“We don’t consider Fiat our competition, to be honest” says MINI of Ann Arbor general manager Sarah Woolson sweetly, responding to a remark made by Fiat’s sales manager in this column a few months ago. “Maybe it’s bold of me to say, but I think VW is. We’ve taken two of them in trade-ins since we opened. I don’t think Fiat gives quite the driving experience of MINI. MINIs are so fun to drive.”

Mack Johnson’s MINI dealership on the corner of Wagner and Jackson has finally opened. (Woolson has been with Johnson since 1999, when he hired her to work at the Saturn dealership he was managing and would later own.) Under construction for two years, “it was one obstacle after the next,” explains Woolson. “Mack was acting as his own contractor. He said he learned his lesson.”

Bowers and Associates were the architects of the striking building, but Susan Bowers says they can’t take a lot of credit for it–the main specifications came from MINI corporate, which is gradually trying to build or make over all of its dealerships to conform to the design. The building, a series of stacked, black cubes, accented with bright rectangles of primary colors, is supposed to be “fun” and “modern,” Bowers says. She doesn’t know if it’s intended to hearken back to the era when the Mini Cooper acquired its cheeky chic.

The heyday of the Mini Cooper was the “swinging Sixties” in London. The British Motor Company owned two brands, Austin and Morris, both of which marketed various “Mini” models, which closely resemble today’s MINIs. (The Austin Mini’s tininess was commemorated in a mildly naughty limerick that begins “There once was a man from Boston.”) One of these Mini models picked up the “Cooper” label when it was re-engineered for rallies by legendary race car designer John �xADCooper–“rallying” being an obscure brand of racing that never really caught on this side of the Atlantic. BMW bought BMC in 2000, designed an all-new model, and renamed the brand MINI. What’s with the caps? It’s a marketing thing.

The MINI Hardtop is by far the most popular–Woolson says the first one to sell, a few days after they opened, was “a pepper-white MINI hardtop.” But there are actually seven models, from the Coupe, a jaunty little thing that looks like it’s wearing a backwards baseball cap, to the Countryman, a mini SUV.

MINI of Ann Arbor, 3500 Jackson Rd. 929-4601. Mon. & Thurs. 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Tues., Wed., & Fri. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun. miniofannarbor.com