This spring two European cars with great names and histories return to the United States in reinvented form following long absences. Italy's Maserati comes back after a decade with the open-top Spyder ($89,315) and a hardtop Coupe ($83,315). Britain's MINI, whose bare-bones original hasn't been sold here since the early 1970s, is reborn as the MINI Cooper ($16,850) and the supercharged MINI Cooper S ($19,850).
THE HISTORY Designed for fuel efficiency after the Suez crisis, the MINI was released in 1959 and became the car of swinging sixties London, beloved by types like Mary Quant, Ringo Starr, and David Bowie. Maserati, founded in 1916, is one of the great names in Italian race and sports cars.
WHO'S AT THE WHEEL MINI is owned and engineered by BMW. Maserati, which Lee Iacocca once annexed to Chrysler, is now part of Ferrari.
WHO'S AT THE DRAWING BOARD Designer Frank Stephenson imagined how the old MINI might have evolved, brainstorming '80s and '90s versions, before arriving at today's shape. Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign, creator of the Nazca supercar as well as the original VW Golf, did Maserati's Coupe and Spyder. Pininfarina, known for its Ferrari designs, is at work on a sedan for 2004.
THE BOASTS Maserati: "Performance in elegance." MINI: "Go-cart handling."
WHAT'S UNDER THE HOOD More oomph. The Maserati's big 4.2-liter V-8 pumps out a whopping 390 hp. The Cooper S's 163-hp engine significantly ups the Cooper's 115.
INTERIOR MOOD Maserati: the embrace of butter-soft leather. MINI: part toy, part boom box.
THE OPTIONS If you are what you drive, both cars give you plenty of ways to define yourself. Maserati offers 16 exterior and ten interior colors plus five floor-mat hues; you can also customize colors and fabrics, even have your signature embossed on the doorsill. With the MINI, choose from 14 paint colors, a dark or white top, and two side-mirror colors. "You-ify your MINI," a brochure urges. "Stripe it, light it, chrome it. Dashboard-figurine it," it suggests, beside a photo of a hula girl figurine on the dash.