Archive for the ‘MINI’ Category

Road to Bagdad Fun Run

February 28, 2007
The Turnout

Last Saturday, I went on my second actual fun run with the Dynamic MINI Collective. Approximately 30 MINIs made the trek from Wickenburg at 9:30 AM up the 93 and over the 97 to Bagdad, Arizona. That section, as you can see from the map, is extremely twisting and was quite exciting to drive.

Since it was a fun run, I decided to ease my speeding restrictions. Realistically, I had to or I never would have been able to keep up with my fellow club members. I was still way more conservative than I used to be, but not nearly as aggressive as the rest of them.

One Slow Motor Home

We were repeatedly cautioned by those who did the run last year that the 97 was an extremely twisty stretch of road. There were dips, blind turns, and countless curves in addition to gravel beds brought about by rain. We decided to take the road cautiously for the first time and then go more aggressively on subsequent passes.

They weren’t kidding. I think I kept it under 50 MPH the entire time and frequently dipped down into the 20s. By the time I got to the end, I was thirsting for some action. We turned around at the end and I started going briskly. Until that is, I caught up to a silver MINI that was still in caution mode. Grr. So I slowed down and two cars behind me did the same.

When we got to the end of that pass, my thoughts immediately drifted to how I could beat that guy to turn around and really open her up. Obviously, the two MINIs behind me had the same thought because they U-turned earlier than me—I would have done the same but I wanted to get where I could see oncoming traffic.

Luckily, the two in front of me were going fast. I kept it above 50 MPH for the most part (couple dips into the 40s, sadly) and even got it up to 84 MPH sometimes. Then it happened. The fun came to an end.

I came over a small hill to find the first car in our little pack (the third on the previous pass, who made a U-turn first) on the left side of the road in the scrub, the second car stopped, and debris strewn all over the road. My first thought was that the first car had hit an oncoming MINI but I couldn’t see anyone.

After stopping myself, I saw a crunched up Rhino in the desert on the right and someone lying down with the passenger in the second MINI looking at him. The passenger of the second MINI is a nurse and so she started helping the injured hunter. I sprinted up the road a bit and instructed traffic to slow down while Sandi went to see how she could help the nurse.

Soon, a Forest Service ranger was there and gave some order to the proceedings. He also contacted Bagdad emergency services. The MINI driver and passenger were slightly injured by the air bag deployments; the hunter had a head injury but was conscious the entire time. With the situation under control, the chapter president stuck around while the rest of us went to the meeting spot to let everyone know what was happening.

It was quickly decided that knowledge about this being an organized car club event was not helpful. We dispersed and met up again in Kirkland Junction, about 20 miles south of our position. We had lunch there in the bar‘s parking lot. The bartender was a grade-A witch, who instructed us that we couldn’t use the bathroom and that there was no lunch for us. Given that we probably were half the Kirkland population, you’d think that they’d love the business. (I’ve heard that this was quite the normal reception.)

Pit Stop in Yarnell

The leg from Kirkland to Yarnell was uneventful, but the section of road after Yarnell on the way back to Wickenburg was some of the twistiest (and cliff-hugging) road I’ve seen short of the PCH. I could rarely go past 40 MPH and often spent time in the 20s. But I was enjoying every minute of it nonetheless!

We regrouped in Wickenburg and waited for the chapter president and the totalled MINI owner before dispersing for our homes. Sandi and I went down the Vulture Mine Road and continued along its variations until we met up with I-10 at 335th Avenue. It was some boring highway driving from there on and we arrived home at about 4:30 PM.

There was a lot of pre-run hype about how this was the best run of the year and I was a little skeptical since the 191 run last year sounded like as good as it gets. I think this really lived up to its billing and I can’t wait to do it again on my own!

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10 Cool Features of the MINI Cooper

September 19, 2006

Since I bought my MINI Cooper three months ago, I’ve regularly noticed
new design touches that have made me appreciate the car more and more.
Only a few of them are unique to the MINI, but taken as a whole they
spell out an attention to detail that is unusual in a car priced (for
the most part) under $30,000. I’ll start the list off at ten, but I
will continue to make updates as I discover more things (and you’re
welcome to add to it in the comments):

  1. Sunroof: if you press the top-down button on my convertible, the roof retracts about 16″—creating an excellent sunroof. To my knowledge, this is the only car that has this feature.
  2. Variable-speed windshield wipers: if you’ve got the wipers on anything but intermittent, stopping the vehicle reduces their speed to the next-lowest setting.
  3. A/C vent in the glovebox: keeps the glovebox contents from melting or freezing, depending on your air conditioning selection.
  4. Single-use trunk unlock: pressing the trunk unlocking button on the remote does exactly what you’d expect. But when you close it, the trunk locks itself again. Exactly what you’d want even though you didn’t expect it.
  5. Locking gas cap: there is no visible lock on the gas cap nor is there any obvious lever in the car’s interior with which to open it. Unlocking the doors (maybe just the driver’s side alone—I’ll have to check it out) unlocks the gas cap and vice versa.
  6. Lights on the bottom of the doors: when you open up either of the doors, a light on the bottom of the door automatically turns on. This illuminates the area that you will soon be standing in and has saved me countless times from stepping directly into a large puddle.
  7. Chair memory: I didn’t opt for the power seats but the basic seats have a limited positional memory. When you move up the seat to let the back seat passengers embark, the seats will return to their original positions by just pushing them back. It’s hard to describe but it’s very nicely done.
  8. Headlights: the headlights are attached to (or a part of, rather) the hood. This allows you to pop the hood with the headlights on and illuminate trees, billboards, low-flying witches, and the like. As far as I know, this is utterly unique to the MINI—and sadly is going away in the 2007 models.
  9. Self-locking top: the convertible has an interesting guide system that fully automatizes the closing and locking process. I’ve had several convertibles in the past that required manual intervention at the last moment to secure the top. This is much, much better.
  10. Cigarette lighter in the trunk: this, combined with the fold down nature of the trunk, makes for a very useful tailgate party vehicle.

