TURN­ING JA­PANESE

It may look like it’s been lifted off the streets of Tokyo, but James Kelly’s cool cus­tom Mini be­gan life as a humble Mini City E and was trans­formed in a Dublin garage.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words Jeff Rug­gles Pho­tog­ra­phy Stephen Col­bran

James Kelly’s awe­some Mini looks like it’s been cus­tomised in Ja­pan, but you’ll ac­tu­ally find it on the streets on Dublin...

Many of your av­er­age car buffs just won’t get the idea of a Ja­panese-style Mini. You’ve got Ja­panese car cul­ture, with its drift­ing, un­fea­si­bly huge power out­puts and out­ra­geous styling, and the humble Mini – tra­di­tional, util­i­tar­ian and un­mis­tak­ably Bri­tish. To the ini­ti­ated, the two cul­tures are Tokyo Drift ver­sus Coun­try­file; as much of a clash as putting HKS and Blitz stick­ers down the side of your front-wheel-drive five-door Ford Fo­cus and pre­tend­ing it’s a 500bhp RX-7...

With Mi­nis, how­ever, it’s dif­fer­ent. The Ja­panese Mini scene is where these two worlds col­lide, for no other over­seas na­tion can match its af­fec­tion for Is­sigo­nis’ mas­ter­piece. And what’s more, our Far East­ern coun­ter­parts have their own

unique take on how a Mini should look, which amazes and in­spires in equal mea­sure. The Mini you see here is a prime ex­am­ple, but you won’t find it pound­ing the streets of Tokyo, or even the UK. This Ja­panese-styled Bri­tish icon was cre­ated in Dublin in the Repub­lic of Ire­land, but with a pair of show plates on, it has ev­ery­body fooled...

De­spite the in­cred­i­ble pop­u­lar­ity of Ja­panese Mi­nis on fo­rums and var­i­ous so­cial me­dia sites, it’s a style that’s still largely un­ex­plored in the UK. Var­i­ous folk have cherry picked one or two bits and there’s a steady flow of JDM (Ja­panese do­mes­tic mar­ket) cars re-en­ter­ing the UK, but this car has to be the most con­vinc­ing Ja­panese-style Mini we’ve seen out­side of its do­mes­tic habi­tat.

It would’ve made sense to pick up an im­ported car to work with as a base, but owner James Kelly hasn’t done that. In­stead, he’s taken a tired City E – the first Mini he ever drove on the road – and worked his magic. It fea­tures a whole host of proper im­ported bits, all put to­gether with vi­sion and thought. But why go to so much trou­ble, and ex­pense? “Ev­ery­body has an English one!” he ex­plains. “I was fed up of go­ing to shows and see­ing Sport­packs and Minilites, Sport­packs and Minilites... chrome grilles. Any­thing you could buy that was stan­dard I was try­ing to avoid. The Ja­panese style fit­ted me, and was unique.”

HUMBLE BE­GIN­NINGS

James is cer­tainly used to see­ing plenty of Mi­nis. To­gether with dad Paul, he runs Dublin-based spe­cial­ist Minifix, which has seen most of the Mi­nis in Ire­land pass through its doors! Amongst James’ fleet there’s the 1275 GT he’s owned since he was 10, a VTEC Hor­net project, a proper JDM-spec ERA Turbo and his Ja­pane­sethemed City, which was chris­tened Mag­gie by the pre­vi­ous owner. “It was bought for 500 Eu­ros when I was 19 in

“Any­thing you could buy that was stan­dard I was try­ing to avoid...”

2010,” says James. “I bolted on a Stage 1 kit and roller-tip rock­ers, and I had it on Cooper re­verse rim steels with an In­no­centi grille.”

A change to rare Momo wheels fol­lowed, but then came the first step to­wards the cur­rent Ja­panese-in­flu­enced look – a set of 6.5x10-inch SSR FLII splitrim wheels so beloved in JDM cir­cles. They were sourced from Scots­man David Lock­hart, who lives in Ja­pan and has worked for lo­cal spe­cial­ists whilst also writ­ing about his own pro­jects. “I’d al­ways loved 10s, and when he posted them up, I had to have them,”’ says James. “The wheels came first, and as I got to know David, he was of­fer­ing more and more bits and pieces that were not avail­able to Joe Pub­lic. That’s how it all came to­gether.”

