Mini Magazine - - Mini Turbo -

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.


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.”


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.

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