Do you remember the moment you fell in love with MINI? Was it your first toy car? Or did you literally see it in a museum and think that such a car belongs on the streets – specifically, with you at the wheel? We attended the International MINI Meeting 2023 in Florence, a gathering of the MINI community that changes location each year. There, we had the opportunity to meet several fascinating MINIacs and asked them what their passion for this iconic and charming brand is about.

The first car you’ve owned was probably quite old, wasn’t it? Or used, at least. Maybe your parents thought that if it got a scratch from a novice driver, that wouldn’t be a problem, as that is what it was there for. Well, Gary had a car at the International Mini Meeting that was definitely old, older than most of the people, or the Minis, at the event. And it only got to reach such a grand age because of the extreme care and affection it was shown. His unassuming little red Mini with the Austin Seven badge was built in 1961, and it still had most of its original parts intact. It had been in Gary’s possession for 30 years, but their Big Love story began almost by accident. The car was given as part-exchange at a dealership where Gary’s cousin worked. It would probably have gone to auction, but Gary stepped in. “I drove the thing home, and it was just brilliant. Everything about it was wonderful.” He was taken by all the small little features, like the sliding windows, that the earlier Minis were known for, and his affection hasn’t waned. “I just couldn’t bear to get rid of it, and it’s been with me ever since.” About ten years ago, he started restoring the car and got it ready in time for the International Mini Meeting. But Gary appreciates newer MINIs just as much as the classic ones. He’s owned a 2011 MINI Clubman and 3- and 5-door MINI Coopers. “I love the MINI brand. There’s something about driving them; they’re more than the sum total of their parts. They have a soul.” He’s also driven the MINI Cooper SE, and it’s quite possible that he’ll be driving fully electric MINIs in the not-too-distant future. “I love the way that thing went. It was rapid in a way that I’ve never experienced before.” We expect that even by that point, Gary will still have a place in his heart and his garage for the little Austin Seven.

Gary owns a little red Mini which was built in 1961. Most of its original parts are still intact. He saved it from being auctioned.  

Most of us have grown up with the classic Mini as a regular feature of the places we’ve lived in. Certain cars are just always present. So the idea that you wouldn’t know what a Mini is until well into adulthood should seem quite fantastical. But if you’ve grown up in Los Angeles and Atlanta, you might not see a lot of classic Minis. Patricia Esmeralda Estrada definitely didn’t. Indeed, the first time she really took a good look at the car was when she was a grown and married woman. She married an Italian man, and they were visiting Miami – her husband’s first time in the USA. They visited an exhibition in Miami where they saw a classic green Mini Cooper with white stripes. The Big Love began then and there. “This is the perfect car for back home, in Florence!” she thought to herself. A couple of years later, in 2019, they had their own Mini, similarly green with white stripes. While it is not a daily driver, it is a car for special occasions. They’ve driven it all around Italy, organizing tours for others, and learning valuable lessons like, “Don’t drive during the day in the middle of August in a Mini with no air conditioning.” Not that that would ever stop them. As Patricia said excitedly about the little car that has brought so much fun to her life, “We’d do it again anyway.” Of that we have no doubt.

Do you remember the first time you saw a Mini? For Patricia Esmeralda Estrada, it was not so long ago. She first discovered a Mini in a museum in Miami, USA – a classic green Mini Cooper with white stripes, similar to the one she owns today. 

Most car fans probably fell in love with automobiles when they first held a little toy car in their family’s living room and went “Vrooooooom”. A similar fate befell Patric Juan, who was a young German boy of 14 when his Big Love story with MINI began. He had a remote-controlled toy Mini, which he painted British racing green with his mother, even adding a nice white roof. He would race the little RC Mini in competitions, and by the time he was ready to get his driver’s license, it was clear to him what his real first car should be. Sadly, not everybody was on board with his idea. In fact, everyone was against it, his parents especially, who thought that it wasn’t a responsible car. So, when Patric Juan had finally saved up enough money to become a Miniac, his father preemptively bought him an Opel Corsa, thinking it was a more sensible car for his son. Then, when Patric Juan was ready to move on, they went behind his back again to arrange a lease for a VW Golf GTI for their son. Getting these vehicles from one’s parents may have seemed like a nice problem to have, but their son didn’t see it that way. More than a decade passed before his wife rekindled his love for the car, suggesting that now he could buy a Mini for himself and nobody could stop him. So, he found a very special sporty Mini – created by a tuning studio – that you see here. He then drove about 700 km for the car, and once he got it, he simply sent his parents a photo with the caption, “Check out my cool new car!” And his parents’ answer? “Oh my God!!! You’re crazy!” Hopefully they’ve mellowed to their son’s incurable love for MINI since then.

This Mini isn’t just any Mini; it is a special Grand Prix edition, and only 500 were ever made. Patric Juan was very lucky to discover this little treasure in his boss’s garage. 

When you look at Pascal’s car, the first things that catch your eye are not its reserved yet elegant paint job, or that it is a Mini Van, but the little tricycle and suitcase on top. While the little bike is just for show (although it is older than the car itself), the suitcase serves a specific, quite hilarious function. But first, let’s meet the owner. Pascal bought his first Mini in 1995 when he was 17, and since then he has always had at least one. He basically inherited his love from his father, who always had English cars. The Mini he drove to the International Mini Meeting was his fifth Mini: a 1963 Mini Van (although its engine is from a 1984 Austin Mini Metro). It also has some additional cool features, like a considerable sound system in the back, which, while not authentic to the original, definitely raises the car’s fun factor. And that was probably a good thing too, because to get to the International MINI Meeting, he drove the car for about 600 km from Basel, Switzerland. Pretty long, but not the longest trip this car has taken. In 2019, Pascal, during a three-week road trip to Bristol for another Mini Meeting, drove it for about 3,900 km. Not bad for a pensioner. You’d think that such a special car would have required Pascal to visit multiple garages around Europe. The reality is a bit simpler, and a bit more mundanely modern. “I found it on Facebook. I asked for a few photos, then I went to check it out after about two weeks and got it.” Not that it was in perfect condition. “It was completely blackened and super rusty. It took us six years to fix it up.” And Pascal made sure to restore it to be almost identical to the car that people could have actually bought in the 1960s – apart from the sound system – and that is where the trunk on top of the car comes in. “It’s there because I have the car cover inside. The car can get a little wet inside when it rains,” he says with a laugh. Considering the challenges with rain that the earliest Minis faced, this is what we’d call true commitment to authenticity.

The 1963 Mini Van has some cool features – for example, a considerable sound system in the back. Pascal, the owner, has been on quite a few road trips with this old fella. In 2019, he drove from Basel to Bristol. 

The International MINI Meeting (IMM) is an annual gathering of MINI car enthusiasts from around the world. It serves as a platform for MINI owners, clubs, and fans to come together and celebrate their passion for classic Minis and the new MINI cars. The event includes displays of MINI cars, social activities, group drives, workshops, and entertainment. It fosters a sense of community among MINI enthusiasts and allows them to connect, and create lasting memories. The IMM was first held in 1978, in Germany, and since then has been hosted by numerous countries. Participants sometimes drive for days to get to the gathering. If you’re a MINI fan, you should definitely visit at least once.

Author: David Vass, Photos: Mateusz Grzelak / 2increatives.