The MINI drive that evoked the past, present and future
In focus: MINI old and new
IT was appropriate and coincidental that we ended up driving the latest MINI from its Oxford manufacturing plant to Dublin . . . . via Liverpool.
Appropriate because of a song. Coincidental because of an event.
The Liverpool-born Beatles wondered: "Will you still need me... when I'm 64?" Judging by the popularity of the MINI as it celebrates its 60th birthday, I think the little icon will still be in demand in four years.
Then there was the event. Our drive of special 60th anniversary models coincided with a great sporting occasion, Liverpool's legendary victory over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.
No, I wasn't at the game. But to be on, and see, the city streets come to life afterwards marked it as a special occasion.
I say that as a Manchester United fan who can only compare the heart-and-soul commitment of the Anfield players with the jaded jennets at Old Trafford.
There was a third, non-Liverpool related reason, for our 'drive home the MINI' adventure to be memorable: the electric model being masterminded by young Dundalk man James Redmond, with whom we shared an enlightening few minutes at the Oxford plant. To see his enthusiasm was something in itself.
While unable to supply us with the answers to some key questions about the new e-MINI (understandable, I suppose), it was wonderful to meet 'one of ours' at the cutting edge of the electric-car revolution.
All future MINI electric vehicles will be made at the Oxford plant for global markets.
It was indeed a juncture of importance between past and future as we spoke in the museum housing, among others, some old models.
This is well worth a visit, as there are some great non-MINI cars there too.
James (pictured below) spoke of the exceptional amount of work involved in his project. As chief engineer of MINI BEVs he is yet another example of Irish people making it to the top in the motor business.
He told us how BMW (which owns MINI) put prototypes of the new car through gruesome paces, with vehicles intensely shaken and stirred in search of the slightest rattle.
A big achievement too, he told us, was blending in production of the e-MINI with the production line at Oxford. It means that, according to demand, production can cope with building both internal combustion and battery electric models.
He has, obviously, driven the car. As a foretaste he revealed how quick it will be off the mark - EVs have instant 100pc torque anyway.
Details are being kept closely under guard, of course, for a car that will be launched in June and due in Ireland next year.
But judging from one or two inadvertent hints (not from James), it looks like it could cost under the €30,000 mark here after the €10,000 worth of rebates and grants are taken into account.
James, like so many involved in the electric future, hopes governments will speed up the establishment of charging points. Here's hoping they do. It was great to meet him and to see what he has achieved.
But I should tell you about current MINIs too. Factory tours are shunned by people like me because they are usually boring and tiring. Yet I often come away awestruck by the complexity and extent of what it takes to build a car from scratch.
Oxford makes the MINI, as you know. There are 1,000 cars completed every 24 hours. There are up to 1,600 robots systematically beavering away at tasks once undertaken by, at one stage, 28,000 people.
A small snippet of other figures involved: a car body gets 6,000 welds; there are 420 panels.
Each robot needs and gets 24 litres of water every minute to keep cool. Only, yes only, rainwater is used for that and the entire plant.
So much is computerised they can trace back the exact time and place of a faulty rivet - 10 years hence.
And I wouldn't like to be a supplier who is late with a part. The fine is €20,000 for every minute of delay.
Armed with a boot load of facts like that, we headed for Liverpool where en-route jams ensured we were not just late but had to divert to avoid being even later.
Merciful hour. It's alright making cars but we're running out of road. I won't give out about Irish traffic any more. The M6 North West was a mega car park. Is this the future? Is this our lot despite plans to reduce traffic volumes?
How else does a major economy such as the UK deliver its goods and services?
I was depressed thinking about it. Such a challenge ahead for all governments.
I don't know where they can start. Ridding the roads of pollution with EVs is only a beginning really. How do you reduce the volumes? It was a hard day's afternoon (apologies Beatles) I can tell you.
Meanwhile, we drove our MINI 3dr Cooper S 60 Years Edition special edition - and Cabrio - all the way.
There are a mere 500 examples of this special model and those sold in Ireland will cost €40,370.
I really liked the new Racing Green paint finish and black contrast roof. It also gets special 17-inch alloys and a spruced-up interior. Nice.
Road tax comes to €270. The car felt nippy (0-100kmh in 6.7 seconds) when we got the chance to drive at any pace.
As well as the new paint finish and piano black exterior trim, black roof and exterior mirror caps, there are 'anniversary design' bonnet stripes and a special emblem on the left-hand bonnet stripe.
Every model will have an extra set of MINI spot lamps on the front radiator grille.
The 60 Years emblem is dotted around the interior too, including the steering wheel and front seats (Leather Lounge in Dark Cacao with contrast seat stitching).
There is a Navigation Plus pack with a larger 8.8-inch touch display, rear view camera, folding exterior mirrors and Park Distance Control (PDC - front and rear), LED lights back and front, intelligent emergency call, ambient lighting, auto headlights and wipers.
Sadly, traffic impacted on our enjoyment and scope of driving in the new car. But there was enough to suggest it retained the sporty attributes that always set the brand apart.
Which is why I reckon we'll still want a MINI, regardless of shape, guise or power source, when it's 64.