Something has changed within me. Something small that is also big. Something largely irrelevant yet hugely significant. Apparently I like the BMW Mini.
Those of you who know me will appreciate that this is a big deal. I have been an avid enthusiast of the classic Mini since I was a nipper, and for several years owned a lovely example of a 1.3i Mini Sidewalk called Neddy. I loved Minis for their adaptability, their ease of customisation, their simplicity, their charm, their inherently superb handling characteristics, their personality and sense of fun. When BMW bought the Rover brand and halted production of the Mini, I hated them for it.
Now, I’m not one to be easily opinionated, and I must point out that I at least tried to start off on an even keel. I watched with interest as various concepts for the new Mini were batted around the web like ping pong balls. When BMW finally launched the new Mini, I was fairly impressed – they had packed a lot of technology into the car in an effort to make it compare favourably with the classic Mini’s handling and performance. But it was big, no matter how you compared it. Taller, longer, fatter.
So I took one for a test drive. I was surprised they didn’t ask me any questions beforehand really, as I had no intention of buying it at all, I just fancied a drive. I didn’t like it. It felt big, compared to the classic Mini. The 1.6 litre engine in the Cooper model I drove didn’t feel anywhere near supersonic, the retro styling looked forced, and the bucket seat meant that I knocked my elbow on it every time I changed gear.
And so it was that I decided the BMW Mini was not a good car. This was reinforced by my friends at Colchester Mini Club and various online forums, where people even more enthusiastic than me for the old classic harboured deep-seated grudges and employed all sorts of derogatory terms for the new kid in the car park. The convertible model, especially in yellow, was always referred to as a “skip”. Put simply, it just wasn’t a Mini, and therefore wasn’t as good.
Since then, several years have gone by, I have sold my Mini and owned several other cars since, and the BMW Mini is now in it’s third revision. Such is its popularity that it continues to sell in droves across the world, and BMW have released a plethora of variants: there’s the Clubman for small families; the Coupe for those without friends or family to transport; the Roadster for those who like to pretend it’s hot; the Countryman for those who drive in fields; the Paceman for those who like headroom. A Mini for everyone, they’ll have you believe. In doing so, BMW have actually done something I never expected – they’ve made the Mini accessible to everyone. That’s something the original Mini was famous for. It’s taken me quite by surprise.
So here I am, wondering whether my years-long protestation against the BMW Mini was unfounded, or at the very least excessive. To help me clarify things in my own mind, I started thinking about what I might choose if I were looking for a fun hatchback as a second car, and what the competition might be. A Fiesta is solid, reliable, and reasonably practical. But it’s nowhere near as stylish as a Mini, and not as much fun to drive. A Clio is a good cheap budget car, but it does look and feel cheap next to a Mini. A Civic has an amazing engine, and especially in the Type-R variant is superb to drive, and is much more practical than a Mini. But it has less soul. After all that comparison, I would have to conclude that if I were in that situation I would actually buy a BMW Mini after all.
There is something deep going on here. Something unexpected and life-changing. And I think it’s called forgiveness.
One of the tasks in the Exploring Christianity course I’m doing was to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer for today’s listeners. So I wrote something for classic Mini enthusiasts, exploring the ways in which the meaning behind the Lord’s Prayer was echoed in the culture and thinking of such people. It’s worth a read. One section, interpreting the phrase “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”, commented simply, “Forgive BMW? Never!” Like a mirror held up to my own face, I realised that I had held a grudge against BMW for ruining the Mini, and now I wonder whether I was too harsh. BMW have taken the Mini brand to places it would never have gone if they’d kept producing the original 1959 design. It’s full of technology, it’s fun to drive, it’s incredibly stylish, and stands apart from other cars on the road. I still prefer the ‘original’ BMW to the later models though, they’ve got a bit fat in their old age. But still, it’s a momentous revelation – I like the BMW Mini.
And so, BMW, I forgive you. I also hope you’ll forgive me, because it seems there’s very little you needed to be forgiven for in the first place.
There. That feels much better.