Jun 182012

A weekend of camping and cars. This year the event at Bristol encompassed both the Help-4-Heroes Mini Cruise and Bristol Miniday.
As usual for Bristol Miniday the event was held at Washingpool Farm, Easter Compton.
The Help-4-Heroes Mini Cruise also ran from this location as it wasn’t possible to have a separate event from Cirencester unlike previous years.
Ash & Amanda camped, along with Andy & Fiona. The conditions were a little breezy with Ash & Amanda’s tent being blown away after being erected in the middle of the field. The tent was rescued with only minimal damage and the majority moved to a section of the grounds sheltered by a good hedge.
The organisers felt, even at this early stage, that the weather was too unreliable and decided to hold the event indoors, split across three of the large sheds at the farm.

Friday Night
A couple of TVs were set up in one of the sheds to enable those camping to watch the England v Sweden game. Much cheering as England beat Sweden for the first time ever in a competition game. Then we were treated to fine selection of rock anthems, played by the Ray Jones Band. It was all too much for Hannah, who decided that some much-needed shut-eye was in order.

Help-4-Heroes Mini Cruise, 2012
From about 12 o’clock cars started to line up for the 3rd Help-4-Heroes mini cruise. Not as big an event as previous years but this was more than made up for in enthusiasm as we departed for Rich’s Cider Farm. The convoy through Bristol was a great deal of fun, with only one or two cars getting lost. Hector, with Ash at the helm and Amanda in the passenger seat led the event, as Ash had been responsible for plotting the course.
However, as we approached our destination, the police got involved and pulled one of the cars over for a number plate offence (running silver-on-black plates on a 1990 registered vehicle). During the discussion with the police it was determined that the driver had failed to renew his licence (which expires every 10 years for those of you with the new-style photocard). He was immediately barred from driving further, and will be off the road until his licence is renewed – a problem for him as his job as a funeral director requires him to drive. Hopefully the paperwork will be quickly completed and he’ll be back on the road again.
Cars left for home in small groups, some taking the A38 back to Easter Compton, and some taking the M5. During the return trip the weather turned into torrential rain, Hector (Ash & Amanda’s car) suffered from a dislike of the weather and decided that 2 cylinders was plenty, thank you very much. The application of some WD40 was enough to limp home.
Another runner suffered clutch slave cylinder failure and arrived courtesy of a recovery vehicle (actually the vehicle that was the prize in last years Help-4-Heroes event).
Another band in the shed on Saturday night, this time playing some glam-rock favourites, with a quiz during the interval.
Saturday night’s weather continued the theme of wet’n’windy, although nobody was blown away.
Although the weather was a little inclement and only about 60 cars took part, the grand total of £634 was raised for the Help-4-Heroes cause over the weekend.

Bristol Miniday, 2012
Sunday morning brought bright weather, although still somewhat breezy. Over the course of the day the weather continued to brighten and by mid-day it was a nice sunny day. Sandra and Colin arrived, bringing Milly for the show’n’shine and Brian for the barbeque, and Mini push.
Ash & Amanda got into the swing of things entering various competitions on behalf of Renegade Minis, including darts and best-dressed king & queen. Ash’s Mr Blobby outfit was well appreciated by most attendees. This was followed up with a Mini push competition, but the Renegades were unfortunately off form for the event.
Colin cooked burger and onions for attending club members, very tasty and I’m not sure he received thanks enough for the effort.
Other club members attended to the stall from which we were raising money for the Willow Foundation by selling cakes and glassware and a tombola, together with “guess the name of the teddy” and “guess the number of spark plugs in the jar” competitions.
Sandra, of course, was kept busy in show’n’shine making Milly look her best – this paid off with a “Best In Class” followed by “Best In Show”.
After tidying up we finished off with some cake to celebrate Sandra’s forthcoming birthday. Finally homewards, to proper beds with soft sheets.

Dec 262011

This article first appeared in the Wall Street Journal, written by Dan Neil.

The purity squads have their tiny knives out for the BMW Mini Countryman, and who can blame them? A 3,200-pound, four-door, all-wheel-drive Mini as big as a Nissan Juke and as potentially as spendy as a BMW 3-series, pushing $40,000? Why, it’s ridiculous, it’s absurd. You might as well suggest a Ferrari four-wheel-drive station wagon.

Oh dear Lord. When did that happen?

For many Mini brand apostles, insert dismay here. And it’s not even a question of whether BMW and its wee Anglo-Saxon thralls in Gaydon, England, can engineer an entertaining small car with all-wheel drive. Clearly, it’s within their compass to do so, and with the Countryman, they have. Here is as lively, vital and tossable a sedan as ever resembled an orthotic shoe.

