My first MINI was a CVT – Continuously Variable Transmission. This was the only automatic transmission option at launch. Unfortunately, the first generation of CVTs were pretty terrible, and I did not escape this experience. My car would do this random revving when I was stopped with the car running (like at a stoplight). Then it would suddenly lurch forward despite having my foot on the brake. One time, it lurched forward so violently, I thought the car behind me had rear-ended me. I was so certain, I put my car in park and got out of the car to see the damage. At the stoplight. But it was just my special feature, not a fender bender.
In addition to the many issues with the CVT, I was in the minority by driving an automatic MINI. The Cooper S wasn’t offered in an automatic when MINIs launched in the U.S., and CVTs weren’t even available to test drive (in hindsight I saw why!). The experience of driving a MINI is best had in a manual, to really be part of the driving. I saw this again and again at meets, rallies and drives, and of course my new MINI friends convinced me I could do it! I could! Just barely!
So I traded in Annie and got Warbucks, a 2004 Cooper S. I still didn’t know how to drive a manual, so my friend was with me when I took delivery at the dealer and she drove him off the lot, taking me to a bank parking lot where I learned. What I can remember most about the lesson was the audience of construction workers and her saying, over and over, “gas gas gas gas gas” [STALL] “gas gas gas gas gas” [STALL]. I managed to get him home and only stalled 2 more times that day.
Every time I shifted (and still do sometimes now), I evaluated my effort, and usually thought “yeah that wasn’t so good” and occasionally “hmm, not bad”. I’ll never win a smooth shifter award, but I can count on one hand how many times I’ve stalled in the past 5 years. Sadly the most recent was last week in the carline, but that’s a story for another day.
For me, Warbucks is still the standard for what MINIs should look like. Yes I know they’ve come in dozens of colors over the years, and the new ones are super razzle dazzle. But I’d rather have a first generation S over any other model and I only, truly, have eyes for Chili Red.