OUTSIDE THE BOX
Taking your inspiration from an iconic vehicle and applying it to a less powerful car has long been a recipe for hilarious automotive disasters. Painting a tired MR2 red and adding a bodykit does not make it a Ferrari, just as a load of vinyl graphics doesn’t make an old Vauxhall Vectra a touring car. But the humble Mini has always had an uncanny knack for bending the rules, and with its Porsche GT3 RS-inspired styling, Dave Carter’s modified Mini Cooper attracts attention for all the right reasons.
In fact, there’s a lot more to this one than its Stuttgart-influenced paint scheme. Usually Mini builds follow a quite specific pattern with their tried and tested bolt-ons, but Dave has been keen to mix it up. He’s a big fan of online US car programmes like Jay Leno’s Garage and Roadkill, and these have also played their part in the Mini’s final look. Add a 140bhp turbo motor to the mix, and you’ve got a Mini that really stands out as unique.
Like many Mini fans, Dave bought his first Mini when values were much lower. “This is my third Mini,” says the management consultant from Kent. “When I first started driving it was the cheapest thing I could get my hands on, both in terms of purchase price and insurance. I started off with a 998 City E, which I had for about two years, then I wanted to get a 1275. So I bought an MPi, but I rushed the decision and the insurance was too much while I was still at school. So I only had that for eight or nine months, before I got this one.”
Rather than an MPi, this one was a Mainstream carburettor Cooper in British Racing Green, bought in 2008. “There’s a local Mini specialist garage in Deptford where I’ve always taken my Minis,” Dave continues. “I reached out to the owner and asked if he had any good-looking 1275s for sale. He was looking to sell his own car, and I knew it had been looked after, so I bought it on the same day I saw it. It already had Sportpack arches and a set of deep-dish 7x13-inch wheels, but the core of the car was standard, with the original engine, interior and radio. It was in perfect condition.”
This isn’t the familiar tale of shiny paint hiding hidden rust or mechanical failure leading to a total overhaul – in fact, Dave can’t remember why it was taken off the road. “It was something menial as there was nothing wrong with it, maybe a ball joint or the brake discs,” he says. “It was put on SORN, so I thought I may as well do something productive with the time, and it just kind of escalated. One thing led to another, and I started disassembling the car
“One thing led to another, and I started disassembling the car...”
until I reached the point where I couldn’t re-assemble it again. I was a total novice.”
Initially, Dave was unsure of which direction to take with the power unit. “In the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to do something to the engine but I just didn’t know what,” he says. “I knew I wanted to make it faster, and I was aware of the TurboMinis forum, so I went on there and probably asked the questions that have been asked 10,000 times. I also bought the Bill Sollis 1380 build DVD, which went into depth about what I had to do to build a decent 1380 so that I could compare it to a decent turbo. The turbo looked like the best option, and once the decision was made, it was like the rabbit going into the warren.”
Nevertheless, Dave was keen to learn on the job. “I bought an unknown 1275 to turbo,” he reports. “It was covered in blue paint which looked as if it had been put on with a broom it was that thick. I took it apart myself, mostly just to learn how an engine works and is put together, rather than to save on labour costs later. I removed the gearbox, pistons, rods, camshaft and dismantled the head. In terms of building the engine back up or understanding its health though, I had no idea and was out of my depth. By that time I had been in touch with a few of the guys from TurboMinis who offered to help me with the engine. I had the head done by ‘Turbo Phil,’ who totally transformed it, fitting the bigger valves and race guides, flowing the ports and opening up the chambers to allow for a lower compression ratio. I got the head back and put the engine back together as best as I could with the parts I knew I was still
going to be using, and bolted the head to the block. From there it was sent off to another Turbo Forum stalwart, Benross, who basically did the rest of the work, including installing the crankshaft, rebuilding the gearbox and fitting the straight-cut drop gears, as well as cleaning off all that thick blue paint and giving it a lick of red.”
What Dave ended up with is probably the best compromise between power, reliability and cost. While the head is quite heavily reworked, the block is quite mild – certainly in comparison to a hot 1380. The pistons are plus-0.020-inch cast items with a 10cc dish, which combined with the head, give a compression ratio of 8.5:1. It also has a MED centre main strap and an Avonbar Phase 2 cam, but otherwise it’s relatively stock. It still has a helical gearbox too, but with the addition of those straight-cut drops, a crosspin diff, a lightweight flywheel and a beefier ‘grey’ pre-Verto clutch diaphragm. As for the turbo itself, that’s a Garrett GT1752 from a Saab, combined with a manifold from Matt Rowley at Fusion Fabrications, which means no need for bulkhead mods.
