The original Morris Mini was the automotive mouse that roared its way through 1960s Britain, driven by Beatles John and Paul and bought by more fans than any car since the Ford Model T. It was barely 4 ft. high and 10 ft. long; American lovers of the Cadillac and Suburban never really got it. But now we're getting a second chance.
Hyped by a seductively surreptitious $35 million marketing campaign, a new version of the Mini hit U.S. showrooms last week with a base sticker price of $17,000 that echoes the spirit of the original (1960 price: $1,700). The new Mini is produced by BMW, which bought struggling Mini maker Rover in 1994. The standard Mini has always been underpowered, but auto critics are raving about a zippier new 163-h.p. version, available this summer. Want electronic navigation or a six-speaker CD player? No problem. Personalize it with 100 color and trim combinations, from shift knobs to stripes and fender flares.
BMW had planned to ship only 20,000 Minis to the U.S. this year. But it says its cheeky ads have generated more interest than even a production increase could satisfy. In that case, the worst thing about the Mini may be the wait.
--By Frank Gibney Jr.