CLARISSA YUNG HAS her pink dress on, and she's thrilled to bits, jiggling the wheel of a 1969 Aussie military Moke. She's probably never heard of the Mini's creator, Alec Issigonis, watched Michael Caine in The Italian Job, or seen the epic Kiwi road movie Goodbye Pork Pie, but she's loving every minute of the My Classic Mini Parade in Taikoo Place.
As Clarissa stretches for the pedals that lie just beyond her little feet, I sense Mini mania has gained its latest convert in Quarry Bay. Clarissa smiles for the camera. She jiggles the wheel again. Her parents coo.
Sunday afternoons don't get much better than this in Hong Kong. Tong Chong Street is heaving with hyperactive children, proud mums and camera-toting dads. A smiling granny calls after a podgy, hyperactive lad who's rushed from Ted Wong's black-and-white 1973 Austin Mini to a Clubman. A young couple look deeply at the reflections of themselves in Matthew Lee's pink 1998 Rover Mini Paul Smith. And could that be Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel jumping up and down in delight at Jackal Ko's Baby Blue 1995 Rover Mini?
It's hard not to clap your hands with regressive glee in the middle of all this gleam, but that's what the Hong Kong Mini Fans Club's (HKMFC) kaleidoscopic, 39-car cavalcade can do to you. In Hong Kong, you say 'waah' to supercars and classics, but you say 'aah' to all the Minis.
'They're cute,' says the mother of a girl who's posing next to Kasim Rahman's green 1996 Rover Mini. 'My father had one.' She smiles brightly when I tell her that my mother had a bright red Mini Cooper, too. Most people like Minis.
Annie Cheung says her family love Minis. She has a bright yellow 1999 Rover version. 'My father drove a Mini 20 years ago,' she says. She's among the crowd at last Sunday's event, taking photos of her car from all sides and angles. Why the bright yellow? So it will stand out. 'People say, 'Oh, Annie, I saw your yellow car in Tsim Sha Tsui'. 'Oh, Annie, I saw you there,'' Cheung says.
Not far away, an elderly couple is looking at the 10-inch wheels of Leonard Sin's shiny, red 1968 Austin Cooper S. One maroon-clad club member is polishing the chrome of those endearing round headlights. Another looks nervous: his blue Rover Mini is next up for judging by fans and motoring writers.
Hong Kong and the Mini go back a long way. On May 4, 1960, Dodwell Motors touted the cheeky, little British car in the Post as 'wizardry on wheels'. The front-page advertisement said the Mini had a 'revolutionary' 850cc cross-mounted engine with the promise of 70mph (112km/h) and 50mpg (17.7km/litre); a 'revolutionary' boot; and 'revolutionary' independent suspension.
Hong Kong got the message. Easy to park, fun to drive and so hip, Minis seemed just right for the city's roads. Hundreds of people learnt to drive in them, and many still forgave the little cars when their English gaskets blew in the heat. 'They didn't have an air-con,' says one father. 'They got very hot.' He smiles when I point to the narrow-opening rear windows that were designed to insulate from the British winter than cool in our summers.
'I've got five Minis,' says Artland Gallery director Ricky Fong, from Macau. 'It's very classic.'
There are about 400 Minis in Hong Kong and last Sunday's event was the first major show, says HKMFC chairwoman Shirley Chan. 'About one-third are members of our club,' she says. 'Most of them are post-1990. The older Minis are rare in Hong Kong nowadays.'
Prices vary from about $160,000 for a classic Mini Cooper S to about $70,000 for a 1996 Rover Mini that's clocked 30,000 miles, and $20,000 for an old banger.
Chan says her members prefer different Minis. 'Some will long for vintage Mini saloons such as the [1959-67] Mark I Austin or Morris. Some look for limited editions such as [Dick Fong's] Cabriolet, the 2000 Last-500 edition ending of the production at the Longbridge factory.'
A few like special variants such as the Riley Elf, Wolseley Hornet or Clubman. Chan Ka-cheung went all the way to Britain for his 1963 Morris Mini Minor Mark I, and Jonathan Mark bought his rare 1971 Mini Countryman - voted 'my favourite classic Mini' on Sunday - from the British garrison here in 1990. Wood Chan has earned the nickname 'backyard mechanic Wood' for his work on his 75 brake-horsepower, 1,275cc 1965 Mini Cooper S Mark I. Y.W. Man has kept to the original specification of his 1979, 1,098cc Clubman, which has only 50,000 miles on the clock. 'The brown paint of the body shell still looks as if it's brand new,' Shirley Chan says. 'Isn't it a miracle?'
Folon Ma has just been elected the club's next chairman. He always looks for originality, according to Chan. 'He owns several Minis, including a Mark I Austin Mini 850, a Riley Elf and a recently restored Mark III Mini Cooper S,' she says. 'He spent over a year restoring the Mark III by himself. Patience and passion in Mini keeps Folon working hard on his project, and he's highly praised by members, as the Mark III is as original as it was in 1975.'
No wonder BMW makes the most of 45 years of Mini mania in Hong Kong, where BMW Mini has the highest market share in the world. The Bavarian marque even calls its slick, new, pickelhaube-wearing Mini Cooper and Mini Cooper S 'the little Mini from Oxford' - to suggest its cheeky Englishness (even though Britons admit that the new Bimmer's better).
'If I had the choice, I'd take a new Mini,' says John Hughes, a Briton who 'came to look at the cars' last Sunday with his Hong Kong host. He says he bought a red 1965 Mini off a jockey in 1967 and enjoyed it for four years. 'The first thing [the jockey] said to me was how much room there was in the back,' he says. 'I'm a lot bigger than him.'
The club's Minis say as much about Hong Kong adaptability as the British marque's history: Thomas Lo has a row of toy cars in his green 1998 Rover Mini; Kasim Rahman has a teddy on his roof; Cheung has three bears on her windscreen and no less than five Union Jacks; Ivy Lam has two British flags, six toy Minis and a Mini diorama on the back shelf of her blue 1979 Austin. Nearly eight years after the handover, the Union Jack still flies proudly over Hong Kong - somewhere between a box of Kleenex and a Snoopy cushion in dozens of original Minis.
Most of the show's cars seem like toys, rather than investments. Of the 22 classics on display, only about six of this local Self Preservation Society would have rated a second look at a Classic Car Club of Hong Kong or MG Owners' Club concourse.
You might make allowances for a debut fun event, but judges' markings seemed generous, with cursory assessments of generally grubby mechanics under shiny bodywork and brightly accessorised interiors. Wong's Austin Mini and Corey Lai's 2000 Mini Cooper S won the best pre- and post-1990 awards, although the public preferred Mark's Countryman - a fine example, despite the non-spec pink carpet that looks as if it's out of Pimp My Ride.
Indeed, too many owners have replaced Sir Alec's design brilliance with their own, by adding pedestrian-scything sills, silly roof-racks, redundant dials and downright awful metal steering columns and bonnet headlights to a chassis that was always praised for its simplicity, even when raced. Perhaps more Hong Kong Mini owners should appreciate that they're the caretakers of historic assets rather than consumers of cute little wheels. The Mini-lookalike Daihatsu Gino is a better playpen, anyway.
I'm being picky because the My Classic Mini show has proved that it can be one of the best attended, most enjoyable motoring events of the year. A few tweaks from the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the classic-car elders could help HKMFC and Swire Properties turn this club event into an international attraction.