2009 celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Mini Cooper and the 9th anniversary of the MINI. I write those differently because there is a difference and the various owners will let you know about it. This is more of a recap of the adventure of driving a classic Mini 500 miles from Indianapolis to Minnesota for the celebration.

Every year groups of Mini Enthusiasts gather in the East and the West to celebrate their love of a small car. Every five years they pick a point in the middle and all come together. This year the gathering happened in Minnesota. I took off on a lovely Saturday morning and headed North. A little concerned about if my little Mini would be able to make it. I planned for short drives making sure I didn’t push the car too much and giving me time to take it easy. First stop Munster, Indiana. No problems noted… wonderful drive averaged between 65-75 mph according to the GPS and very happy I had purchased a Power Monkey since the Mini doesn’t have a 12v plug, without it the GPS would have died after about 3 hours. Day one complete and besides being a little tired ready to take on day two.

The second day I again planned for a shorter drive but this would be going through Chicago. Fortunately early on a Sunday Morning so traffic shouldn’t be a problem. The route had been up in the air because I wasn’t sure if I would be meeting a friend later in the day. I had bounced between staying in West Bend or Madison finally deciding to go with West Bend and heading north to Sheboygan. As I was driving along just north of Chicago I noticed that the road was getting worse. This is something you learn about when driving an older car. First the suspension isn’t as forgiving and second the sound proofing is almost non-existent. The space between bridges and overpasses seem to be places where they have decided unmarked speed bumps would be a great addition and I hit one of these. I didn’t notice anything initially but as I slowed down I started to hear a rattle from the front passenger side (that would be the left). It got me worried since each time I drive Tink there seems to be something that goes wrong. After arriving in West Bend and taking a break to draw and cache I decided to head to Sheboygan and see what happened. Rattle, Rattle, Rattle… made it up there and while waiting for my friend took a quick look at the car and discovered the right whisker (a part of the grill) was loose. This part I had replaced a while ago but I thought “Aha! I know what the rattle is and now” I can drive in peaceful ignorance until I can find a phillips head screwdriver and fix it. My friend never did show, so after about an hour waiting I headed back to West Bend. Doubt crept in along the drive as I kept thinking a piece is going to break off and the car will explode.

After a fitful night’s sleep I headed out on the longest drive so far heading across Wisconsin to Winona, Minnesota. My GPS took me on a rather circuitous route (as she always does) and I did get to see some cool things. My apprehension did keep me from stopping much and I even decided to bypass my planned stop in Baraboo (for the Circus Geeks) and just move along. I arrived safely in Winona and checked in to the hotel and the Meet. Still concerned, but figuring if anyone would be able to help me, it will be the folks here. As I walked around and watched people primping their Minis and some doing some major work I decided that my rattle, really wasn’t something I should bother anyone about. The opening reception was subdued, and it was nice to meet some new people from around the country.

The morning brought the “Show & Shine” and seeing the hundreds of Minis on the field was a treat. In Indiana Tink is an oddity. At Mini Meet, Tink was the norm… I saw more Tahiti Blue and White Minis than I ever had. The field was divided into classes (CO3 was mine- Minis MkIII or later) The funny thing was while there were a large number of newer MINIs they were kind of bunched together. My only suggestion would be to divide them up by hatch, convertible, & clubman. No need to look at model years, yet. Some people were confused as to how to vote being classic owners and not knowing anything about new MINIs. I got to know some more people and found it fascinating how people would talk about “building their own Mini.” I initially thought these were newer MINI owners who went through the same process Sue and I did with building our cars online and then submitting the order. No these are people who ordered a heritage body from England and then all the parts and had their classic Mini built. Does that make it a classic if it is brand new? As the events on the field finished we headed back to the hotel and I ended up hanging around with some people I had met through other Mini events. We all ended up at Bub’s (pronounced “boobs”) and talked Mini stuff after getting lost and finally using my iPhone to get us to where we wanted to go. This was my first chance to ride in a Moke. For those non-Mini folks the Mini Moke is basically the Mini version of a Jeep (sort of).  Really fun, wouldn’t be fun in Indiana, but in more tropical climates, they must be a hoot. I ended up missing the concert/birthday party because of dinner but since it was chilly I wasn’t too upset. Still concerned about Tink, thinking if I just don’t drive her too much everything should be fine… Yes, I go to a car meet and am scared to fix my car or drive it.

