The International Mini Meetings have been held since 1978. This year the great gathering of the small cars was for the first time held in Lithuania. Why there? – Why not? That, presumably, was the thinking of co-organiser Inga Narauskaite, who found her great love – the Mini – through a happy coincidence.
Big trip in a small car? Lithuania isn’t exactly the nearest travel destination that springs to mind, and nor does it lie within the traditional stomping ground of the classic Mini.
The fact that the IMM 2015 was nevertheless held in this Baltic state is down to Inga Narauskaite. In 2009 she was backpacking around Europe and was offered a ride to Birmingham by some Italian Mini fans headed for that year’s International Mini Meeting. She relished the whole atmosphere of the event so much that, back home again, not only did she acquire a Mini of her own but she also hatched the idea of staging just such an event in her home country.
Zarasai, a romantic little town of 10,000 in the northeast of Lithuania, offered the perfect conditions for a cool open-air event. On a green peninsula in the middle of Lake Zarasas there was plenty of space for camping and a host of other activities.
And those opportunities were certainly made use of! Seasoned car buffs of a certain age set about dismantling a classic Mini, assessing it and then putting it back together again – all under the fascinated gaze of dozens of wannabe mechanics who were able to pick up some invaluable tips. Others preferred to spend their time playing table football, manning the barbecues, talking shop or just making new friends. There was also plenty on offer for the offspring of Mini fans – let’s not forget they’re the up-and-coming generation. The kids were even allowed to paint one of the cars, though parents were quick to tell them: “Don’t do this at home!”
Mini enthusiasts and owners had come here from all over Europe: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, Sweden, Poland, the UK – obviously – and Italy. An impressive line-up of around 800 participants with 500 classic Minis and new MINIs had turned up regardless of distance. The longest journey was made by Dan Moloney from Northern Ireland, who drove his classic Mini 3,200 kilometres to Zarasai – and swears he did not regret a single k.
The guest of honour at this year’s International Mini Meeting was “Rally Professor” Rauno Aaltonen, who drove the Mini Cooper S to victory in the Monte Carlo Rally back in 1967.
Fun is always writ large at the IMM – you’ll waste your time looking for howling engines, burnouts and automotive excesses. On a small handling track, two drivers at a time take part in a knockout competition: the Mini, needless to say, is in its element here with handling its traditional forte. Yet this skills course is more for one’s own edification than a hammer-and-tongs contest.
The organisers in Zarasai had also planned a small rally, though this was more in the manner of a paper chase. Participants had precisely one hour to set off, count the number of windows in a church and get back. One hour, mark you. Every second more or less incurred penalty points. The second task was to buy sweets costing precisely two euros, deliver them to a children’s home and return. Again in one hour.
Counting out the cash may have been a surmountable challenge, but the problems began once the sweets were delivered: the children were so excited about the Minis (and the candy) that they produced pictures of their new dream cars and presented them to the drivers. They returned the favour by letting the kids sit behind the wheel, and it wasn’t until each child had done so and given the car horn a blast that there was any chance of driving off again. It meant the one-hour rule was impossible to follow, but that was far outweighed by the fun the drivers had.
The IMM 2015 in Zarasai, Lithuania was an event of a very special kind because few of the participants would have dreamt of travelling to this part of Europe under any other circumstances. In the end nobody had any regrets – indeed, everyone is keen to return.
Next year the IMM will be held in Lommel, Belgium. Let’s see what the Belgians come up with to turn this top-flight gathering into another extraordinary event.
Should you ever be on the road in your Mini, classic or new, and see a female backpacker hitching a ride, don’t think twice about stopping. You never know, you might just win over a new fan who will resolve to stage a big event for a small car a few years down the line.