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This View by Nancy LeMay
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, and by email at

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.

You're 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, " ... doesn't that look like fun!"

It 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 marketing tool.

In 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.)
Reading 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 "Ram Tough!"

The website ( 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 with flashes
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, for instance.

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 who motors.

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, and by email at