I was 13 years old when The Italian Job hit DVD in 2003—this was a pivotal moment of my youth. When Charlize Theron pulled the e-brake of her red Mini, gracefully launching it into a parking space, and exited the vehicle with a confident, back-handed click of her key fob, my life changed forever.
Aside from the fact that homegirl drove like a complete badass, I was totally enchanted by this car. I’d never seen a MINI Cooper until the release of this film, and despite the fact that I was three years from a learner’s permit and any hope of having an actual vehicle, I told my mom I’d own one. She said it was a death trap.
On May 28, 2010, I purchased my first MINI Cooper.
I pulled into the dealership, spotted it in the back corner of the lot, and nearly crashed my Jeep into a lamp post. It was like seeing Javier Bardem naked. Only better, because this sweet piece of ass was coming home with me. The next day, I arrived at the dealership with a fat check and a pen. My dad drove it home; I couldn’t drive stick.
Meet Sgt. Pepper, a first generation 2003 MINI Cooper Hardtop lovingly named for its Chili Red paint, and The Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Also referred to as Pepé, this darling MINI was my first step towards an unrelenting love affair with driving. With its red coat, and white roof, mirror caps, and bonnet stripes, Sgt. Pepper’s styling is the epitome of a classic cooper.
Essentially, I was a brunette Charlize Theron, sans turbo.
I learned to drive stick via one YouTube video, and a very humbling 30 minutes with my dad in a hill-ridden subdivision. I avoided steep inclines and heavy traffic for a solid two weeks. Now, I will drive nothing else. Having a manual transmission adds a layer of proactivity to operating a vehicle; it’s not going for a ride, it’s driving.
I owned Sgt. Pepper for four wonderful years. That MINI was far more than a car—it was my inanimate sidekick. He saw two boyfriends, college, my first apartment, road trips, graduation, sports competitions, and my first big-girl job. Having shared 60,000 miles of engine-revving, corner-ripping, road-thrashing togetherness, letting go was like euthanizing man’s best friend—I sobbed uncontrollably in the front seat before removing my license plate and locking the doors for the last time.
On August 27, 2014, one week later, I purchased my second MINI Cooper.
Meet Bane, my second-generation 2012 MINI Cooper S Hardtop, named for The Dark Knight Rises’ ruthless mercenary. And a serious upgrade. With over ten million different ways to configure a MINI, Bane’s styling, and its general badassery, are truly one-of-a-kind. I lusted for the blacked-out body, those matte sport stripes, and its striking two-tone red leather interior. The previous owner’s seven thousand dollars worth of upgrades were merely a bonus when I arrived at the dealership.
My car is more than a means for transportation; it’s my greatest source of fun. But in my quest for Sgt. Pepper’s replacement, I found myself toying with the idea of a normal-person, 4-door sedan with all-wheel-drive and a cup-holder armrest. Because, you know, maybe something more reliable and economical would be beneficial for the day I decide to pop out some minis of my own. But here’s the deal. I’m 24 years old. I have a stable income, and little debt. And I have zero children.
I realized purchasing anything less than what I desired, which was something fast and furious, was the equivalent of subjecting myself to missionary two nights a week for the next decade, and pretending I loved it. I could not, and cannot, imagine giving up this brand. MINI suits me; it’s bold, quirky, and gutsy. Despite its size, it has balls, and it prides itself on being not normal.
So, I hopped a train for the 250-mile journey to Chicago to snag my new whip. Until that point, I’d only seen pictures. When I arrived at the dealership, I casually crossed the lot with my salesperson and my sister. Midway, I spotted Bane parked near the front door with a “sold” sign dangling from the rearview mirror. I blacked out.
Cue Nine Inch Nails’ Closer.
I dropped the clutch to the floor, and pushed the start button. I audibly squealed, and sunk into the driver’s seat. My eyes rolled back towards my brain. I playfully tapped the gas pedal, and when the engine roared and the exhaust moaned in response, I completely lost my shit. This was the car.
This MINI is an incredible piece of machinery, and it’s visually stunning. An additional perk of owning something so uncommon is the attention it demands on the road; it’s a full-blown panty-dropper. But I value the attention for the conversations sparked. For the sweet, old woman who has no idea what she’s looking at. For the six-year-old boy who screams, “THE BAT MOBILE!” For the stoplight chatter with other MINI drivers. Those reactions will never cease to bring me joy. And I am humbled knowing, at 24, I’ve owned two of what some consider their dream car.
Upon returning to Michigan, a dear friend and the creative genius behind Eat Pomegranate Photography, offered to photograph both Bane and Sgt. Pepper to celebrate my past and present love. After two months of ownership, it’s quite clear I’m wholly, irrationally in love with my MINI.
Cheers to many more miles ahead, and happy motoring.