Nor should we doubt that the brand’s troupe of design-school savants—you will know them by their complicated German eyeglasses—can style a cool and charismatic interior. Again, they have. The Countryman’s spacious rear cabin is masterfully packaged, with two slide-and-recline bucket seats separated by a novel accessory rail that runs the length of the cabin. Owners can personalize the cabin by situating detachable accessories such as cupholders, iPod docks, eyeglass cases and elbow rests where they like them along the rail. Brilliant. Only downside: Big dogs can’t climb in the back seat. A bench-seat option is coming.
And, obviously, Mini’s exterior design language is epic, one of the most successful car designs in the past 25 years: Square-stanced, bright-eyed and pugnacious, a barking terrier of a car that wants to shake the road by the scruff. Perfect is not too strong.

The Countryman debuts some tasteful updates to the styling language—the strake at the front fender, the turned-down corners of the of the grille—but at a glance, the Countryman looks like a Mini Cooper S that was Xeroxed at 130%. Considering the car is 6 inches longer than the plus-size Mini Clubman, as well as 4.1 inches wider and a towering 5.1 inches taller, that’s some clever styling. The Countryman could easily have turned out to look awful, the Clubman’s bloated corpse.

So, no, the question isn’t, “could they?” It’s “should they?” And here, join with me in a brief fantasy as we imagine the BMW board in Munich wrestling with the question of what, precisely, is a Mini? It’s a small car, right? All agreed? (Handsome executives nod solemnly and stroke the white Persian cats sitting in their laps—Ja! Sehr kleine.) Indeed, whatever a Mini is, its appeal is leveraged precisely on the very fulcrum of its smallness. It defines itself: Mini. A Mini is a car that is bandy, diminutive and urbane, which is to say, good on gas and easy to park. A Mini is a car that is darty, maneuverable, fun, quick, a twinkle-toed halfling dancing among the golems of the road. Mini is a design-forward, fun and premium brand delivered in a subcompact size.

We’d never build a full-size Mini truck, would we, Meine Herren? The Germans burst into gales of laughter: Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Never a D-segment sedan? Again, Das ist nicht moglich!

Then Klaus from marketing pipes in: But we could sell a few thousand more cars if we just made them bigger.

Silence. Was? And then: Ein grosser Mini! Wunderbar!

At the risk of being puritanical, it seems to me that sometimes car companies have to walk away from the short-term expedience of a few thousand sales, or even a few tens of thousands of sales, to protect the meaning, the truth, the inner logic of a brand. Mini has spent years selling itself as automotive counterprogramming, and now it’s acting like every other car maker with white space to fill. But if any brand is hidebound, it’s Mini. Even Aristotle says so. The first rule of reasoning is the rule of non-contradiction: “The same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect.” In other words, you can’t be a big Mini.

I understand. It’s hard to resist. Brand is something soft and squishy and metaphorical; whereas shareholders are all too real. And I have no doubt BMW-Mini can deposit a truckload of data in my yard to document the existence of unrequited customers who love Mini but need a bigger vehicle—even bigger than the three-door Clubman, which, full disclosure, I love.

Still, I say, let them remain unrequited.

Not only that, but by moving up in size, the Countryman now finds itself in door-to-door comparisons with some pretty accomplished compact SUVs, including the Volkswagen Tiguan (AWD and about 25% more cargo space for less money) and the weird but oddly wonderful Nissan Juke, which goes like the very stink of Hell. The Countryman is going to get bloodied up a bit in those street fights.

Worst of all, the Countryman trades away a degree of Mini’s inimitable driving character for a mere four doors and cargo space. Hey, I can get four slammers and a boot anywhere. What I can’t get is a car that drives like it wants to be snorted through a rolled-up C-note.

Our test car was a Cooper S Countryman ALL4, meaning it had the turbo’ed 1.6-liter with BMW’s Valvetronic head (181 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, or 192 torques in Sport mode). With a six-speed manual transmission, it’s certainly not slow—0-60 miles per hour in less than 8 seconds—and with max torque available at just about any engine speed, the Countryman pulls hard in the lower gears, and yet it feels burdened by the extra weight. At highway speeds the weight (3,200 pounds with AWD) and aero drag hang on it like linebackers trying to keep it out of the end zone.

And when the road goes twisty, the Countryman can come unstuck in ways that are positively un-Mini. The steering is still nicely reactive (the rack ratio tightens up in Sport mode) but sudden steering inputs provoke a surprising amount of body roll—again, for a Mini. The Countryman’s weight and higher center of gravity is simply beyond the suspension’s power to contain in abrupt cornering. The nose pitches, the chassis lolls and the front end starts to wash out.