Next up was the cool BL Cars front spoiler the car still proudly wears, as well as Garage Down­ton light­ened fly­wheel and hub nuts. No these aren’t proper Down­ton bits from the ‘60s or early ‘70s, but were made by just one of the many Ja­panese garages that use UK-in­spired names. Oth­ers in­clud­ing Janspeed, BMC Ser­vice, Long­mans and Wes­lake, and there’s also An­glophile ti­tles such as Land’s End, Penny Lane, Brands Hatch and, our per­sonal fave, ‘Mini Cooper Fac­tory Bag­pipe’. But just be­cause the names are bor­rowed doesn’t means the parts are cheap copies – quite the op­po­site in fact. Ja­panese parts are usu­ally ex­clu­sive, ex­tremely well made and jolly ex­pen­sive.

LOOK­ING EAST

James ran his Mini in a rat-look style un­til the end of 2014, when it came off the road for a full trans­for­ma­tion. The Ja­pan Mini Pho­tog­ra­phy page on Face­book was be­com­ing an in­creas­ing in­flu­ence, and James’ col­lec­tion of Ja­panese Mini mag­a­zines and cat­a­logues was in­creas­ing. As his in­ter­est grew, and his con­tact list swelled, more and more parts be­gan to ar­rive. A pal in North­ern Ire­land, Chris Gray, proved in­valu­able (as well as hav­ing a Ja­panese wife who worked in the Post Of­fice!), while more parts ar­rived via

David Lock­hart and fel­low Ja­pan-based Mini en­thu­si­ast David Ain­ley.

But be­fore his vi­sion could be­come a re­al­ity, the Mini’s bodyshell needed restor­ing – a great chance for James to put his newly-learnt weld­ing and fab­ri­ca­tion skills to good use. “It’s had a front panel, one wing, scut­tle re­pairs, an A-panel, a re­skinned door, a sill, floor re­pairs, the bot­tom of the quar­ter pan­els both sides, re­pairs un­der­neath the side win­dows on both sides, a 10-inch sec­tion of the boot floor, bat­tery box, hinge panel, rear valance, clos­ing plates, two door steps, bon­net, bootlid and the panel un­der the rear win­dow,” he ex­plains. “Wher­ever pos­si­ble I used proper Her­itage parts, and what I couldn’t get was pat­tern, but good qual­ity pat­tern.”

Fur­ther work re­quired to achieve the de­sired look in­cluded re­mov­ing the lip from the bon­net, and adding a metal Mini­van grille in­sert from Mag­num pan­els. The chunky arch ex­ten­sions came from BL Cars in Ja­pan (and are held on with ti­ta­nium bolts), while the rear ‘duck tail’ boot spoiler was pur­chased from ABS Mo­tor­sport in the UK. The in­side, en­gine bay and un­der­neath were then painted by James him­self, while the ex­te­rior was painted by Scott Chap­man of Chap­man Crash Re­pairs. This in­cluded colour-cod­ing the grille panel and door han­dles for a dis­tinc­tive look. The hue cho­sen was the orig­i­nal Austin Rover Targa Red shade. “I buffed it one day be­fore I got it painted, and the red came up lovely,” says James. “It’s very close to Mi­lano Red from a Honda Civic, which is what I would’ve gone for if chang­ing the colour any­way. There’s no white roof as it isn’t a Cooper.”

Other cool ex­ter­nal fea­tures in­clude head­lamps from NK Trad­ing, GP-style mir­rors from Mur­ray Mo­tor­sport, ear­lier type in­di­ca­tors from Mini Spares and MkII rear lights. The linked wipers came from Mini Delta in Ja­pan, and are prob­a­bly one of the most talked-about fea­tures, while the show plates came from friend in County Wick­low. They are mounted on proper Ja­panese num­ber­plate brack­ets, which on the rear is mounted onto a MkI plinth and il­lu­mi­nated by neat LED lights either side. Par­tic­u­larly un­usual are the sil­ver painted head­lamp rims and bumpers. “It’s a Toy­ota Sil­ver,” says James. “I’d seen it on a Ja­panese Mini in that colour and I just thought it would fit re­ally well. Ev­ery­one has black or chrome.”

