MINI Odyssey 2006: Three MINIs, Ten Countries, One Giant Adventure
The incredible past achievements of the MINI brand are about to be multiplied ten-fold in the new millennium, as three identical MINI Cooper S hatches prepare to embark on an odyssey of unparalleled boldness. Departing from Johannesburg on 8 March 2006, these three MINIs will aim their noses towards Oxford in the UK, travelling up the eastern side of Africa on a 49-day journey that pays tribute to the heritage of a brand made famous by Sir Alec Issigonis. South Africans will be also be able to follow the MINI Odyssey, win incredible prizes and get regular updates on the progress of the MINIs.
Forty-seven years after the world debut of the first Mini, the car that revolutionised what the motor car has come to represent to thousands of people, this small but sporting athlete from Britain has become a huge success in nearly 80 countries the world over. And, on MINI Odyssey, MINI will spread its reputation to countries that might never before have experienced the chic athletic durability of the brand.
“MINI has made automotive history by breaking the rules, achieving the impossible and doing the unexpected. It’s part of our DNA. It’s what makes MINI a car that looks, feels and drives like no other,” explains Diana Blake, General Manager: MINI at BMW South Africa. “And here we go again - taking MINI, literally, to the furthest extremes.”
Travelling from Johannesburg and on through Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, the MINI Odyssey convoy will cross over the Mediterranean by ferry into Italy and through France before reaching its final destination, the MINI Plant Oxford in England.
Here, on 25 April 2006, the convoy will be eagerly awaited by a large percentage of the 4,500-strong MINI Plant workforce - each of which will have contributed, in some small way, to the inherent MINI hardiness and durability that an adventure of this nature will showcase.
“When we’re asked why we’re planning to drive three MINIs overland through Africa to Oxford, our answer is always the same - why not?,” continues Blake. “And it’s this same MINI ability to take on any challenge that MINI Odyssey will epitomise.”
Led by 58-year old Roger Pearce, the four-man MINI Odyssey team is well-suited to the challenges that Africa will dish up.
Pearce, who was also responsible for the preparation of the three MINI Cooper S hatches that will take place in MINI Odyssey, is a veteran of several long-distance rallies, including the London to Cape Town in 1990, the London to Sydney in 1993, the London to Mexico in 1995, the Shield of Africa in 1998, two Targa-Tasmania events in 1996 and 1998 and a further London to Sydney event in 2000. However, he’s most well-known for a single-handed excursion from South Africa to Silverstone, UK in 2004, along a route very similar to that which the MINIs will undertake.
The other two MINIs will be ably piloted by Steve Mearns (25) and Matthew Nash (25), both of whom have extensive rally and technical experience, while Sean Simpson (36), an ex-Navy communications specialist and now succesful television producer will act as back-up driver while ensuring the MINI Odyssey team stays in touch with the outside world.
While MINI Odyssey is designed to draw attention to MINI’s thrill-seeking nature, it will also highlight the robust durabilty and mechanical integrity of every MINI.
Obviously, the nature of the terrain to be found on the MINI Odyssey route - particularly north of Kenya - has necessitated some small changes to the cars but even team-leader Pearce was surprised at how little attention the three MINI Cooper S vehicles have needed in order to complete the expedition.
“The over-riding characteristics that these three MINIs have displayed in the run-up to this expedition has been mechanical and structural strength,” explains Pearce, the owner of a workshop acclaimed for servicing, rebuilding and the general maintenance of classic and race cars. “Apart from ensuring we’ve got enough ground clearance and sufficient underbody protection, along with steel rims and robust tyres, these cars are mechanically identical to the MINIs available to customers.”
Preparation of the cars has taken an extraordinarily short amount of time - two months to be exact. In this timeframe, the development of the suspension and underbody modifications were carried out on one vehicle and later transferred, in identical format, to the other two. This included a nose-to-tail skid-plate underneath each car and shocks and springs, with strut braces for the suspension turrets, that have raised the ground clearance to approximately 230 mm. Steel rims, 16-inches in diameter, along with 6-ply tyres are fitted in order to handle the extreme surfaces the MINIs will traverse once they leave the smooth tar of Zambia.
In addition, a fundamental requirement of MINI Odyssey is that each MINI Cooper S is essentially self-sufficient along the entire journey. To this end, the rear seats and interior cladding have been removed in order to accommodate the supplies needed for the journey. These provisions include toolboxes (tools, hoses, tow ropes, nuts & bolts, puncture kits and electrical maintenance equipment), jacks, tyre levers, wheel spanners, jerry cans, fire-extinguishers, first aid kits, sand spades & sand plates, jumper-cables and even a freezer in one of the cars.
Each car will also carry two spare wheels, as well as all food and sleeping equipment required by the team, and is fitted with a Garmin Quest satelitte navigation system.