PARTNER IN CRIME
But we’re jumping ahead a little here, as there was a lot to do before the engine could be fitted. “I finished uni, went travelling and came back and found a job,” says Dave. “I thought I’d be able to work on the car on weekends, but it just didn’t happen that way. We had a family friend who had a garage, and through a change of circumstances on his side, had moved to deepest, darkest Kent. He was struggling for work, so I gave it to him to do as and when he could fit it in around other customer work. We got to the stage where the car had a rollcage and Cobra bucket seats, plus we’d done some plumbing of things like the fuel system. He had it for the best part of two and half years, but it transpired that he hadn’t touched it for the last 18 months or so...”
Keen to get the build back on track, Dave searched for another specialist. “I then reached out on The Mini Forum for a garage that could take on a pretty extensive rebuild in the South East, and I was contacted by Lee McNair of McNair Motorsport, who was happy to come and take a look. He agreed to take it on and it was transported back to his workshop in Ashford, where all the rest of the work took place. If Lee hadn’t contacted me, the car as it is today just wouldn’t exist.”
“One of the main stipulations I tried to make clear to Lee when he took it on was that it wasn’t just going to be a normal Mini rebuild with off-the-shelf parts,” Dave explains. “I knew in my mind the amount of bespoke work it was going to need, and said I was going to ask him to do stuff he probably didn’t want to do or hadn’t been asked before! But he managed to make it all work. I genuinely couldn’t have found a better partner in crime.”
For starters, the rollcage had to come back out so it could be powder-coated and afford greater access to the shell. However, this was to allow for modifications rather than a traditional restoration. “It was blasted, and there was literally no rust,” Dave comments. “It doesn’t have a metal bonnet anymore or a metal boot, but I still have the originals. All of the doors were perfect, there were no issues at the bottom. However, the rear seat
bench has gone, the rear bins have gone and the arches have been tubbed.”
A particularly striking mod is the exhaust, which exits through the valance. “I had very un-fond memories of scraping on every speed bump as soon as everyone sits in the car,” says Dave. “The more I could do to make the car workable and easier to drive the better, so I tasked Lee with finding a way to do the exhaust without compromising the integrity of the rear subframe. He sorted it, and with a better solution than I expected.”
Lee also modified the rear end for MkI lights and adapted the front for a MkI grille, before preparing the car for its repaint at a local bodyshop. Dave had always been considering grey, perhaps the classic Yukon shade, but it wasn’t until he saw a GT3 RS on Jay Leno’s garage that he settled on it. The colour’s official title is Porsche Grey Black (or Grauschwarz), which was combined with plenty of contrasting red detailing on the RS. Dave has mimicked this by having his ‘cage and subframes powder-coated red, with some black added to the mix in the shape of a black roof and the carbon-fibre bumpers and arches from Curley Specialised Mouldings. The grey tends to change with the light; sometimes it almost matches the black, other times there’s a clear contrast. Whichever, it looks superb.
Inside is really where the influence of US shows really tells, with contrasting styles that shouldn’t work on paper, but again break the rules. The ‘cage, Curley carbonfibre dash and matching doorcards scream race car, but there’s also a cool and very unusual speedometer as the centrepiece. “I didn’t want it to be one of the large Smiths centre speedos,” says Dave. “On American hot rods and such like, they often have older-era things contrasting with brand new gauges, like the AEM Wideband I’ve got. I found this speedo on eBay and
“It wasn’t just going to be a normal Mini. I wanted it bespoke...”
should’ve told Lee I wanted to keep it rusty, but he painted it and it looks better. I only clocked what it was from when my dad bought a Ford Zephyr/Zodiac and it had the same one.”
Also unusual are the custom indicator stalks, which are sourced from a TVR. “I wanted to make the stalks metal, so Lee machined these and made them fit,” Dave explains. “I thought they were straight when I first saw them, but they’re actually angled like bull’s horns. It was another case of something that caught my eye, which would look neat and different.”
It’s a similar story with the seats too, which are from an early Lotus Elise and have had their centres trimmed in a cool plaid material. “I don’t like the majority of the bucket seat options, and others are too big,” he continues. “I got the seats and fabric sent to a trimming company in Manchester. The first time I saw them was when they were in the car! They also made the headlining, but we got someone local to fit that, with the cage already in the car. I don’t how they fitted it all in, but it did take a solid day and a half!