Day three brings about the Auto-Cross, Funkhana, and Tech Sessions. I decided that I would go to the tech sessions since I am a complete doofus when it comes to my Mini. I had finally taken some time to figure out exactly what was wrong (the dust shield on the left brake) and looked at solutions. Most people I had spoken with suggested removing it.  I thought I could find help here, and probably would have if I had gotten up the nerve to ask.  I did learn about distributors, and general Mini parts, and how to upgrade things incognito so you don’t lose the classic look, but your Mini is safer on the road.  That took up the morning, and since I was scared to drive Tink any more than I needed to I headed off doing what I normally do at car events so that I don’t make a fool out of myself and took pictures.  700 shots later I had done a pretty good job at the Autocross (Race) and the Funkhana (Race with amusing tasks- this year based on “The Italian Job”).  I mentioned to one of the kids (college kid- yes I am old) about the dust shield issue and he happily said “My dad’s got tools, I can take care of it for you.”  Saved at at last.  Head back to the hotel happy that if I diagnosed this correctly, it will be solved.  I walked around and noticed that the person who said he could help was working on his car.  So since I had looked up a few things decided that I should be able to fix it (you can all stop laughing now).  Armed with a screwdriver I headed out to remover the lower portion of the dust shield and it didn’t come off.  I had unscrewed the one piece and thought “it should just drop now”  Nope.  Around the corner comes one of the Indiana contingent and I explain what I’m doing.  They decide to sit and watch.  I can’t complain.  I needed to jack my Mini up and couldn’t for the life of me figure out how the jack worked.  Removed the wheel and unbolted the top dust shield… still nothing.  It won’t even come off.  it is stuck.  As I’m sticking my head into the wheel well I notice a second screw holding the top and bottom pieces together.  Twist, twist, twist and “clang!” the dust shield is gone.  Now to go back and clean up my mess.  All in all a pretty productive 2 hours.  Drove to the Lakeview Drive-In without a single rattle… oh joy!

Day four was the finish for the event, a rally or drive on your own.  I took the morning and worked on the comic strip to make sure something was ready for Friday and Monday.  Rallies usually need navigators so I decided to not participate.  Yes, still a little concerned over if I had really fixed the problem.  I drove around Winona, had a nice lunch, stopped by the local Comic Book shop and then picked up a few caches before heading out to the banquet.

Even after four days, a line of Minis does draw attention.  We all turned into the parking lot and walked over to the banquet.  The buffet was wonderful, and the door prizes were great (even though I didn’t win any).  The one thing that got me thinking was the presentation of those new members into the North American Classic Mini Brigade.  Here I am scared to drive my car on a simple rally and I’m now thinking- 5,000 mile trip in Tink?  I could do that!  If  not I’m going to learn a lot along the way.  This actually falls into place with something Sue and I were going to do next summer which is attend GeoWoodstock which will be held in Seattle.  Mini Meet West is going to be in British Columbia… we shall see.

The small world twist?  There was a note on Tink’s windshield from some people I had travelled with before who had relocated to Winona, curious if this was my car,  I gave them a call before leaving and we met for breakfast.

The next day’s drive was uneventful except that Groundspeak was down so I couldn’t cache on the way because my app couldn’t get information. I ended up meeting Sue in Schaumberg so we could stop by IKEA to pick up some stuff.  Then drive home in the rain on the 4th of July.  While Tink has had issues with the rain before I had hoped everything would be fine… I was a little too optimistic.  Every long trip has to have something- and I thought the crisis with the dust shield had been it- I was mistaken.  As I pulled off the interstate she died at the first stoplight. My first thought was over taxing the electrical system.  I turned everything off and started her up again… knowing I had only a couple miles before home.  Sue in her MINI ahead of me.  Everything went fine for about a quarter mile when I hit another slowdown and while coasting I pulled Tink to the side of the road.  Almost there.  1,000+ miles round trip and dead minutes away from the finish.  I popped the bonnet and checked all the doo-dads and electrical connections.  I recalled the tech session and some comments about diagnosising problems… I checked the distributor- fine, then went up to the coil and looked at where it was connected.  A squeeze of the rubber cover and water came squirting out!  I closed everything up and hopped back into the seat.  Turning the key… and she started up with a roar.  I immediately headed out into traffic and got home.  Once home I pulled Tink in and opened her up removing the carpet and letting her dry out.  I’ll take a look at her tomorrow.

So what did I think of the adventure?  I learned a lot, I’m becoming more confident in fixing little things (even though I don’t like to) and who knows?  Next year my geek odyssey may be seeing if Tink can make it 5,000 miles.

Approximate Miles Driven: 1141 mi. *

Approximate Gas Mileage: 35 mpg *

Average cost per fill up: $10.54  Tink has a very small bladder

*Tink’s instrumentation, being from New Zealand, are in metric and I’m taking the information from fuel stops so while somewhat accurate may not be perfect.