SU­PER SLEEPER

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words Stephen Col­bran and Pho­tog­ra­phy Matt Woods

Les Lea­gas’ VTEC Clubby com­bines sub­tle looks with prac­ti­cal­ity and plenty of grunt.

Of­ten it takes a few project car builds to re­ally get into the swing of things, and be­sides, tastes usu­ally change over time. Les Lea­gas’ last Mini re­build kicked off in 2003 and evolved over the next 12 years into a cus­tom body-kit­ted show car loaded with hi-fi grade au­dio. “It ended up cost­ing me far more money than it should have done, as I’d do things then keep chang­ing my mind,” he says. “The en­gine, for ex­am­ple, went from a 998 to a Metro Turbo, to a 1380 then an ML Mo­tor­sport 1275. I’d do things, go to a show, then re­alise I didn’t re­ally like the up­dates and start over.”

With the fid­gety bum learn­ing curve com­plete, Les felt he’d gone as far as he could with the car, and couldn’t face tak­ing it all apart again. In­stead he de­cided to sell up,

make a fresh start and this time keep to a far stricter brief. “I owned a Mini Club­man back in 1980 and loved it, and so it was al­ways my ul­ti­mate goal to have a Club­man with a Honda VTEC en­gine,” Les re­calls.

NO MESS­ING

A clear vi­sion was re­quired for the next project to keep the bud­get and styling firmly on course. This one would be a real sleeper, with ev­ery­thing Les could want from a high per­for­mance road-go­ing show Mini. “I didn’t want any­thing gar­ish, or any­thing mad to draw in your eye,” he con­tin­ues. “The vi­sion in my head was of a nicely re­stored car, one that wouldn’t re­ally stand out un­til I opened the bon­net to at­tract the crowd like bees to honey.”

The project be­gan promptly af­ter Lon­don to Brighton 2015, giv­ing Les just a year to get both the car and his ac­com­pa­ny­ing teardrop trailer built from scratch. Some­how he’d aim to find a Club­man, have it con­verted to VTEC power and re­sprayed by Novem­ber, then piece it all back to­gether over Christ­mas. The sched­ule would al­low a cou­ple of months of shake­down time be­fore a trip over to the IMM in Bel­gium.

“I found the car for £2000 in Liver­pool, sold as a 1979 Club­man with ‘1275 GT’ on the log­book, and it looked solid as a rock,” says Les. “I’m not con­vinced it’s a gen­uine

“I be­gan peel­ing back the lay­ers. It was like an onion un­der there...”

GT though - there was a stripe down one side but noth­ing re­ally left that I could see as GT.” The in­te­rior, wheels and en­gine weren’t orig­i­nal GT items, so all sus­pi­cions point to a reg­u­lar Mini Club­man. Per­haps a pre­vi­ous owner told a few porkies to the DVLA once upon a time, when swap­ping the model names about was no big deal, or maybe it had all been changed to a lesser spec. Ei­ther way, Les rea­soned that with only around 10 per cent gen­uine GT parts in hand, it would be cheaper to do a full VTEC con­ver­sion than re­build an ex­act GT replica, such is the de­mand for spares.

“I lifted the car­pets and the floors looked lovely,” he con­tin­ues, “but I never re­alised it was five floors deep! Ba­si­cally when I started look­ing it had more tin worm than any­thing – some­one had done the usual thing of plat­ing over plates. I was aim­ing for show and shine stan­dards, so I got it up on the spit to start clean­ing it all up un­der­neath. When I looked at the sills, some of the weld­ing needed a tidy up, then the rust started to fall out and I be­gan peel­ing back the lay­ers. It was like an onion un­der there.”

Un­cov­er­ing all man­ner of nas­ti­ness around the body put the tight dead­line un­der strain, and many would have ad­mit­ted de­feat at the first layer of over­sills, but Les is a de­ter­mined chap. He or­dered up a pal­let-load of new pan­els, grabbed the welder and got to work in the garage at home. Up front the wings and front panel now de­tach from the A-pan­els and flip for­ward on a hinge, all to cre­ate bet­ter ac­cess to the new en­gine. Once the wings tilt for­ward, Les can then re­move the hinge pins and com­pletely re­move the whole front

end. He also opted for Mini­va­tion ar­tic­u­lated bon­net hinges to save smack­ing the back of his head on the catch ev­ery time.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing such body mods, you may ex­pect wide arch ex­ten­sions and deep-dish al­loys, but the sub­tle theme ex­tends to the pe­riod GT wheels. As the reg­u­la­tion wheel for BL’s 1275 GT Chal­lenge se­ries in the late ‘70s, GKN Sil­ver­stone wheels have to be one of the most de­sir­able al­loys for any Club­man. The trou­ble is, they’re so sought af­ter to­day that de­cent sets can change hands for over £2000! There is an­other op­tion though, and Les man­aged to find a set of sim­i­lar 5x12-inch al­loys from the early Metro Chal­lenge cars. “I man­aged to get them for £300 – a bit of a bar­gain,” he says. “If you look care­fully at the cen­tres they’re ma­chined slightly dif­fer­ently, not that it wor­ries me for that price dif­fer­ence!”

