CALIFORNIA DREAMING. THE MINI MEET 2017 IN THE USA.

The MINI brand has made automotive history, not just once but twice now. The classic Mini revolutionised the concept of the small car in 1959 and became a role model for an entire class of vehicle. And the all-new MINI made the transition to the 21st century as the first premium model in the small car segment. A lack of popularity is something the brand certainly has no need to fear. Indeed, back in the 1960s the classic Mini also amassed a large following of avid fans in the USA, the land of sprawling highways and mighty pickups. The stateside enthusiasts were instantly sold on the talents of this charming automotive exotic.

Founded in 1970, the Mini Owners of America club continues to represent a small but very special community of enthusiasts today. “Once Mini, forever Mini” is the motto that many would use to describe their enduring zeal for the car. It’s not that long now until the club celebrates its 50th anniversary, and its membership has never stopped growing. A large number of members are, of course, proud owners of classic Minis, but there are also many who have a new MINI. Or both.

California dreaming.

Every year, the club organises a meet – always at a new venue, sometimes in a different state and occasionally even in another country. The members travel from all over to enjoy a few fun-packed days together. In 2017, the event took place in Santa Rosa, California, situated one hour north of San Francisco in the midst of the magnificent Sonoma wine-growing region. Proceedings got underway at the Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa with the Show ‘n’ Shine. The central location was ideal for showing off all the fabulous cars to a large number of spectators. Cardboard under the engines (to catch the odd drip) is as much part of the event as good music and high spirits. The weather was also just right for the occasion, of course, with blue skies and plenty of sunshine – a typical California day, in other words. All the Minis were classified by age and type, and club members were able to vote for their personal favourites. The winners were announced a few days later at the grand finale.

Get ready to rumble.

The opening day may have been a relatively sedate affair, but that all changed on day two: the Minis were unleashed and their owners had the chance to demonstrate their driving skills over two very different courses. One was a traditional slalom, where the aim was simply to set the fastest time. Each driver had several runs to give them ample opportunity to perfect their style and cornering technique. It was the race-spec machines that demonstrated just what the Mini is capable of, but the bread-and-butter production models also acquitted themselves admirably.

The “funkhana”, on the other hand, was all about teamwork – and having immense fun in the process. The driver was blindfolded and then guided through the course by their co-driver shouting instructions. And at one point, the drivers even had to get out and top up wine glasses! There was no hard-fought battle here, just a lot of laughs. Not surprisingly, it was all an instant hit with the galleries as well.

Minis are happiest out on the open road.

The third and final day kicked off with the highlight of the programme – the rally. The route took the participants from Santa Rosa to the stunning Pacific coastline and back through the Sonoma vineyards. The first stop over the forty miles for the thirty Minis came at the ocean-side. The craggy coastline with its colossal rock formations is a unique sight, often accompanied by a strong wind. The convoy then continued on its way through the scenic vineyards, crossing the Russian River over an old, narrow bridge.

There was another brief diversion to the small but very classy Thomas George winery, before the rally participants headed on to the main square in the picturesque town of Healdsburg. Here, they had to solve various tasks, before continuing to the renowned Rodney Strong winery.

Everyone was a winner.

On the final evening, everyone met up again for the big closing banquet, where the organisers took to the stage for a look back at some of the meet’s most memorable moments. You could really feel the spirit here of the Mini Owners Club of America, the quintessential big family. Many have been part of it for years now, and new members are made to feel very welcome.

Once the prize-giving was over, thoughts turned to the next meet, which will take place in Oregon in 2018. Wherever the Minis get together, a wonderful and highly entertaining time is sure to be had by all.