PRINCETON, N.J. - Any automaker would love to have an owner as crazy about its product as Debbie Franks. Mini USA gets to count her as someone who works for Mini, too.
Franks, a saleswoman at Princeton BMW-Mini, is a trustee of the Mini Owners of New Jersey club. Her e-mail screen name is Miniac1. Franks also named her car, which a lot of Mini enthusiasts do. Not only that, Franks refers to the car as "she" and "her," like a person or a ship. The green, right-hand-drive 1967 Cooper S is named Gemini, in honor of the car's astrological sign: The car's restoration was completed in June 1991. Gemini has a window sticker that says, "Love, but don't touch."
Franks, 45, was in the owners' club for years before she came to the dealership. The former information technology manager at Lucent Technologies lost her job in a massive layoff. She joined the dealership last November.
Franks said lovers of the classic Mini have no trouble accepting the new Mini, developed under BMW AG ownership. "If England had kept up with technology - the only improvements (on the old car) were that they put the door hinges on the inside, and they made the windows roll up instead of slide - what BMW has done is dead-on what the old car should have been," she said.
About 10,000 Minis were sold in the United States from 1960 to 1967. Counting those and gray-market imports, Mini USA estimates there are 12,000 Minis on U.S. roads or in car collections.
The old Mini was the best-selling British car. Global sales topped more than 3.5 million from 1959 to 2001. Transplanted customers from all over the world know the brand, especially in a market such as Princeton, which includes several universities and hundreds of corporate headquarters.