In the mid 2000s I swiped a U.S.A. road atlas from the glove box of a Mini Cooper that the car company sent me to drive and evaluate. At the time, Mini was giving the paperback highway guide to customers as a kind of loyalty gift, the way banks give away calendars in December.
It was a legitimate road atlas, with 152 pages covering all of America’s 50, plus Puerto Rico and the Canadian provinces.
But it was more than that. The street guide also expressed whimsy and adventure. It included a two-page map of the U.S. highlighting about 50 towns with wacky names, including Nice, Cool, Bliss, Hope, Divine, Moody, Dull, Clever, Calm, Bland, Comfort, Humble, Hell and Delight.
Interspersed among state maps were half-page write-ups about out-of-the-ordinary, off-the-beaten-path tourist stops, places like Custer Ghost Town in Idaho, the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada, the Glore Psychiatric Hospital at the site of Missouri’s former State Lunatic Asylum #2 and our own America’s Stonehenge on Mystery Hill in Salem, N.H., which the Mini road book called a 4,000-year-old, “strange megalithic construction that has eluded thorough explanation for centuries.”
The message was that the Mini Cooper was no ordinary car. It was an original, intended to appeal to drivers who were originals themselves, who were individuals who dared to stand apart and be different. The small auto angled toward fun-loving adventure seekers brave enough to strike out on their own.
The Mini Cooper itself blazed new territory. The model started an entirely new vehicle category called the small premium class. Although it was very little, the Mini Cooper was a solidly engineered, upscale auto that squeezed in premium amenities. It was also an energetic mighty mite, designed to be agile and athletic in order to satisfy the daring, dash-about spirits who purchased it.