CLEAN LIV­ING

The run­ning gear is equally well thoughtout and pre­sented. Both sub­frames have been pow­der-coated with a cam­ou­flage fin­ish, and there’s some top notch good­ies to go with them. From Ja­pan comes Alec Mini re­place­ment coil springs and Hi-Los, Garage Down­ton bump stops and BL Cars steer­ing arm spac­ers, which join a quick steer­ing rack from lo­cal rally man Lloyd Hutchin­son. Front and rear an­tiroll bars are de rigueur in Ja­pan, so James has gone for trick KAD items, and there are also KAD tie-rods, rear cam­ber and track brack­ets, 7.9-inch grooved and vented discs, four-pot alu­minium cal­lipers and an­odised rear hand­brake quad­rants. Mini Spares ad­justable bot­tom arms have been added to the mix up front, there are Spax dampers and poly­bushes all round, and ev­ery­thing else is either new or re­fur­bished. “There are stain­less bolts ev­ery­where you can think of,” adds James.

The en­gine re­mains a small-bore unit, though not the orig­i­nal one. Paul and James are real fans of 998 en­gines and reckon this one was al­ready a lit­tle rocket, but that hasn’t stopped them strip­ping it down for a full re­build. The block has been bored plus 0.020-inch and re­built by fel­low Ir­ish Mini Own­ers Club mem­ber Ea­monn Fa­hey to fea­ture Calver ST/ Gra­ham Rus­sell pis­tons, a cen­tre main strap and a Swif­tune SW5 cam pack­age in­clud­ing alu­minium du­plex tim­ing gears. There’s also a mod­i­fied carb with a Fletcher LCB man­i­fold and a Ja­panese Val­tain ex­haust, while the cylin­der head is a 12G295 Cooper item topped with Mini Sport 1.3-ra­tio roller tip rock­ers. The head has been con­verted to

“The en­gine re­mains a small-bore unit, though not the orig­i­nal one...”

un­leaded with new valve seats, as well as be­ing treated to new valve guides and dou­ble springs by Minifix it­self. “That was all done on the bench,” says Paul. “It’s amaz­ing what you can do in a shed.”

The gear­box has also been re­built, and fea­tures a four-pin diff, cen­tre oil pick-up pipe, a 3.1:1 fi­nal drive and Swif­tune straight-cut drop gears, while that Garage Down­ton fly­wheel has been mated with a Metro Turbo clutch. It’s yet to go on a rolling road, but James and Paul es­ti­mate that around 70bhp is pos­si­ble, and it cer­tainly feels pretty quick from the pas­sen­ger seat.

As with the un­der­side, the en­gine bay is all beau­ti­fully pre­sented. The wiring loom has been tucked away out of sight, and there’s an abun­dance of cool an­odised parts from DSN Clas­sics’ RetroS­port range. These in­clude the heater out­let, ther­mo­stat hous­ing, al­ter­na­tor bracket, bon­net hinges, slave cylin­der bracket, mas­ter cylin­der base­plate and cor­re­spond­ing blank, the wiper mo­tor bracket and the en­gine steady. Some neat colour co­or­di­na­tion in­cludes var­i­ous red brack­ets and the carb dash­pot, there are some neat Hella Su­per­tone horns, and blue sil­i­cone hoses are teamed up with a Ther­mex alu­minium ra­di­a­tor. You may also be won­der­ing about those un­usual Mini Delta HT leads, which are earthed to the cylin­der head. Again these are from Ja­pan, this time via David Ain­ley. They’re cer­tainly a talk­ing point, as is the ti­ta­nium bon­net stay!

BRIDE AND GROOM

The Ja­panese in­flu­ence has had per­haps its great­est im­pact in­side the car. Most ob­vi­ous are the Bride seats, which are a main­stay of Ja­panese per­for­mance mo­tors. These par­tic­u­lar ones are Bride Brix 1.5s, bought sec­ond-hand. They are ex­tremely com­fort­able and even fit us­ing Co­bra sub­frames, but were at odds with the rest of the in­te­rior. That wasn’t a prob­lem though, for James bought some more Bride ma­te­rial from lo­cal firm Red Power Mo­tor­sport and had Christy Duffy at Duffy Auto Trim re-up­hol­ster the back seats and door­cards to match, as well as re­plac­ing the cen­tres of the front seats and mak­ing up match­ing gear lever and hand­brake gaiters. As for the old front seat ma­te­rial, that’s now a jack bag kept in the boot. The red-stitched black head­lin­ing was also cus­tom-made, and ex­tends right down the A-pil­lars.