While a pro­fes­sional body restora­tion was out of the ques­tion, the paint job would be han­dled by his lo­cal bodyshop, es­pe­cially as he was af­ter a show car fin­ish. “Back in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, I had a Honda In­te­gra Type R in a lovely colour called Pi­rates Black,” says Les. “So I al­ways knew I’d get the Mini sprayed in the same colour. It’s not a flip paint as such, but it looks black in the shade and has a pur­ple fleck that re­ally comes out strong on a sunny day.”

IN­TE­GRAL IN­GRE­DI­ENTS

The paint choice was apt, given Les’ en­gine con­ver­sion of choice. “To be hon­est I never re­ally con­sid­ered any other en­gines, like Vaux­hall or Rover, as I loved the way the In­te­gra Type R used to go,” he says. “The power de­liv­ery isn’t like a turbo where it kicks in hard at 3000rpm, it’s more like 4000rpm, so you can drive it se­dately around town if you want. So I bought an All­speed con­ver­sion front sub­frame and pulled a VTEC B18C en­gine from a DC2 In­te­gra Type R.”

The stan­dard-spec en­gine came with the gear­box, wiring loom, orig­i­nal clocks and all the an­cil­lar­ies. And even in stan­dard trim it’s a po­tent pack­age to wedge in the front of such a light­weight car, push­ing out just un­der 200bhp once the vari­able valve tim­ing kicks in. “That’s plenty for what I want,” says Les. “I’m not go­ing down the forced in­duc­tion route – I don’t need to, as it’ll spin-up the front wheels enough as it is. The en­gine’s about the only thing I’ve not needed to re­build on the car. It came straight from a break­ers yard with 114,000 on it, I cleaned it up, painted a few bits and dropped it in.”

Most of the con­ver­sion gear came with the All­speed En­gi­neer­ing front sub­frame, which re­tains the stan­dard-style tow­ers so you can use reg­u­lar sus­pen­sion cones and Mini hubs. “I or­dered ev­ery­thing from them apart from the drive­shafts,” says Les, “as I knew a guy from work who’s a coded welder and he of­fered to help. You end up with half Mini, half Honda shafts. I cut them down to the right length, then they were placed in a lathe at work, cen­tre drilled, cham­fered,

pinned and welded up – a proper job.”

Drop­ping the en­gine into the sub­frame was ap­par­ently easy enough, but wiring the mod­ern Honda loom to the Mini’s rather ba­sic setup proved a chal­lenge. Much of the In­te­gra loom be­comes re­dun­dant in a Mini, as it hooks up to stuff like ABS and cli­mate con­trol, where re­ally you only need the ba­sic en­gine and dash­board con­nec­tions. “David from Wired by Wil­son is re­ally into Mini electrics,” Les con­tin­ues, “so I asked him to come over, take a look at the loom and the clocks and see if he could sort it. He had plenty of sleep­less nights with Honda wiring di­a­grams, then came back about a month later with a mod­i­fied loom. We plugged it in and the en­gine fired up straight away. I sup­pose run­ning the Honda clocks keeps things more sim­ple with the elec­tronic speedo. The car and en­gine wiring is essen­tially sep­a­rate, and David also ex­tended the ECU wiring so it’s in the car not un­der the bon­net.”

GOOD VI­BRA­TIONS

A huge part of Les’ project re­volved around the sound sys­tem, as he was a keen sound­off com­peti­tor back with his pre­vi­ous Mini. We’re not talk­ing about ground-pound­ing hooli­gan­ism in a McDon­ald’s car park, but a well bal­anced sys­tem with a fo­cus on sound qual­ity. We man­aged to have a lis­ten to his pre­vi­ous in­stall, and it was might­ily im­pres­sive – a win­ner in fact at the Kent IMM in 2014.

“The sound sys­tem in here is ac­tu­ally the same one from my pre­vi­ous Mini,” Les ex­plains. “To buy all the gear again, it would have cost around £7000, which is more than I sold the car for! I de­cided to take it all out to use in the next in­stall. There’s Si­lent Coat dead­en­ing from front to back, four lay­ers in­side the roof and with acous­tic foam in the roof and door bins. Road and in­duc­tion noise is still louder than a mod­ern day car, as I’ve dead­ened the pan­els not gone for full sound proof­ing, but there’s noth­ing in there that can vi­brate.”

