Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that: "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." What a shame it is that he didn't live long enough to buy himself something with a heap of torque so that he could smoke his way across a continent or two. Anyone capable of such prophetic gearheadery back in 1879 clearly understood the key ingredient to any road trip, however long or short. Namely: that the destination is irrelevant. The only valid reason to conjoin points B and A is the journey--the potential for adventure and discovery that lies between key-on and shut-down. And no, B before A isn't evidence of acute dyslexia, it denotes the start and end of this particular trip: Barcelona to Andorra. Because, even adhering to the wisdom of R. L. Stevenson, road trips need certain fixed parameters--otherwise they become rambling, shabby affairs.
Now, Barcelona you and I know about. The beaches, the climate, the crazy-looking church, the incessant partying. But Andorra is an unknown: a place I had never visited. There is something undeniably exotic bound up in the notion of a European principality. It conjures up images of surgically optimized tax exiles who flit between caf and casino. Red Italian machinery littered on street corners like Toyota Priuses at a Hollywood film premiere. Beauty and wealth melded in such concentration that it would be tasteless were it not for the fact that most of us are jealous of such trappings.
There is nothing tasteless, however, about the vehicle chosen for this task. The Mini has been a global sales phenomenon. BMW sold more than 150,000 of the 2002-2006 Minis in the States, a number that exceeded sales estimates twice over. When the car was first launched, BMW executives were pilloried for contorting the core Mini value of space efficiency into haute couture. Tackle the same execs now on the subject of inadequate rear legroom and trunk space, and they will produce an impressive balance sheet for your perusal.
Photographer Tom Salt is waiting outside the Barcelona airport in this latest, newest Mini. His last telephone correspondence informed me that the car was blue. There are two other Minis lurking among the sea of taxis, but neither is the correct color, so I walk around until I find a blue Mini. And yet it's not until I see Salt that I can be sure it's the correct car. As face-lifts go, it doesn't even qualify as a nip and tuck. Mild tweak just about does it justice.
But then, why fiddle for the sake of fiddling? If Mini sales have dipped over the past twelve months, it's because people became aware of a revised model on the horizon. Of Mini's half-million customers, I wonder how many would question the styling of their beloved car? Perhaps a handful. It would be churlish to criticize BMW for leaving things be.However, it would be equally wrong not to take the opportunity to ask why a car carrying the thriftiest of photographers and a journalist with a modest wardrobe demands that they pile their wares onto the rear seats because the trunk is so tiny. If anyone is expecting the new Mini to offer more practicality than the old Mini, they will be disappointed. It remains one of the world's few two-plus-two family hatchbacks. But the Mini also remains infectious, the automotive equivalent of an obnoxious, impish child you can't help but adore.