Ja­panese Mi­nis are renowned for their wacky and won­der­ful ac­ces­sories, and this car has plenty. There’s the neat cup holder un­der the con­trol for the MPi heater, and a re­place­ment cen­tre dash bin­na­cle from ABS Mo­tor­sport fea­tur­ing Ja­panese-made Defi gauges. An AEM air/ fuel ra­tio and TIM tacho ap­pear too, as

“It’s a daily driver. Why bother build­ing it to look at it in a shed?”

does a 200km ex­port speedo. The cool throt­tle pedal is from Mini Delta, and the che­quered floor mats from Kings Road, both based in Osaka.

The stan­dard steer­ing wheel would clearly no longer do, so James has gone for a 330mm Nardi item, which is also a very pop­u­lar item in Nip­ponese Mi­nis. This one’s bolted to a com­plete steer­ing col­umn with a snap-off boss from Go-Race Engi­neer­ing in Tewkes­bury, low­ered on a Faxe Rac­ing drop bracket. A neat Speed­well ex­ten­sion brings the gear lever closer, and a full push-but­ton switch kit from Wired by Wil­son com­pletes the cus­tom look. There are plenty of tunes too, cour­tesy of a Pi­o­neer head unit, Fo­cal 6x9-inch speak­ers un­der rear seat, Fo­cal 2-way 6.5-inch com­po­nents, tweet­ers on dash, two Pi­o­neer amps and an MTX 12-inch sub in box. And talk­ing of the boot, we par­tic­u­larly like the Tar­tan bootlid liner, which was sourced once again from Kings Road.

DAILY DRIVE

The car was fi­nally re­turned to the road last Septem­ber, and has im­me­di­ately been pressed into reg­u­lar ser­vice. Ini­tially it hit the road on the SSR rims, but James has now swapped these for 6.5x10-inch Force Rac­ing wheels. He ini­tially wanted SSR Mesh rims, but the pro­hib­i­tive cost means these are a great al­ter­na­tive and look al­most iden­ti­cal. Other than that though, no more changes are planned. “When I was build­ing it I did it with ‘ buy the best’ in mind so that I wouldn’t have to do any­thing again,” says James. “I just have to get in, drive it and en­joy it. It’s a daily driver. Why bother build­ing it to look at it in a shed?”

Styling the Mini in such a way was a gam­ble, but one that’s re­ally paid off. “It’s fright­en­ing when you have some­thing in your head and it turns out a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” James con­tin­ues. “Some bits were doubt­ful, like the boot spoiler, but when I got it painted it and saw it all to­gether, that was it.”

Cer­tainly the Mini scene seems to agree. At the re­cent BMC Mini Fair, James and Paul were field­ing ques­tions about the car all day long, and it was prob­a­bly the most pho­tographed Mini of all. It re­ally stood out as some­thing dif­fer­ent, and is tes­ta­ment to James’ vi­sion. Sure, the styling touches and parts may be a long way from home, but whether it’s Lon­don, Dublin or even a show ground in Stafford­shire, Mag­gie fits in per­fectly.

James es­ti­mates the small­bore mo­tor is good for 70bhp.

Show plates have a lot of peo­ple fooled.

Mur­ray Mo­tor­sport door mir­rors look neat.

Rear anti-roll bar and the mas­sive cen­tre ex­haust are typ­i­cal JDM styling cues.

The tweaked 998 mo­tor is very well de­tailed. Check out those plug leads and the lack of vis­i­ble wiring loom.

Proper Bride seats with re­trimmed cen­tres.

Cool Nardi steer­ing wheel on a snap-off boss.

Ex­tra Defi vac­uum gauge un­der the dash.

Neat Wired by Wil­son switch con­ver­sion.

Mod­i­fied ABS Mo­tor­sport dash bin­na­cle.

Cup holder is a pop­u­lar JDM ac­ces­sory.

Unique be­spoke touches are ev­ery­where, and those seats are very comfy in­deed!

The de­tail ex­tends to real Ja­panese stick­ers!

Low, wide and awe­some. James has re­ally nailed the JDM look.

Force Rac­ing Mesh split-rims look ace.

Awe­some Garage Down­ton front spoiler.

James’ vi­sion has be­come a stun­ning re­al­ity.

Bootlid spoiler was brave, but suits the look.

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