PASADENA - When Jim McDowell, managing director of Mini USA, says some owners like to think of their little cars as "a member of the family," he may be exaggerating.
But not by much.
More than 1,300 people showed up Saturday to rally at the Rose Bowl after driving from UCLA in 1960s Minis, new Minis, jazzed-up, souped-up and customized Minis - all waiting for a chance to show off and check out the competition at the Mini Takes the States 2008 Los Angeles festival.
It's not hard to explain the appeal, said Sean Garcia of Huntington Beach, whose customized convertible black and white 1973 Mini was drawing lots of attention.
"It's the body, and the thrill of driving - they put a smile on your face," said Garcia, who installed a turbo engine that gets his speedy "sleeper" Mini double-takes on the freeway.
Garcia and Ken Urbina of Pasadena, who owns a 1960 Morris Mini plus the new version, agreed that people react to the cars with thumbs-ups, smiles and honking.
"And flashing peace signs," Urbina said, reflecting on an earlier era of Minis, including what he said was a "Morris Major Mini Minor" model.
McDowell said the basic "blank canvas" Mini Cooper, with its "really almost human look ... headlight eyes and beautiful contours," costs $19,200 delivered.
But people still spend an average of $4,000 to $5,000 to individualize them, McDowell said, adding the company itself offers more than 15,000 custom options.
All the latest Minis were on show Saturday, and drivers got a chance to try some of them out on a motor cross course.
There were 478 Minis registered, and a lot more just showed up, organizers said. A few of the Mini owners at the Rose Bowl drove there on an actual road rally that started in Miami and went on to Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, a distance of nearly 8,000 miles, spokesman Babatunde Agboke said.
Some Minis started out even further away.
William Castro, of Los Angeles, imported his white 1967 Mini from Ecuador three years ago, and said he didn't spend a dime for the chic black and red checkerboard trim.
"It's all original" he said. "I get lots of thumbs-up and people ask how much I would sell it for. They go for $22,000 - but I won't sell it."
It's a little like a member of the family, he said.
Source: Pasadena Star-News