If you pick up the throttle just right, the new AWD system will direct chassis-balancing torque to the rear tires and help to null out some of the understeer. But it’s just not the same. At times the Countryman behaves like one of those playground rocking horses mounted on a bendy old truck spring.

My dissatisfaction is a sort of tribute. So distinctive and memorable is driving experience of the smaller Cooper S—nutty, fervid, kart-like—that anything less feels like a betrayal. Yes, a lot of buyers won’t have the calipers required to measure the difference. Many will love the ease of four doors, the roominess of the rear cabin and the tractive security of AWD. No sense in denying Mini-philes in the Snowbelt, right?

Still, it just doesn’t work for me. With the Countryman, tiny sharks have been jumped.

Sep 052011

It was the first outing for my video camera, so you’ll have to excuse the appalling camera work.
[jwplayer config=”default” file=”http://www.renegademinis.com/wp-content/video/uttoxeter_2011/mov009.flv”]
A good day at Uttoxeter racecourse for the penultimate MiniFest 2011.
The weather was, true to form, appalling as we left Bristol at some ungodly hour. Andy & Fiona were in attendance in their van, Sandra was in Milly and Colin drove his Mondeo with the Neon on a trailer to put up for sale, Chris accompanied Colin. It rained for the majority of the tour up the M5/M6 and across country to Uttoxeter racecourse, although it eased off as we approached our destination.

The Neon was parked up ready for inspection by prospective purchasers, Milly was prepared for the concours competition and the van was parked with the rest of the attending crowds Minis.
The weather continued to improve throughout the day, to the point where sunscreen was required.

Russ Swift performed his first demonstration run, at which point an auction was held to select a lucky participant to sit in the car with Russ while he performed. Colin bid, and won, deciding to donate the purchase to Sandra!

There were a good number of traders in attendance, and some auto jumble, although Chris didn’t manage to get any parts for his van.

The Official Italian Job Minis were in attendance. These being Minis built to the exact specification of the cars used in the film, down to the number plates which were purchased for the vehicles.

At 3:00pm Russ Swift performed his second show of the day. As promised Sandra got to sit with Russ, as you can see in the video above.
Finally it was time for prize-giving. Milly got 2nd in class, another well deserved award. To finish the afternoon a Mini was raffled.

Another nice day out for the Renegades, all that remained was the drive home. As uneventful as the drive up, as we approached Bristol the weather took a turn for the worse and the rain was pouring down as we got home.

Aug 152011

A bit of a change for the weekend of 13th-14th August. We attended the Summer Classics event at Washingpool Farm in Easter Compton. You’ll be aware of the location, it’s where we had our Bristol Mini Swimming Gala earlier in the year. The weather was a little drier this time.
The show, unfortunately, clashed with Minis-in-the-Bay in Cardiff – but it was free for exhibitors and clubs to attend as it was the first time this show has been held. All manner of classic cars and bikes on show.

Amanda and Ash camped there, as did Myself, Fiona & Hannah. Arriving on the Friday evening we managed to get the tent up in dry weather, before it bucketed down on Friday night.
The show was fairly quiet on Saturday, although there was a steady influx of visitors. Sandra brought Milly and Colin drove Chris’s Hillman Imp. Milly, as always, attracting attention from one and all.
The weather remained cloudy, with occasional drizzle, but we had the gazebo with the sides and managed to keep out of the worst of the weather.
We barbecued on Saturday evening and, after Sandra was forced to leave because of work, the remaining Renegades participated in the music quiz, scoring a respectable 26 from a possible 40 points.

Sunday was much nicer weather, still a little blustery, but sunny. Turnout was much up on Saturday with a good number of American vehicles, including a Thunderbird and a huge Cadillac. There were also many European classic vehicles on show, VWs, Cortinas, Zephyrs & Zodiacs to name just a few. In addition to this was a selection of motorcycles.
Once more Renegades were in full swing on the games front. Ash won the Welly Tossing with a truly magnificent effort. Hannah won a prize in the Junior Welly Tossing. This was followed by Horseshoe tossing, which was neck-and-neck between Ash & Amanda until the final round, where Amanda emerged victorious.

Fiona was selling cards & key-rings at the club stand. Hannah also encouraged many to the lucky dip. This raised £20.54 for the Renegade supported charities.

On Sunday visitors were given an accolade card to place on the vehicle they liked best in the show, of which Milly received a couple. There wasn’t any judging, it was just a chance for people with interesting vehicles to bring them out to be seen.

All-in-all a nice relaxing event with no hassles.

