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The One That Got Away…

13

By Noah Robinson

I don’t know what my parents must have been thinking as they watched my elated 15 year-old self help push £525 worth of rusty Classic Mini onto their suburban London driveway. I’d probably de-valued the property significantly with the arrival of my first project car and over the subsequent years, quite a few have graced the same driveway, with only the oil stains left to show for their fleeting stays. This however is all about the ‘OG’.

In the summer of 2012, I posted a wanted advert on Car & Classic. “Wanted – Classic Mini – Any Condition”. Amazingly, I got a response. A chap called Brian had a Mini, and better than that, it was less than an hour away.

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On first inspection, this Mini seemed good. It had all the things I thought sounded good at the time, 12” Ultralite alloy wheels, a (3-inch yes, you read that right) tail-pipe and a bucket seat. Emphasis on the lack of plurality, the rest of the interior had seemingly been dispatched, I suspect into a skip. It also had some almighty 3mm thick aluminium chequer plate door cards, which weighed a colossal 10 kilograms! 

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Now I owned my first car, it seemed like a good idea to make a list, so obviously I started with a trip to a Mini show to purchase some panels and a vital centre speedo conversion. I knew from day one I wanted a centre speedo. However, my quest for the ‘period’ look would later haunt me as I had to modify the bulkhead, binnacle and heater to make it work perfectly in the later bodyshell.

After some fairly significant structural surgery, lots of mig-wire and flap discs, my Mini bodyshell was ready to be taken to be re-finished. I say re-finished instead of repainted deliberately, because what Marcello of Auto-Sprint in Potters Bar managed to achieve was immense and it was turned around in two weeks, he brought my car back to life, resplendent in its shade of Nevada Pearlescent Red. When I got the car back, it was time to rebuild, after all, I had the technology. 

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At this time I was working for well known Mini specialist Mini-Spares. Work experience turned into a part time job alongside further education, which turned into a full-time job, which only fuelled my passion (and frankly, obsession) for getting my Mini on the road. I’m still not fully aware why they ever paid me because it only went back in the till on parts.

The car was rebuilt over several months with help from friends and became what was at the time, my dream Mini. It was exactly what I had pictured in the years prior. 10” FIA-Rose Petal alloy wheels, with sticky Yokohama tyres, no-arches and just the chrome deluxe trim to hark back to the earlier cars of the ‘60s & ‘70s, a central speedo and under the bonnet, it’s heart – a 1293cc Bill Richards Racing engine. You can still buy these off-the-shelf direct from Mini Spares, although Bill, being an A-Series building legend and all round nice guy, had helped me to work my engine over a little bit more than the off-the-shelf items.

 

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It was fitted with a prototype CNC-machined cylinder head, with frankly way too big exhaust valves, forged 1.5 ratio rockers, a lightweight clutch and flywheel assembly. Bill knows his stuff, and after helping me build my perfect engine I asked the dreaded ‘so how much power do you think it’ll make?’ Without hesitation he said, ‘Oh, it’ll make 100bhp’. It made 102bhp on Mini-tuning and racing legend, Peter Baldwin’s rolling road. 

It covered 2,000 miles the first year I had it on the road, and although I loved it, the itch to carry on never went away. This is one of the issues with project cars, they’re never done. Don’t believe anyone who says a project car is done. There is always something else that can be changed, tweaked, polished or fettled. 

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I decided the answer was more power, as generally with cars it is. Until there is too much power, and then you regret your decision and wish you’d just left the machine alone! After choosing to move away from a naturally aspirated set-up and not wanting to cut the car up to fit a Honda engine, I reached out to Stuart Gurr of Vmax-Scart to help me devise a supercharger set-up.

Stuart supplied me with one of his Weber DCOE supercharger kits, this is essentially an Eaton M62 from a Mercedes CLK/SLK etc with the inlet lopped off and some Weber flanges welded on. That is a very crude way of describing it, Stuart has done a lot of work over the years to develop this kit to make an incredibly usable, but high performance Classic Mini. 

I decided to start without a charge-cooler setup, and on relatively low boost around 8-PSI. This of course meant a bit of a rebuild. The standard high-compression pistons were replaced with Forged Omega pistons, ARP studs were fitted throughout to avoid any chances of head gasket failure or a con-rod wanting to go all Freddie Mercury and break free! 

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The car made a frankly ludicrous 141bhp and 129ft/lbs, it would blow the tyres of 3rd in the wet and made the most mighty noise. If it wasn’t an induction roar from the DCOE, it was the howling whine from the supercharger. On a track-day, I had enough power to overtake most hot-hatches and could carry enough speed to out corner most of them too, Minis are truly brilliant cars to learn to drive fast in. Driving fast requires less steering input and more throttle control, the car will dance around as the tiny 165 section tyres scrabble for grip, and the whole time you’ll be smiling ear to ear like a cheshire cat. 

The future seemed bright for me and my Mini, and probably not surprisingly, I had plans. A track-day in the summer at Brands Hatch had highlighted some points to improve. Wheel spin on corner exit, a lack of safety-equipment, a constant desire for more power. I’d planned a conversion to fuel injection to improve driveability and reliability – removing an electronic distributor and replacing it with a more modern wasted spark coil-pack set up would help me to fine-tune the car even further.

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I’d also planned to go big or go home and step up from a 1293cc to a 1380cc engine, this would require a rebore and new pistons again, a limited-slip differential to solve my woeful wheel spin issues and fairly chaotic torque steer and an upgrade to aluminium 4-Pot brake calipers over the 2-piston cast type fitted. As well as a damper refresh, and swapping some mountings out for stiffer polyurethane bushings. Come to think of it, I had planned to fully rebuild the car when disaster struck. 

The car was stolen off the same driveway it was parked on for the first time 6 years prior, in broad daylight at 4pm, and despite having a tracker, I have never seen it since. It was a hugely bitter pill to swallow to find out that my pride and joy had been nabbed off the driveway.

Mini, Austin Mini, Rover Mini, supercharged Mini, Mini project, classic Mini, Retro Mini, classic car, retro car, motoring, automotive, carandclassic, carandclassic.co.uk
Thankfully, I have a group of friends who rallied round to keep me up-beat and didn’t let me buy something logical and sensible like an M3. Although, I did manage to sneak a Clio 182 in as a daily driver, because you can never own too many hot hatches.

Three days after my Mini was stolen off the driveway I was on a train to buy Project Pink V2.0  – I was never 100% sure on the colour of my Mini until I saw it, freshly out of the oven, since then British Racing Pink, as it’s affectionately known, is my colour. So, when a Nevada Red Metro came up for sale, it had to be done… another one for the driveway.

Sorry Mum. 

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