Six days, five countries, eleven clubs – and one destination: the International Mini Meeting in Westport, Ireland. Our carriage for the occasion was a Mini with a difference (or two). Built in 2000 and shrink-wrapped in matt white to resemble a clean sheet of paper, our Mini provided the canvas for artist Steve Simpson’s diary of the journey – an experience decorated with distinctive images and warm encounters. Indeed, bringing people together remains a speciality of this classless car.
Tradition dictates that if you’ve signed up for a big Mini get-together, you drive there in your pride and joy. However, the small seaside town of Westport on Ireland’s west coast is a good stretch further from Munich than Lake Garda, say. And between here and there you’ll have to cross a fair amount of water. So it’s a good plan to break up the journey by dropping in on friends, of which Mini has many in virtually every corner of the world.
19 May 2017. BMW Group Classic in Munich provides the backdrop as a paper-white classic Mini prepares to embark on a five-nation tour. Model year 2000, 1,275cc, 63 hp, 148 km/h (92 mph) top speed: the vital statistics make familiar reading. Taking turns at the wheel will be the MINI Classic team’s Claudia Hübner and Wolf Jaiser, while hitching a lift with them are photographer Amy Shore – capturer of many a spectacular snap en route – and Irish artist Steve Simpson, who’s taste for the dramatic will transform the matt-wrapped Mini into a one-off work of art over the next few days. Inspiration will be provided by the places and people the team come across over the course of their voyage.
With the jolly waves of Munich’s resident Mini club still clear in the mind’s eye, two other Mini clubs are poised to welcome the team to Stuttgart for a relaxing stop-off. In Frankfurt, meanwhile, the Alte Brücke and nocturnal skyline both insist on the Mini’s attendance. In Luxemburg the local Mini club has arranged some impressive industrial ruins for the photographer and delicious “pain surprise” (be sure to pronounce this in French rather than English!) for our taste buds. And Zaha Hadid’s Port House, a highlight of contemporary architecture, is our destination in Antwerp.
From Dunkirk we take the cross-Channel ferry to Dover – and back to the English roots of this pint-sized cult car. In Brighton we even have the chance to attend a Mini event; the London to Brighton Mini Run culminates in a remarkable 2,100 Minis lining up in formation on the pier. Make that 2,101 on this occasion.
Next up for our Mini is a whiff of race track magic at the Goodwood Circuit, before we head on to London. Here, in Borough Market, someone buys the little cactus that will become our constant swaying companion on the rear-view mirror. Oxford is also an essential inclusion on the itinerary, as a finishing school not only for great minds but also great modern MINIs. The meet-up with the local Mini club just outside the Cowley factory gates provides an entertaining diversion for visitors and employees alike.
On to Birmingham, where the Mini Owners Club makes us feel thoroughly at home. Here, the Bavarian Mini’s exhaust is raised a little further off the ground, the scraping sounds over ferry ramps and bumps in the road having long since shed any novelty value.
Liverpool begs a visit to Penny Lane (of Beatles fame). On the night crossing to Dublin we find a shop selling Mr Bean dolls. It feels wrong not to buy one, given the comedy creation’s loyalty to his Mini (if not his trust in its door locks).
IMM on the Emerald Isle.
The port area of Dublin has become home to a kind of European Silicon Valley, tech companies including Facebook and Google setting up shop here. It’s all a bit of a contrast with the Guinness brewery, spiritual home of Irish beer-drinking culture. The Mini covers the last four hours to Westport pretty much on auto pilot. Here at the IMM, the International Mini Meeting 2017, it is even lavished with its own tipi tent. Time for Steve Simpson to put the finishing touches to his journey-long creation. This has been a four-day celebration of the Mini, with all that entails. I.e. beer, music, pubs... Yes, we must not forget the importance of a local inn. Here, people from all generations will come together, sing the odd tune and chew the fat. If this is your first time here, you can be sure of a hearty welcome. This is Ireland, after all, so unwinding is compulsory.
The last entry in the diary
2,452 kilometres (1,523 miles) and numerous wonderful encounters with people who have taken the Mini to their hearts – or who just smile whenever they see one. The Mini may be small, but it can tour with the biggest of them. We had no need for a service crew. Only once did we (almost) question its integrity, a loose lamp ring making a bid for freedom. It looked like the matt-wrapping guy forgot to fix it back in place tightly enough.