I’m relatively new to this industry. It’s been about five years or so since I began scribbling about cars to anyone that’d listen. While it seems like so much longer than that — the days before doing this seem like a lifetime ago — I’m the youngin’ at almost every automotive event I attend. So I’ve driven what I’d call a lot of interesting cars but, compared to many of my fellow journos, I’ve driven, seen and done next to nothing.
So when I say that driving a 1965 Mini Cooper S through Monterey, Big Sur and over the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge was still the best drive of my life, it seems a bit pale in comparison to what others have done. Yet, despite the fact that such a drive wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow from some of my colleagues, it was still my favorite drive of all.
There really isn’t one thing that makes my classic Mini Cooper S drive so memorable, it was more a combination of things. A perfect storm, so to speak. For starters, I was in Monterey for Monterey Car Week, the most famous automotive gathering in America, in which brand-new, million-dollar exotics are as common as Honda Civics. It was my first time ever attending an event I’d always dreamed of attending, yet never had the money to do so. So there was a feeling of gratitude toward that made everything feel, smell and taste better. Gratitude to BMW for bringing me along, gratitude to Horatiu for giving me this gig, gratitude to the universe for allowing some idiot from New Jersey to be around such incredible people. I was just thankful to be there.
Then there was the drive. I’ve come to really love California. I used to live there as a kid but never really left LA, so I never understood the true beauty of the state until I got this job and started going back to California often. Yet, despite not always appreciating just how gorgeous it could be, I’d always wanted to see the coast, drive the coast and take in all the beauty from the driver’s seat of a classic car. That’s a dream that I don’t think will ever get old; no matter how many times I do it, I’ll always dream of doing it again. I had the chance to fulfill that dream on that day and I’ve wanted to do it again ever since. Maybe this time with a prettier passengers (no offense, Satch!)
Finally, there was the car. It’s almost impossible to not love vintage Minis. They’re so small, so pure and so far from anything we sell or buy today. The classic Mini is the antithesis of the automotive world we live in today; it’s pure, simple, entirely functional and with not a single superfluous detail. It’s all lean protein, without an ounce of fat. In the future, when androids take over, the last part of the Turing Test should be to look at an original Mini in person; if those damn robots don’t smile, they fail. No human can see a classic Mini and not smile. It’s just not allowed in our DNA.
The car I tested was perfect, too. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. In fact, I’ve been scouring the internet for one just like it ever since (though, I can’t afford one in quite as good of shape). It was a ’65 Morris Mini Cooper S, red over black interior, with an engine small enough that I could pull it out with my bare hands and less horsepower than some horse-drawn carriages. And it was glorious.
Everything about it was a wonderful, sensory experience. The razor-sharp feel of the throttle response, the firm, non-assisted brakes, the pencil thing, large-diameter steering wheel and the way every road nuance made its way through the controls and into my cerebral cortex all came together to completely captivate me. I absolutely adored that little bugger and it’s still my favorite drive of all.
I’ve driven much, much faster cars since (most dogs are faster than the classic Mini) and cars that are far more capable and yet the little old Mini is the one I’d take on a weekend trip up or down any coast. If all I had was one day left to live and a twisty road, the ’65 Mini Cooper S would be the car I chose to drive. There’s something so happy, so full of joy about it that it’s impossible to not smile and enjoy life while driving one.
The reason I bring all of this up is that this week would have been Monterey Car Week if it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, the cancellation of a car event for the uber-rich — the types of people that mostly go to show off new hats made from different exotic animals — isn’t exactly the worst thing to come out of this pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives across the globe; this is a devastating time for all of us. However, remembering the bright spots; what we’re missing and what we hope to do again; is an important part of getting through such things and my one and only time at Monterey Car Week was a bright spot.
I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. It’s not the sort of thing that’s necessarily always worth the money, as the cost of attending has inflated to comical levels and car companies typically don’t take small fish like myself (I only went because Horatiu had prior obligations). However, if that was the one and only time I ever attend, it will be remembered as my favorite drive of all for a long, long time.