This is a real rock 'n roller
The problem with the Star Wars franchise is that it has overshadowed every other film George Lucas has written in his 41-year career. Well, except maybe for Indiana Jones.
But I will choose to ignore this little facet of information, because I've never been a fan of the fedora-wearing herpetophobe.
Anyway, more is the pity, because if you look beyond the galaxies of droids and Siths and suggestively attired princesses, you will discover what has to be one of the finest reels of celluloid Lucas ever put his name to. Released in 1973, American Graffiti comes sans the budget-busting special effects that turned C-3PO and R2-D2 into household names. But what it lacks in explosions and light sabres, it makes up for with a hearty serving of popular culture.
A cinematic time capsule, the plot pivots around a posse of California high-school graduates enjoying a final night out in their home town before they ship off to college.
Yeah, I know, it sounds clichéd. The thing is though, set in 1962, it is anything but. Because - and kudos to Lucas here - it manages to capture a slice of time in which the American Dream was on and burning brightly. And what this culminates in is a technicolour celebration of roadhouses, rock and roll and, of course, the automobile. You know - all the ingredients that sparked the advent of cruise culture.
A car-spotter's dream, the frames of American Graffiti are spliced with all manner of auto exotica. And while some may dine out on the 1956 Ford T-bird or the sinister black 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air driven by Harrison Ford, the one ride that has always done it for me has to be the 1932 Deuce coupe with its nuclear yellow paintwork and exposed 327ci V8 engine. Oh yeah, seeing it burble on down to Paradise Road for an illegal drag race at dawn never fails to excite the 10-year-old boy in me.
And this is because it is the archetypal hot rod - a chrome-licked speed machine that speaks of a bygone era - one in which Friday nights were best enjoyed one quarter-mile at a time.
So why the hell am I telling you about this? Well it turns out that somebody in the Mini design department obviously shares my appreciation for early Lucas films and, indeed, hot rods. For if you take a good, hard look at the new Mini coupé, you'll notice that it's equipped with a few stylistic highs that epitomised early 1960s auto culture.
And it all starts with the roof. You see, back when Bill Haley's Comets rocked diner jukeboxes, chapters of inventive car customisers were chopping and dropping the tops of hand-me-down sedans. In good old-fashioned layman's terms, this means that, through liberal use of assorted power tools, they brought the roof a lot closer to the car's shoulder line.
Why would they do such a thing? Well, it results in a much more menacing silhouette, which, as we all know, is essential for both standing out in the crowd and attracting lustful gazes from the opposite sex. De rigueur on old-time favourites such as the 1949 Mercury and Deuce coupe, this treatment has now been applied to the Mini. And with killer effect, too.
But of course! Viewed in profile, this coupé's radically chopped top (a real-world dwarfing of exactly 29mm) gives the modern Mini badge a massive cool injection. For where the regular hatch is a desperate housewife on a Sandton shopping spree, this one comes across as a rogue greaser. It has a swagger and manner most mean. It is masculine.
However, the old-school hot rod vibes do not stop there. For if you finger one of the many aviationesque toggle switches that litter the control panel, a sneaky rear spoiler will pop up from just above the boot.
Does it actually do anything? Well, if you are ever travelling at maximum speed of 240km/h, the chaps at Mini claim that this little ducktail will give you an extra 40kg of downforce.
The strange thing is, though, that the coupé doesn't need it. For, in dropping its roof, the engineers have taken this Mini's centre of gravity to new lows. And what this equates to is the kind of limpet-like grip that never seems in danger of running out.
Seriously, no matter how hard you push or how brazen you get with that aluminium throttle pedal through corners, those four low-profile tyres flat-out refuse to relinquish their bite on terra firma. Add an ultra-stiff suspension setup, not to mention that clever electronic differential lock, and it isn't hard to see why this Mini was chosen to run at last year's gnarly Nürburgring 24-hour endurance race. In terms of handling, the coupé can spar with the best of them.
But that's not to say that it doesn't have a few flaws. For as much as that renegade roof improves cornering ability and elevates you from packs of northern suburb hipsters, it does make the interior seem rather claustrophobic.
Similarly, due to that crazy rake, it's impossible to see where you're going when reversing. The rear seats have also been deleted, which means you'll only ever be able to share your high-speed escapades with one passenger.
Not good if you're of the social disposition. The trade-off, however, is a significantly larger boot, one that can hold more than just one boutique shopping bag.
Okay, so some people may pull their noses up at the very idea of a Mini coupé. They might argue that it is pointless and does nothing but make a mockery of the spirited original that Alec Issigonis helped bring to market 53 years ago. In their eyes, it is a dilution of the brand. And they may be right.
But there is something about the coupé that appeals to me. Because, just like that roaring great '32 Deuce coupe in American Graffiti , it embraces the notion of reinventing the everyday and transforming the ordinary.