Only a German-owned British brand could storm Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July and be greeted with waves, grins and the occasional thumbs up.

Minis just make people smile.

More than 300 Mini models of all shapes, sizes and years began the first leg of the 11-day Mini Takes the States 2012 campaign on America's birthday, stopping in Philadelphia and then going on to take in the fireworks in the nation's capital.

This is the fourth run of the cross-country trek of Minis, this time celebrating Mini's 10th anniversary since returning to America. (Note: 2012 is also the 200th anniversary of the original British Invasion in which the King's troops burned much of Washington D.C., including setting the James Madison-occupied White House ablaze, before being repelled in the War of 1812.)
In the ten years Mini has been back in America, the brand has continued to grow as a cult of followers. And the expansion is continuing with gusto as more and more buyers opt for the fun, racy, British styling of the cars. Mini continues to open more dealerships around the country, soon bringing the total to 120 stores in its U.S. network.

Mini also expects to have another strong year. Its June sales were up 14.7 percent compared to the same month last year, and it's running 7.5-percent higher for the year, compared with 2011. The British icon now owned by BMW is on pace to sell more than 60,000 units this year. Growth is coming by way of a new roadster introduced this year. Next year, it will add a "coupe version" of the Countryman, named the Paceman, and debut the third generation Mini Cooper flagship two-door.

But Wednesday wasn't really about sales charts, as all of the participants in the rally that continues into next week had already bought a Mini.

This journey started at Mini headquarters in Woodcliff Lakes, New Jersey, moving to Philadelphia for an afternoon of autocross driving, and then ending the day in D.C. for the fireworks. While every Mini seems to have a distinctive look created by its owner, the common denominator for the group are the smiles.

"The staff did a great job," said Alan Rosner, who drove his Mini from California to be part of the entire rally. This is the second time Rosner has driven in the Mini rally.

Cruising along Route 301 in Delaware, the line of Minis stretched down the road for more than a mile. Tough to pull off a sight like that with, say, Chevrolet Impala sedans. People waiting to turn onto the highway just waved and laughed as a seemingly endless supply of Minis rolled past. They didn't even look annoyed in having to wait.

The rally trip moves today from D.C. to Charlotte, N.C., and then to Nashville, Louisville, and then to Chicago, each day picking up some drivers and dropping off others. Organizers said that the volume of drivers will remain around the same on any given day.

From Chicago, the train of Mini drivers heads to Des Moines, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; Boulder, Colo.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Phoenix, Ariz., and ultimately ending in Los Angeles, Cal. Already more than 4,000 people have registered to join in all or parts of the drive and MINI officials have said that 89 people have registered to drive the entire 3,908-mile route.

"I love it," said Tony Ruiz, along with his wife Maria Ruiz, of the first day drive. Next time, Tony Ruiz said, the couple is going to drive the entire route.

Watch for our daily posts between now and July 15 as we visit with Mini owners and see what kind of customizations they have done. We also plan to stray from the rally here and there to check out some places we have decided anyone traveling these parts of the country should visit. if you have any suggestions for us, leave us a note in Comments.

Colin Croughan contributed to this story

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