Jul 122011

Absolutely brilliant weekend in Cirencester. Fiona & I, with Hannah, camped, along with Ash & Amanda. We took our Cooper and Ash & Amanda were in Hector.

The weather was wet on Friday night, raining heavily from the moment I unrolled the tent onto the ground.
On Friday night was a fancy dress party, which was fairly poorly attended due to the weather and the fact that many people were yet to arrive.

On Saturday morning the weather was dry, although the field was still somewhat muddy. Cars were lined up and shepherded into the Agricultural College car park from 10:30am onwards ready for the cruise start at 2:00pm. Whilst waiting for the cruise to begin, the participants wandered around the car park chatting or visiting the trade stands in the College grounds. It was a great social occasion.
The cruise started pretty much on time, with 425 cars following the route plan which was handed out as part of the run pack (a massive improvement on last year, where it was very much a case of “follow my leader”).
The sight of so many cars in convoy through Wootton Bassett was one to behold, many residents in the area turned out to wave and cheer on the procession.
A slight hiccup in the cruise was caused by Castle Combe being unprepared for the cars to arrive on time, so we all had to stop at a sports centre where refreshments were taken on board. After a brief delay we continued on to Castle Combe where we parked up.
More socialising until 5:00pm where all cars did a parade lap of the Castle Combe circuit before returning to Cirencester. (At this point we returned home and dropped Hannah off before exchanging vehicles and returning in the van).

On Sunday the weather was once again dry and sunny. There was a Show ‘n’ Shine and trade stands with some auto jumble and other fund raising stands. There were only four awards in the show, Best Car, Best Engine Bay, Most Modified Mini and Dirtiest Mini. Sandra brought Milly, but unfortunately failed to win anything this time.

We were given a fine exhibition of parachuting at the end of the afternoon and I was mugged by a three-year old who took all the change I had left in my pocket for her collecting tin, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
Finally, the raffle for a Mini was drawn, the lady who won didn’t already own a Mini and she was overawed by her win.

Although re-patriation of service personnel will now be taking place through RAF Brize Norton rather than RAF Lyneham (and hence Wootton Bassett) a cruise will be taking place next year.
This has become the event in the South-West for Mini owners. A must for next years calendar.

Jul 072011

Gaydon Mini Festival took place on Sunday 3rd July 2011. A much nicer day than previous events, sunny and warm. Fiona & I drove down in the Cooper with Hannah and met George and Dad there.

Unfortunately Milly was unable to attend due to Sandra being ill, so no awards this time – but others were probably glad of the chance to get a look in.

It was worth the trip just to see 621 AOK in all her glory. Actually she’s beginning to look a bit tired, but the fight to keep her original but still running is one I’d not like to be fighting.

Many cars arrived in convoy from the MINI plant at Cowley, Oxford. Also along for the ride was Paddy Hopkirk who had a few words to say.

The Heritage Motor Centre is also to be found at Gaydon. As at Beaulieu the ticket included entrance to the museum. Although not as extensive as Beaulieu it’s still well worth a visit.

We followed “sat-nav lady” on the way home, which was interesting as she decided that a good long tour was in order. However, the country roads are always fun in a Mini, so a good time was had by all.

Jun 122011

Another really wet day. Possibly wetter than Bristol Mini Day because it didn’t really ease up all day. Attended by the Springs, Myself & Fiona and Andy Clark, who took along his dad.

Lovely drive down, despite the weather, through Bath and Warminster on pretty good A-roads for the majority of the journey.

Despite the weather there was a superb collection of Minis on display, including a number of the original works rally cars. A whole section allotted this year to visitors from France.
There was some auto-jumble, and a good number of spares suppliers (I managed to get a decal set, wheel arches and number plates at good prices).

Bealieu is also home to the National Motor Museum which is home to a fantastic selection of motor vehicles, as well as a James Bond Exhibition (which was slightly disappointing, where were the Astons?) and World of Top Gear (a great chance to see some of the vehicles the presenters on Top Gear have built for their various challenges, to the left is the Mini that ski-jumped at Lillehammer in Norway).

There’s the house and abbey, and for days with less rain, the grounds would be lovely to take a stroll around.

I would definitely recommend this, and will be attending next year.

Jun 052011

The day was almost a complete washout. It rained for most of the day – at times quite heavily.

Sandra won “Best in Class” with Milly, but even this was let down by her having to be trailered home (either big-end or cylinder-head gasket failure was Colin’s first diagnosis).

Update: turned out to be the cylinder-head gasket. Milly’s now up and running again.

Feb 082011

This is the BMW Mini I owned when living in Norway.