Other neat touches inside include the wood-rim steering wheel, the KAD internal gear linkage, an adjustable brake bias control and – as another nod to the GT3 RS – little red fabric door pulls. We particularly like the bold purple seat harnesses to match the faint lines in the plaid material, plus the clever loops added to the seats to stop them from slipping off in use.
Dave wasn’t finished with the one-off touches there, however. Take the Compomotive TH wheels for instance. “While the car was off the road I bought an R53 MINI Cooper S, which I was tinkering with it as I can’t get out of the habit,” he says. “There was a wheel bought out by Rota which resembled the Compomotive ones,
“It was another case of something that caught my eye, which would look neat and different...”
which I liked and though would suit the Mini. I couldn’t get any to fit the Mini PCD, but found some 7x13-inch ones in Ford fitment and a got a company to make me up a set of hub adaptors/spacers.”
The rims conceal plenty of running gear upgrades, including KAD four-pot front brake callipers and finned aluminium rear drums. There are also adjustable bottom arms, tie-rods and rear camber brackets, plus Hi-Los with Gaz dampers and new red spot rubber springs. Initially Dave ran Yokohama tyres, but he’s since gone for Nankang NS-2R trackday rubber in an effort to stop the wheels spinning!
Perhaps the most unusual external feature of all is actually the fuel filler cap. “There was a custom rat rod on Jay Leno’s Garage with something similar, which I thought was pretty cool,” says Dave. “I sent some e-mails to the marketing people, and they gave me the details about the car and the cap. I then had it made to spec by a small speed-shop in Michigan. I think it was something like $350 to commission it, then I got stung with import tax. It was worth it though – it’s my favourite part of the car.”
NEAT AND TIDY
To fully realise Dave’s vision, Lee also had to ensure the completed engine install was both tidy and reliable. To this end, he fitted neat stainless piping for the Ford RS Turbo intercooler, as well as Megajolt to manage the ignition side. “I didn’t want to have the front grille or bonnet cut; it had to look as stock as it could, so I tasked Lee with getting it all in there,” says Dave. “The bottom end has deliberately been kept mild as I didn’t want to be breaking gearboxes, and I went for the Megajolt just because I didn’t want the risk of a distributor over-advancing it.”
That said, the engine made 160bhp on the dyno, which has since been dialled back to a (slightly) more sensible 140bhp – still well over twice what the car produced when new. It was all completed by June, and aside from a coolant hose popping off on the first drive, Dave has enjoyed taking it shows such as Oh So Retro and Mini in the Park.
Like any bespoke build, there’s still a few issues to iron out. “I intended it to be relatively smooth, but it’s quite harsh with the solid engine mounts – lots of noise and vibration, which is hard to dampen,” says Dave. “And the final drive is a lot shorter than I thought it would be, but that’s my fault for not really checking it. It must be a 3.6 or a 3.7. So there are a couple of routes I can go down; remove the solid engine mounts to make it a little bit smoother and change the final drive, or think ‘I’ve gone this far, I can make it a bit more of a track day car’. I’ve not decided which one yet...”
Regardless, the reality is that the car has turned out far better than Dave expected. From a stalled project, it’s been transformed into a real show-stopper, with stunning good looks, unique touches and enough go to seriously damage your licence. It might not be a Porsche GT3 RS, but in terms of grin factor, it’s surely right up there...
It still looks subtle, but now produces over twice as much power as it did when new...
Curley carbon-fibre bumpers and Miglia arches.
Fuel filler cap is a true one-off, made in the US.
The GT3 RS-inspired grey and red colour scheme works really well, especially with the carbon-fibre parts added to the mix.
An aggressive stance combined with MkI styling – perfection!
Ford-fitment Compomotive rims look superb.
The interior is totally bespoke. Note the cool fabric door pulls!
KAD internal gear linkage adds to the racy feel.
Cool dash is also made from carbon-fibre.
Neat toggle switches.
Extra 52mm gauges keep Dave well informed.
Funky speedometer is from a 1950s Ford.
All the panels are original, save for the lightweight bonnet and bootlid.
Retrimmed Lotus Elise seats fitted up front...
...and there’s even a matching plaid headliner!
Wood-rim steering wheel for a classic touch.
Rear end has also been given the MkI treatment.
Compact Ford RS intercooler.
KAD four-pot brake callipers and Gaz dampers.
The exhaust and subframe mods are ultra neat.
Carbon-fibre door mirrors were an eBay find.
Red powder-coated subframes to suit the look.
The boosted 1293cc motor was rebuilt by Benross, with a Turbo Phil cylinder head. A lot of care has been taken with plumbing and presentation.
Dave with the finished creation.
There’s a lot to cram in, but it’s all very neat.