This Is What It’s Like To Drive A Mini Knightsbridge
Photography by Ted Gushue
The first car I learned to drive stick on was a Mini Cooper. An early S model after they were re-launched in the US, black with white trim. My dad took my brother and I to a big field in our hometown and let us loose—it was, to this day, one of the greatest moments in my life. If I could change one thing in hindsight, if there was one thing I could tweak, it would be that I wish the moment took place in an original Mini, because the one I drove in Germany recently was one of the most silly fun experiences of my life.
If you’ve never been behind the wheel of one, the first thing you’ll notice is the driving stance and wheel position. I’d almost compare it to a tiny bus, or a scaled-up gokart. It takes a second to get used to, but then again the entire scale of a Mini takes a second to get used to—it’s positively diminutive.
The Rover Mini Knightsbridge was the last European variant of the Sport 500 to be produced before the company was handed over to BMW AG. In doing a bit of research on this, I was reminded just how scattered the Mini product line was, and even more so how difficult to tell each one apart from the other it was. Perhaps that’s some of the charm, these cars were being built by passionate people who weren’t entirely marketing geniuses. From what I can tell, the Knightsbridge was at the top of the line when it rolled off the line in 1998, and it shows. The interior is decent leather, there’s burled walnut accents, an actually great stereo, all in all a tidy package.
The drive, though, was one of the most silly fun experiences I’ve ever had. It wasn’t as powerful as the Caterham 270R, not by a long shot, but you didn’t care because you’re effectively dangling head first over the front of the car. I’ll say it again: the riding position is just so odd at first, but it’s a novel kind of odd. You grow to love it immediately.
The acceleration wasn’t terribly punchy, but we also had two big guys in the car, including myself. I’d wager that most of the people who’re racing these things would put themselves on a strict horse jockey diet. Like so many great drivers have said in the past, if you can’t make a slow car go fast, you don’t deserve to make a fast car go slow. So we kept the Mini spooled up in the high revs, chucked it into the corners, and let its squat little torso do all the work.
It’s positively a dream in the turns. The long, twisty roads of the country towns outside of Ingolstadt, Germany, were perfect for tossing this little guy around. Every time my copilot and I looked at each other, we couldn’t help but crack up at how silly fun the whole thing was.
By the end of our few hours with the Mini we felt certain that this would be one of the most fun cars to own on a daily basis—by a wide margin.