To my mind, these collectively remind me of Apple’s famous reputation for detail.

Jerome Fun Run

June 26, 2006

Today I went with the Dynamic Mini Collective on a fun run to Jerome, Arizona. I’ll admit that I was a little hesitant about joining an organization that a) had the word “collective” in its name and b) had as its only unifying principle that its members had bought a particular type of car. It just struck me as an odd raison d’être, but any chance to drive Buzz for an extended amount of time in interesting locales was easily worth $25.

We met at a Starbuck’s and left at 7:30 AM for Wickenburg. This leg of the trip was pretty uneventful since I’d been on it many, many times. We did see a sign for a pick-your-own peaches store, which we decided would be very enjoyable for The Girls. Another day, perhaps. In Wickenburg, we gathered at the Shell station, refueled, and generally made a spectacle—the first of many—for the locals.

Our next stop was Prescott and this section of the run was easily my favorite. We got to go through Congress, Yarnell, Peeples Valley, and then the windingest damn road through the mountains. The towns were neat because they were all so old and rustic. The mountain roads were nothing but switchbacks and I got to really test out Buzz’s handling. I wish I could have gotten my new rear sway bar installed for the trip, but timing was just too tight. I occasionally got glimpses of the whole group of Minis going around the switchbacks but mostly I was just focused on the road.

We stopped in Prescott for supplies. For some reason, Sandi and I completely forgot to bring sunscreen. You just can’t spend the whole day in a convertible without protection. We’d be sizzled like a sausage. I captured some video with my digital camera of all the Minis pulling out of the parking lot; I apologize about the early shakiness of the movie—I finally realized that I could steady my hand on the top of the windshield and that really helped towards the end. The Prescott to Jerome period was filled with mountain roads, but they weren’t nearly as interesting as the Yarnell ones.

We reached Jerome at about 11 AM and motored over to our designated parking area. That’s the other benefit of being in the DMC: they called ahead and reserved some public parking spaces. The 26 Minis that made the run lined both sides of the main street in Jerome and I heard locals and tourists talking about them the entire time we were shopping and eating. It certainly does make quite an impression!

I hadn’t been to Jerome since my sixth grade field trip through northern Arizona. On that trip, we spent a few hours in Jerome and I can’t say that I remember too much beyond that it was a historic place. On this trip, I could appreciate Jerome for what it was. It is simply astonishing how well-preserved most of the town is. Nearly every building has been converted to modern uses while still retaining the feel and spirit of the old structure. We spent most of our time shopping, so I couldn’t really indulge my inner historian.

We separated from the pack after stopping at the Cottonwood Dairy Queen (and completely overwhelming them as well). We had had a long day and wanted to get back to our girls, who we rightly imagined had missed us as much as we missed them. I took some pictures, but we were both focused on the driving during what would have been the most photogenic parts of the trip.

Buzz Buzz

June 7, 2006

I finally got rid of my 1999 Toyota Camry. I’ve had it since 2001 and I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t treated it as it deserves. I half-assed its maintenance; there was a huge dent in the driver’s side from a parking lot incident that I wasn’t able to witness; and nature was its only cleanser. I put 70,000 miles on it—passing it along to its new owner with over 130,000 miles to its credit. Here’s hoping that she will honor Cameron as I never did.

What did I get to replace it? My wife and I decided long ago that the Camry’s replacement was going to be a fun car. We’ve had plenty of practical vehicles in our time. In fact, except for the 1996 Ford Mustang convertible, I think all of our cars have been sensible. It was high time that I start enjoying my commute!

But what did I get? My initial thought was of my dream car—the Audi TT Quattro. Now that is a fun looking car with a lovely sophistication. It’s also pretty expensive (though reasonable as a used car) and highly unreliable. My idea of fun is not blowing thousands of dollars on repairs, no matter how bitchin’ the ride might be.

Come on, what did I get? With the TT out of the picture, I was really at a loss. I’d seen nice cars on the road, but none of them jumped out at me, took me by the scruff of my neck, and shouted, “Go buy me now, mofo.” The car that I eventually purchased didn’t either, so I guess that was probably an unreasonable expectation on my part. I was fairly firm about getting a convertible since I’d had two of them already and Phoenix is a great place to own one.

So I ended up getting a 2005 Mini Cooper convertible in Cool Yellow:

I settled on the Mini Cooper mainly because of The Italian Job. That movie made me look at the Mini Cooper as a sporty, maneuverable beast of a car. Prior to watching it, I considered them pansy European answers to expensive gas and limited parking spots. Afterwards, I could see the elegance of their lines and the benefits of their size. When I saw a convertible Mini one day, it suddenly rocketed to the head of the pack.

So I’ve been driving it now for three days and I can’t believe how much fun it is. I look forward to any opportunity to take it out for a spin. In true Mini tradition, I have named it and he shall be called Buzz. I was going to go with something stupid like Sunshine or Sonny, but Sandi suggested Buzz as in “bzzz bzzz” like a bumble bee and I loved it!

To quote the eminently-quotable Ferris Bueller, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”