Perennially cool, but ultimately a let down
I'm going to get lynched for sacrilege here, but let me explain...
My ex had a Mini City of '83 vintage an although I thought that it was under specified for what it cost, I must admit that it really was great fun to drive. You simply cannot judge these things as cars, you've got to look at them as if they were road-legal jet-skis or go-karts or something like that.
Anyhow, I felt like a change after 5 years with a Toyota MR2 so I got a '90 Mini 30 and regretted it. I was drawn to the retro-chic of mini-lite alloys, half-leather seats and the glossiest black paint I've ever seen. It was a head turner and utterly classless.
I shopped around and bought the best one I could find for 1300 quid. As far as reliability is concerned, all I can say is that mine wasn't particually unreliable in one area other than gearbox, but it did wear out about 10 times faster than any modern car. The worst aspect was the electrics as they were nothing but trouble. I ended up riping half the loom out and doing things my own way. The fuse-box is like something out of a kids toy, its appalling. Minis are frail and temperamental as standard in my experience. Although mine was built in '90, I should have had more sense and driven it like a car built in '59 when it came out.
Minis are weird, they beg you to thrash them and yet they hail from an era when materials and design didn't stand abuse. I found that very frustrating. I didn't agree with the train of thought that says Minis handle. They grip, I will say that, but they don't handle in the conventional sense.
I found the brakes acceptable, but the pads wore out far too quickly. The gearbox on mine was like stirring a bucketful of nuts and bolts with a coat-hanger and I destroyed second gear twice. In the end, I replaced the entire lump and gearbox with one out of a 1.3 HLE Metro. After this, it literally jumped from 20 to 50 mph as fast as you could think about it. After this, it ran out of steam and 1st gear was a crawler gear and essentially useless.
The original 1.0 engine never felt anywhere near as lively as my ex's City, but it managed as well as could be expected. Regard it as a four wheeled moped and you won't be disappointed.
Forget tales of being uncomfortable. I'm a 6ft, 15 stone body-builder and I always had enough room. I did journeys of 200 miles without the slightest hint of discomfort. Earplugs help, you've just got to adapt and say " This is not a car, this is a Mini". That's true, its not so much a case of finding excuses for it as accepting the fact that you are not driving a conventional car.
Buy one because you want to be seen, not for an adequate means of daily transport. By the way BMW, the new MINI is a BMW 1 series and always will be. Your new version will never be cool, John Lennon or Peter Sellers never drove yours!
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 12th October, 2003