Now I know why Minis handle well; they beat the living hell out of their development prototypes. And I know that because yesterday I chased one down Mulholland in a Caterham until the Mini’s brakes were catching fire.
Well, I didn’t exactly chase it down. I just took photos. My old boss Travis Okulski (now running Road & Track’s website) was at the wheel.
The thing about Travis is that he is very good at driving. He was a kart kid growing up, racing against one of the Andretti boys and Graham Rahal, both of IndyCar fame. What I’m trying to say is that Okulski is fast, particularly in a open-wheeled, barely-a-car like a Caterham.
We were road tripping from LA to Pebble Beach, taking the extremely scenic route. Up into the canyons above the city, then out to Route 33 through Ojai, then to the coast all the way north.
Carmakers regularly take their development prototypes to these roads to test handling, suspension, and how a car copes with hard driving. It’s possible that this is because these canyon roads are some of the tightest and twistiest in the country. It’s also possible that it’s because they’re in southern California. Have you seen southern California?
Tons of those spy photos you see of cars in development come from these roads. I just didn’t expect to see some of these very camouflaged mules myself, in person.
We saw it first waiting to pull onto Mulholland, after the famous corner you always see motorcycle riders losing their shit and before the famous hairpin turns overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Neon green swirls on a vinyl wrap to confuse the cameras. Blocky non-production headlights.
It was like being in the Internet in real life.
We let the five-door Mini pull out in front of us so we could get some pictures of it. We didn’t expect the car to be super fucking fast.
“He must know this road,” Travis muses about a minute into the chase. Travis has on his Serious Face at this point, clearly running hard. The road is super narrow, the Mini just barely staying on its side of the double yellow.
“He must really know this road,” Travis lets out a few minutes later, the road getting even faster and the Mini not slowing in the least. It felt like we were working the little Caterham hard to keep up. Very hard.
And my feelings were confirmed when we got to the bottom of the canyon, pulling out right onto the Pacific Coast Highway. Smoke was absolutely pouring off off all four brakes on the Mini. They had been absolutely thrashing their car. As hard as they could test it, they did.
We pulled alongside for some closer shots, gave a thumbs up to the driver, and wheeled away. The Mini driver looked like he was twelve.
A few miles down the highway, wind beating into our ears and up our noses, Travis points out that BMW has a facility down the way in Oxnard. I feel like sending them a thank you note. If you drive a Mini and think it’s a good drive, send one there as well.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove
Contact the author at email@example.com.