1990 Mini ERA Turbo – Classified of the Week

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By Chris Pollitt

The Mini was something of a success. Morris, then Austin and then Rover sold… a few. A few million, that is. It was the car that defined a generation, it was the car that permeated our lives and it was, for many of us, the car with which we first took to the roads. It was and still is an icon of design, engineering and of fun. Not a lot of cars can claim that.

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That all applies to any Mini. It could be an 850cc model, but it would still put a smile on your face. It would still be a car laden with joy, which is good because early cars were sparse in terms of equipment, so the joy was a nice bonus! If it was a Cooper, that joy became even greater. Faster meant, um, funner. Plus, the Cooper and Cooper S models were the best of the bunch in terms of spec and power and so on. Or were they? 

British company ERA – English Racing Automobiles – had form when it came to making cars go fast. Between 1933 and 1954, it built all manner of open-wheeled racers, and with good results too. The company stopped making cars outright, but did carry on as an R&D operation by the name of Engineering Research and Application Ltd. And it’s that incarnation of ERA that brings us to the car we have here. A 1990 Mini ERA Turbo

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Still keen to keep a finger in the automotive pie, as it were, ERA teamed up with Austin Rover to build what it hoped would be the ultimate Mini. The brief was to appoint the Mini with hitherto unseen levels of luxury, and to also up the power considerably. How? By bolting a turbocharger to it of course. 

The base cars were built by Austin Rover, but the rest was done at ERA. They fitted a wide body kit designed by Dennis Adams, they fitted deep 13-inch alloys and low-profile tyres, they fitted servo-assisted disc brakes, they filled it with Connolly leather, basket seats, custom dash, VDO gauges and… are we forgetting something? Oh, oh yes. A 1,275 A Series engine with a Garrett AiResearch T3 turbo bolted through it. Space issues meant it was a ‘blow through’ design, with boost going through the HIF 44 SU carb, and there was no intercooler. However, with 8psi of boost, it was enough to generate 94bhp and send the Mini onto 115mph. 

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It was actually slightly more powerful than the Metro Turbo from whence the engine came, and it was faster thanks to being 113kg lighter than said sibling. Add in the stiffer, lower suspension, the wide wheels and those vented brakes, again borrowed from the Metro, and it made for a riotous car. But riotous though it may have been, it’s timing couldn’t have been worse. 

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Production started in 1989, but was killed off by 1991. A mere 436 were built. Not because the car was bad – far from it. It was because it was just too expensive for a nation heading into a horrific financial crash. Orders simply dried up. It was £10k or thereabouts. That’s £23k in today’s money. 

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Coincidentally, Japan was hot for the Mini at this time, and as such, most ERAs went there. In fact, the stunning green car we have for sale here has indeed been imported back from Japan. With a mere 21k on the clock, it’s about as close to a new one as you can get. Completely original, it’s a perfect example in many respects. A rare car today, this is one you need in your collection. It even comes with an ‘ERA’ registration – perfect!

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