By Kirk Kern
The other day, I was getting gas when a guy at the next island of pumps looked over and said, “I like your Mini Cooper.”
I just kind of nodded and replied, “Me too.”
A couple of years ago, I bought a convertible Mini Cooper. I’ve always liked these cars ever since The Italian Job and, of course, Austin Power’s Goldmember. I still find myself saying (to no one in particular) in Austin Powers voice, “Your spy car’s a Mini?” And then reply in my Nigel Powers voice, “It’s not the size, it’s how you use it.”
I’ve had this Mini for a couple of years and I think I’ve gotten more compliments about it than any other car I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of cars.
I’m not going to go over my entire car-owning history, but suffice to say in more than 40 years of driving, I’ve had my fair share of vehicles. But, as they say, you always remember your first, and mine was a ’56 Chevy that I drove in high school.
This was the late 1970s and gas was really cheap. Good thing too, because in those days, the thing to do was cruise Main Street in my home town. My Chevy was pretty fast too. It had a 327 motor and a four-speed transmission.
One of my buddies drove a 1970 Super Sport Nova with a 350 and one night we decided to race them. We went out to Fredericks Road, a stretch of road about a mile or so out of town that someone had painted lines a quarter-mile apart.
Word got out that we were going to race and it drew a little crowd. It was a scene straight out of American Graffiti. I didn’t think I would actually win, but it was time to give it a shot.
I got the jump on him from the line and actually crossed the finish line ahead of him. I think everyone there was pretty surprised, no one more than me.
My friend spent the next six months or so rebuilding his engine and, if I would have given him another chance I’m sure he would have beat me the next time. But someone made me an an offer I couldn’t refuse and I sold the car before the Nova was up and running again.
In its place, I bought a ’66 Mustang. It was fun to drive, but with the stock 289 engine and an automatic transmission, it wasn’t winning any drag races. So while in high school, I was 2-for-2 in iconic muscle cars. But it turned out those would be the last cars I’d ever own with V8 engines.
Two other cars came to mind: my 1986 Volkswagon GTI and my 1992 Ford Ranger pickup. These were the first two cars I’d bought new.
I treated myself to the GTI the year I graduated from college in San Diego. I basically still lived like a college student but had a full-time job and no real bills, so I splurged. Back the, the GTI was a very popular car with the college set. And while it was great to drive, overall the car was cursed.
In the five years I owned it, it was broken into numerous times and I got a fair amount of speeding tickets. One time, it was hit while parked in front of my office. A witness jotted down the license plate of the car that hit me, but in the time it took for the police to track it down the old man driving it had died. But hey, he had insurance at the time of the collision, so I was able to get my car fixed.
A couple of weeks after I had made the last payment, my wife and I came to Las Vegas so I could interview for a job at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. We drove her car and when we got back home, my parking spot was empty and there was some glass on the ground where the thieves had broken my window and stole the car.
I got the job in Vegas, and when we made the move I had to buy a new vehicle. We ended up at the Ford dealer and I bought the Ranger. I drove that pickup for 10 years, the longest I’ve ever owned a vehicle.
A couple of years into ownership, I put a camper shell over the truck bed. From then on out, my friends dubbed it “The Fishin’ Truck.” This was funny, because I don’t fish.
There have been a lot of vehicles in between The Fishin’ Truck and my Mini, a few of which I don’t even remember. And for the most part, driving during those years was more about just getting from one place to another.
The Mini changed all that. I’ve always wanted a convertible and living in Southern Nevada, there’s a lot of opportunity to drive with the top down. For only having a three-cylinder engine, it surprisingly had a lot of pep. It’s very fun to drive, but also gets great gas mileage, which is important in this day and age.
I can see me driving this car for a few years, with a lot of complements coming down the road as well.