8 June 2016

A major Mini player

Jeremy Thorpe and JET Motors

Jeremy Thorpe stands before the door to his shop in Happy Valley, Oregon. He’s dressed in jeans and a blue hoodie, both hands shoved deep into the front pocket. It’s a sunny day but chilly, and when he starts talking, his hands emerge required to illustrate all he has to say.

To hear him tell it, Thorpe’s story could be a country song. “In 2007, I lost my job [as a tool salesman], my wife left me, she took my son, and I was about to lose my house.” The guy was all kinds of out of sorts, so he prayed on it. And the answer to those prayers turned out to be the car that had been fueling his passion since he was a boy: Mini.

He opens the door and we step into a brightly lit place that celebrates the Austin/Morris Mini, floor to ceiling.

Thorpe fell in love with the Mini at age 10, after staying up late one night to watch a rerun of the 1969 film The Italian Job on television. He’d never seen a Mini and didn’t know what they were. “But oh man,” he says, “that was the coolest thing I ever saw.” Just after he turned 15, a full year still from driving, Thorpe found one in Autotrader for $1,500. He finagled his way out to see it and then rode shotgun with the seller on at “test-drive.”

“The thing was straight-piped so it was extremely loud,” Thorpe says. “He knew how to hook me.” In the look that still brightens his face as he recalls that day, it’s easy to imagine the shear excitement of 15-year-old Jeremy Thorpe and 10-year-old Jeremy Thorpe before that. A kid falling in love with a car. “He took me for the craziest, balls-out, scariest ride of my life, white-knuckled in this little tiny thing. And when we got back I was still shaking. I said, ‘I’ll take it!’”

For people who know and love the original Mini and the wheee! factor it offers, it’s no surprise Thorpe got hooked. He worked on it and made it his own. Then he bought others, fixed those, sold them. Hooked.

When his life hit its crossroads in 2007, “I flat-out went for it,” he says. Thorpe started JET Motors — an acronym for Jeremy Edward Thorpe — in a shop behind his house, and the customers just kind of fell into place. His first customer was a guy who’d heard Thorpe was “the Mini guy,” and he simply walked up his driveway to ask if he had a transmission. “‘Yes!’ I said. ‘Yes I do!’” Thorpe sold the unit for $600 and made his house payment. “Then there was the next guy, and the next guy, and then it just snowballed and grew.” He’s never looked back.

Eventually he bought another house, with a bigger shop, which is where we are today. It is a small, unimpressive, building. It is not sprawling, not cavernous. But when your projects are only 10 feet long, and all their associated parts sized accordingly (no big-blocks here!), everything balances out. He doesn’t even need a lift.

Thorpe soon hired a small crew to help him meet demand, and now JET Motors is known worldwide for the quality of its restorations and the cars it sells. It probably helps that the “test-drives” he offers to potential clients are very much in the spirit of the one that dazzled him at 15. “I learned from that guy,” Thorpe says. “When I take people out, if I drive mellow, they’re like, ‘Hey, this is nice.’ But if I drive like an idiot, they say, ‘This thing’s insane!’ and I sell the car every single time.” He punches his fist into his open palm to emphasize the words. Every. Single. Time.

It’s not long before he offers me a “test-drive” in his Moke, the funky open version of the Mini that gives any Fiat Jolly a run for its money. In fact, highly tuned and resplendent in a light blue and orange Gulf livery, Thorpe’s Moke gives just about anything a run for its money. He races the thing and loves to embarrass people with it. Onto the two-lane just beyond his neighborhood, Thorpe mashes the throttle, away we go and there is that wheee! factor. If only I’d had my cash on me…

Today, Thorpe’s business is thriving, which he attributes not just to the work going on in his shop but also to a solid YouTube channel. JET Motors produces a series of videos that illustrate the wonderful world of Mini and just how fun — and fast — the cars can be. The channel has a bit of a cult following all over the world, and Thorpe can honestly say that he is huge in Japan. No surprise; nearly 5.4 million Minis were built at more than 20 factories around the world during the production span from 1959–2000, so they are nearly everywhere. Coopers, Countrymen, Travellers, Mokes et al. We will never run out of them.

That’s good news for Jeremy Thorpe, who is fully at ease among these cars that have always fueled his passion and now power this chapter of his life. It’s a safe bet he’ll have plenty of Minis to place with plenty of customers for a long time. If you’re in the market for a classic Mini, or if you just want to go for a “test-drive,” Jeremy Thorpe will be all too happy to oblige. Visit jetmotorsmini.com for more.

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