“We’re not talk­ing about ground-pound­ing hooli­gan­ism in a McDon­ald’s car park...”

So what on Earth does £7000 get you? Well, fans of car au­dio will recog­nise the front speak­ers as some of the most pres­ti­gious com­po­nent sets cre­ated. They’re a three-way top-of-the-range set from Ge­n­e­sis, which has noth­ing to do with Phil Collins, but ev­ery­thing to do with hand­crafted au­dio­phile good­ness. Sadly they’ve been out of pro­duc­tion for some years, and hence why Les has gone to great ef­fort to re­fit them in the new car. Each of the six speak­ers is am­pli­fied with 150 watts RMS of clean JL Au­dio power, in what’s re­ferred to as a ‘ fully ac­tive’ sys­tem. In other words, pure con­trol over the sig­nal sent to each driver with­out those passive cross­over boxes to de­cide what goes where. If you posses golden ears and know how to set it all up, it should sound in­cred­i­ble.

“It’s all about get­ting the speak­ers in the right po­si­tion and fir­ing at the right time,” says Les. “Luck­ily the head unit has time align­ment and an auto equaliser built in, so you can aim all the sound to­wards the driver’s seat in com­pe­ti­tion mode, then change it back with a passenger in the car.” The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the new in­stall and pre­vi­ous sys­tem is the sub­woofer lo­ca­tion. Rather than hav­ing two 10-inch subs in the rear, Les has mounted a sin­gle sub behind the dash­board, in a be­spoke en­clo­sure point­ing down to­wards the floor. He reck­ons it sounds just as good as the pre­vi­ous sys­tem, al­though a thor­ough re-tune may be in or­der be­fore the next sound-off com­pe­ti­tion.

TEARAWAY

The fi­nal piece of the puzzle came with a cus­tom-made teardrop trailer/car­a­van to tow behind the Mini. It’s the re­sult of 300 hours of labour in the garage and Les built the en­tire thing from scratch, in­clud­ing the steel chas­sis. With enough space in­side for a dou­ble mat­tress, it’s a much warmer al­ter­na­tive to camp­ing for when Les and his wife Tina head away for the week­end. There’s Mini-themed cur­tains, gas cooker at the rear and even a beer fridge!

De­spite a su­per quick turn­around his end, un­for­tu­nately Les didn’t quite make it to the IMM in Bel­gium. “The bodyshop took far longer than ex­pected and I didn’t get the car back un­til three weeks be­fore the dead­line,” he says. “Then I was in a ma­jor rush to get it all done in time. I had to change the oil pump the week be­fore, then when I plugged all the trailer in the electrics weren’t play­ing ball. That turned out to be the al­ter­na­tor, so I changed it and got an early morn­ing ferry to Dunkirk. Two miles into France and one of the trailer wheel bear­ings dis­in­te­grated, so I ended up turn­ing back.”

Apart from a few teething prob­lems though, Les man­aged to com­plete the car pretty much on sched­ule and with­out get­ting car­ried away with mov­ing the goal­posts ei­ther. “I’ve nailed the way I wanted it to look, as it’s not overly mod­i­fied from the out­side,” he says. “I’d say it’s 95 per cent the way I’d pic­tured it in my mind, it drives bril­liantly and has no prob­lems at all tow­ing the teardrop. Maybe some of the purists won’t like it, but who cares, it’s my car and I love it!”

Trans­form­ers-style flip-front and ver­ti­cal-lift hinges are awe­some for en­gine bay ac­cess.

The Type R mo­tor is good for around 200bhp and runs sweetly de­spite clock­ing up over 100,000 miles.

The All­speed con­ver­sion frame squeezes the 1.8-litre en­gine into a Club­man front end. It will just go un­der a stock round nose too, but Les al­ways wanted a Clubby in any case.

The sub­tle style keeps the hy­brid con­ver­sion on the down low.

It’s not of­ten you see a VTEC Mini with a tow­bar.

Rear screen lou­vre is a touch of ‘80s nos­tal­gia.

The in­te­rior has been built with sound qual­ity au­dio com­pe­ti­tions in mind, and a bit of com­fort too.

Ge­n­e­sis Ab­so­lute speak­ers are very highly re­garded by those in the know.

Honda Pi­rates Black gives a lovely pur­ple sheen in the sun. The smart Uni­part al­loys came from a Metro Chal­lenge race car, made by GKN.

Plush Re­caro re­clin­ers retrimmed in leather.

Dark wood-rim wheel tops off a classy in­te­rior.

Three-point belts in the back for added safety.

Les even built this cool teardrop car­a­van from scratch in the garage. Now that beats a soggy cold tent...

Of course it’s Mini-themed in there!

The ex­tra power makes tow­ing a breeze.

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