like last week's Mercedes G-Wagen convertible, this Mini was generously loaned to me by my friends at Selden Motors in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Here's a tip: when you show up at a car dealer and they can't get to their original Mini unless they move their Mercedes S55 AMG and their 1965 Ford Mustang, you know you're probably in the right place.
This particular Mini is a 1984 "Mini 25" model, which celebrates the Mini's 25th year on the market. Yes, that's right: despite being designed in the 1950s and going on sale in 1959, the original Mini was manufactured through 1984. In fact, it was actually manufactured all the way through 2000, at which point someone finally looked at the Mini, and looked at all the other cars on the road, and decided: the occupants of this thing will die if it gets hit by anything larger than a shopping cart.
So the Mini's production finally came to an end in 2000, which was a sad, somber, depressing occasion, made only slightly better by the fact that literally millions of them are still on the road. This particular example has to be one of the nicer ones in existence, in the sense that the interior is perfect, and the body is nearly perfect, and Selden Motors has every single piece of paperwork going back to day one, when the original owner probably thought: I've always wanted a car that has the same horsepower as an escalator.
Of course, I joke about the Mini's power, but here's the truth of the matter: when the Mark I Mini came out in 1959, it used an 848 cc four-cylinder engine that made just 34 horsepower. Fortunately, the car's engineers quickly realized just how absurdly small this figure was, and by 1984 they had devised a major improvement: a 998-cc four-cylinder engine that made 40 horsepower. According to automotive journalists of the period, those extra six horses really gave the Mini "all the power it needed to conquer a wide variety of road conditions, such as ramps."
So yes, the Mini is slow. In fact, I remember one particular situation where I was driving up a rather relaxed grade, a grade so relaxed that you might attempt to use it to go sledding only to discover that it is actually flat, and the Mini was huffing and puffing as it climbed to the top. But on the way down… well, that was an entirely different story. It felt like I was skiing down a vertical cliff while being chased by an irritated yeti.
And that's where the Mini has a real advantage: it feels incredibly fast. I've heard people say this about cars my entire life, and I've never really understood it as much as I did when I was driving the Mini. It doesn't matter how fast the damn thing goes, because getting there is so much fun. You're on top of the road, you hear every sound, you feel every bump, and every single corner makes you think you're a race car driver going for the championship at Monza. And then you look down to discover that you aren't even going fast enough to elicit an angry glare from the kind of concerned parent who yells "SLOW DOWN!" to anyone driving through her neighborhood in anything sportier than a Lexus RX.
Seriously: never in my entire life have I driven an automobile that made me so excited to simply drive around a boring suburban community where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour and every corner is a perfect right angle.
Of course, the Mini has its flaws. For example: I suspect it wouldn't really hold up in a modern crash test. By this, I mean that while the Audi A4 scored a "P" rating in the IIHS small front overlap test for "Poor," the Mini would score a "B" for "Broke into dozens of tiny pieces, none of which were larger than a triple-A battery." Size is also an issue: though the Mini isn't as tiny inside as you might imagine, it isn't exactly huge, either. And of course, there's the fact that the Mini lacks virtually any form of modern convenience, such as an infotainment system, or a USB port for music, or, you know, an armrest.
But as a general rule, I'd say that the original Mini was one of the most exciting, enjoyable, fun-loving little cars I've ever driven. And as I drove home from Selden Motors after a day of filming, I couldn't help but think that I wished I was driving home in the tiny silver car rather than the big yellow one.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.