When the MINI family motors over to the portrait studio, the photographer will undoubtedly reach for a wide-angle lens. To be fair, the 2010 MINI Countryman cannot help it. Those muscular, flared haunches might be ideal for accommodating chunky wheels and tires to help tame rough terrain, but they cannot be minimized with fashion tricks like vertical stripes and neutral tones.

 
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So there the MINI Countryman will stand, then, against a snowy canvas backdrop, feeling awkward, self-aware and isolated from its more lithe stable mates: the MINI Hatch, the MINI Clubman and the MINI Cabrio. If only it had a confidante - a fellow bruiser that understood that within a brawny body, a sensitive heart can beat.
 
Luckily, a diehard Mini fan from the Czech Republic had anticipated the MINI Countryman's plea - long before that very Countryman was even a gleam in its daddy's eye. Behold, Mila Janacek's Mini MAX!
 
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While Mila's remarkable project car appears to bear every stylistic hallmark of the classic Mini - the raindrop grooves around the roofline, the gaping grille, the upright, bulldog-like stance - none of its mechanics and only select bits of sheet metal trace their origins to Sir Alec Issigonis's masterstroke.
 
Mila explains that the chassis and mechanical parts came from a donor 4x4 vehicle. "That includes axles, gearbox and engine," he says. "It is a pure off-road vehicle."
 
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The Mini MAX is undoubtedly purpose-built, but sensible given Mila's activities, which include publishing his Czech-language publication "OffRoad 4x4 Magazine" blitzing sand dunes in sub-Saharan Africa; and barreling over glacial tundra in Iceland. "Generally speaking, where the asphalt ends, I am in my element," he says. As a Dakar Rally co-pilot and a driver on the grueling Budapest-Bamako rally, Mila is not your typical off-road weekend warrior.
 
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A keen eye will recognize some original Mini features that Mila treated his Mini MAX to, such as the chrome door handles and gas cap. Its taillights are of vintage British 4x4 origin, a knowing wink to the Isles' off-roading heritage.
 
"I am a big fan of the MINI brand for a very long time and I've owned more than five Minis in the past," Mila says. "And because one Mini body remained in my garage, I went for it!"
 
 
And because he went for it, the MINI Countryman might actually stare into the holiday-portrait photographer's lens and feel it deserves warmth and cheer. It will muscle in on the MINI John Cooper Works' position in the tableau and push a confident, gleaming wheel forward.
 
It will then leave to go romp in real snow - just like its spirit animal, the Mini MAX, would do.
by Jonathan Schultz
 
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