Smiling at the LA Auto Show
I went to the LA Auto Show with my friends Renee and John.
They turn a day's admission to the show into a yearly event,
spending virtually a whole day looking at cars, trucks, SUVs
and the many booths showing aftermarket additions. I joined
them this year because we all had one particular goal-to see
the new MINI Cooper, a mid-century British racing classic
being reintroduced by BMW.
drawn to the MINI display, in the back corner of the West Hall,
by two big MINI signs, made of colored neon tubes, hanging behind
the cars. They set the stage for a full-tilt 1960s' blast-from-the-past
experience, lending a Sonny and Cher sort of touch to the display.
People are lining up to sit in this car. It has the charm and
sense of fun of the New Beetle, another retro-styled automobile,
but also the winkwink insouciance of Carnaby Street. Looking
at it stirs an ancestral memory of any commercial, any Beatles
movie, any episode of "The Avengers" that ever had
a shot of mod-era London in it. The car calls up, from deep
in the brain of anyone who was young in the '60s, the thought,
"...wow ... doesn't that look like fun!"
happens that I'd seen a MINI driving on the streets of Burbank
about a month ago; not the new one, which won't be in showrooms
until March, but the genuine, early 60s' article. Absolutely
clean, painted a cheery pale blue with a white roof, they
are so rare here in the US that I can't remember the last
time I'd seen one. And they are memorable-about the size and
proportions of a refrigerator carton, this original MINI turned
my head and made me smile. And BMW realized that this tiny
vehicle, the object of cult worship among an even tinier group
of car fanatics, would have the smile as a factory-installed
the driver's seat, you're greeted by a clever melding of retro
and modern industrial design. The speedometer is an enormous
circular gauge in the center of the dashboard-so unexpected
in its' size and position it actually startled me-but in a
good way. Nearly every functioning knob is circular and fits
in the dash in a circular space, including the stick shift.
The wiper controls and turn signals come out from the steering
column on little matte aluminum torpedoes. The circles, ovals
and swooshy curves make the car's interior friendly, fun and
inviting. The rearview and side mirrors are ovoid, and you
look at them and think, 'why not?'
BMW is doing lifestyle marketing on the MINI Cooper, and
to my eye they're doing it brilliantly. The giant MINI signs,
of course, set the stage at the Auto Show, and for a sonic
backdrop they've provided a CD jukebox of 'motoring music,'
the California dreamin' stuff that said 'warm' and 'free'
35 years ago to everyone back east. (And it must say that
to the Brits, too, because they tell you that the car was
built "one rainy week in Manchester," which is another
smile-inducing detail presented in the car's spec sheet.)
The website ( miniusa.com)
repeats the content, theme and design of the booklet but expands
on it in some smart ways. A Quicktime film of the car and it's
creator, John Cooper, shows the car racing at Monte Carlo, zipping
through London traffic, and parking in tiny spaces, all intercut
the 5 by 5 inch booklet about the car-which has an even smaller
insert!- takes you the rest of the way into the youthful,
carefree world that BMW is hoping to recreate in the minds
of buyers. "TAKE A NEW TURN. When motoring in a MINI,
it's important to occasionally take a left when you're supposed
to go right. In this way you can avoid ruts. A rut cannot
be seen but it can be felt. If you feel like you've taken
the same path so many times before that there should be a
groove worn into the street, you're in a rut. Take a left
immediately." Another headline encourages you to "EMBRACE
FELLOW MOTORERS*," and further into the book they suggest
a pair of fuzzy dice makes a great accessory. A far cry from
of miniskirted British 'birds' in beehive hairdos and go-go
boots. Quicktimealso allows you to take a virtual tour of the
car, inside and out- I invite you to look at the torpedo-shaped
knobs yourself. Repeated in both the book and the site is the
admonition to 'motor,' to use and enjoy the car in an
experience of freedom. With that in mind the website suggests
some offbeat places to 'motor' to, cultural places and events,
as well as offbeat places to stay-they like the Madonna Inn,
BMW is clever in it's method of encouraging us to recapture
something of our 'lost' youth. At a base price of between
$17,000 and $20,000 to do so, they're suggesting that this
trip back in time may be available to nearly anyone. But get
in line, just as we did at the Auto Show...there is already
a waiting list to buy one...
*The writers do, sort of, offer a definition of 'motoring,'
: Motorist. A person who drives an automobile. Motorer. One
About the Author
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer
who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local.
She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her
through her website, www.Nancylemay.com
and by email at NancyLeMayCo@aol.com