With over 200bhp at the wheels and tipping the scales at just 495kg, we think Simon Hepburn’s rebuilt MkI is worthy of a third look.
It is rare for a Mini to be featured once, let alone three times in Mini Magazine. But that’s what happened with this car! One of our recent ‘Maddest Mini’ contenders, we reckon Simon Hepburn’s third instalment of his lightweight, drag MkI, is definitely the best, and we’re assured the fastest! Looking back at the history of this car, Simon’s been into Minis for as long as he can remember. “I picked up this 1964 Austin MkI Mini in 2007 for £150, so not bad really. It was a rot box, as you would expect, but I set to it, and got it back on the road.”
The first time it featured in this magazine, it boasted Weber-fed 1380 power. “Everyone loved it and they couldn’t understand why I was not in the show ’n’ shine, and thought I must be mad wanting to race it,” he laughs.
The second time, Simon admits this Mini was getting a bit rough around the edges, but it had been on a diet and was now boasting 191bhp of turbo power.
This latest, third, evolution debuted early this year and follows the same lightweight formula. But, this time, every part was looked at and remade in titanium or alloy! Or has been lightened in some way and if not needed, then removed completely! “Being a MkI I did not want to compromise the Classic Mini look, so it was staying on 10-inch wheels and there would be no carbon fibre or fibreglass panels or parts. I had to think outside the box so much, I feel like I have remade the box,” Simon laughs.
But don’t go thinking that Simon is a cheque book racer! Far from it, he has to work hard to keep the MkI costs down, by making as much as he can in his shed, self-teaching from YouTube and threads as this stuff is not his day job. “Some nights I can get home from work and go out in the shed and garage and stand for four-hours to save 20g in weight! But grams make kilograms over time.”
MORE WEIGHT SAVING
Despite the problems that all this weight saving threw up, Simon reckons it would have been too easy to chop it about, fit big slick tyres and get good times: “Anyone can do that! There are so many cars out there that have had lots of cash spent on carbon fibre parts and the owners think
“Being a MkI, I did not want to compromise the Classic Mini look”
they have the lightest car about. Plus my MkI has a full, real MoT, so I can drive it on the road whenever I like!”
So why drag racing, I ask Simon? “When I first started out in the Mini scene, Google pushed me towards the TurboMinis forum (TM). This was the place to be if you had a fast Mini and there are so many smart blokes on there who were always happy to help.”
One of the shows that everyone worked towards was the (now sadly defunct) British Mini Showdown, held at Shakespeare Raceway. “It’s a real shame that it’s no more, as it really was the best show of the year, in my opinion. I went along to chat to like-minded people as the normal sort of show was not my sort of thing,” says Simon.
At this point, Simon’s Mini was powered by a full-ish fat 1380, so his quarter-mile times were not the best, but after that weekend, he was hooked! So when he got home, he started stripping this MkI of anything that wasn’t needed, to get it ready for the next biggest race/ show – Mini In The Park. Simon went along and met the lads from TM, who were very welcoming. “I could see an improvement in my times after the weekend, and that what I needed was more power and lots of it!” A turbo engine sounded like a nice, easy swap, so he went for it. “I got a full turbo engine from a bloke and this was the core of the build. By this stage, I wanted to get to the magic double-tonne bhp figure, because if you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly bear,” he says, smiling.
Fast forward some years and the times were dropping, plus Simon’s MkI had earned a good name for itself by
“Some friends pointed out that the car needed to be lighter”
producing the goods, but he couldn’t really get to the goal of a low 12-second quarter-mile. “This was a big ask, as I could get to the low 13-seconds, but not lower. After chatting to some friends, it was pointed out that the car needed to be lighter! As it was down at 570kg with an all-steel shell,” Simon explains.
And this is what prompted the current rebuild. But, at the same time Simon had a lot going on outside Minis. “In year one I was working overseas and away for 294 days a year, so most of the work was done via the phone, email, Whatsapp, getting one-off stuff made, or sourcing parts to fit to the car,” he reveals.
Year two, Simon took a UK-based job and bought his first house, whilst still working on the MkI. “By now it was in the full weight-saving bodywork stage! I found Ted (The Fish) to do the bodywork – he’s best described as an artist as he saw my dream and went with it.
“Every week I would do the five-hour round trip to see how it was going and make sure he had everything he needed to keep the project moving,” says Simon. Basically, everything below the window line was replaced with new steel and made much lighter where it could be, before welding. Simon tells me there is 100% no filler in this Mini, with the very minimum of primer and paint used ‒ again to save weight.
Next up was the roll-cage, and obviously Simon wanted something light and a unique. He decided he wanted a space frame style, with four suspension mounts tied to it: “I had seen an example on the internet, so many calls were made and emails sent before the MkI was booked in for the ’cage. Tom at TLJ Welding saw what my end goal was and worked hard with me to create this very special T45 weld-in ’cage. Lots of hours
were spent working late and going that little bit further than the normal cages that were on offer off-the-shelf.”
Year three and Simon was up to his neck building a good-sized workshop for when the MkI came back. Then, no sooner had the paint dried on the floor, the car was in and he was starting the rebuild!
Next came the engine refresh, so the turbo’d 1300cc engine was dispatched to Simon’s long-standing mate Alex, because he is just as mad about drag racing and he had set up his own company The Car Kitchen (TCK). “We worked out very quickly that the old engine was very worn out. So lots of new parts were found and a full new race spec was drawn up. To make bags of power and loads of torque, many late nights were done at TCK HQ, eating takeaways, until a monster was born!”
With the body rebuild happening at the same time, there was a big push to get the MkI to Santa Pod for Mini In The Park 2017. The problem was that this car was fighting all the way, as there were so many one-off parts and there wasn’t any mock-up time. So Simon mocked up as he went along, which slowed things up. “You have to add my extreme OCD into the mix too, as I was not willing to just get it done,” he adds.
In the end, Simon ended up missing last year’s show, because the day before, whilst on the dyno at TCK, parts
failed that just couldn’t be ordered and ready in time. However, the new engine made an impressive 203bhp at the wheels. Next, this MkI was weighed and he was pleased to achieve his second goal of getting it under the 500kg mark by the skin of his teeth at 495kg with a full wet weight! So Simon was a very happy boy at this point!
Since the photoshoot, the Mini’s been to the newly-relaid Santa Pod not once, but twice. Although, not with the results Simon would have wanted. “A lot has happened at Pod since the last time I had been there. With this in the back of my head, I lined up, did my first burn-out in three years and all was good, really good I thought. I lined up, staged, got ready for the green light, green on! Dumped the clutch and off it went! Then boom, crack, boom, so I hit the kill switch.”
After getting this car off the track it quickly became very obvious that the diff was not inside the gearbox anymore. Then, when Simon got home and pulled the engine to bits, he realised the damage was bad. “The Jack Knight gear set had missing teeth, the ATB diff had a twisted output shaft and the Pinion was missing all its teeth!” So a new MED dog gear kit was sourced, the ATB was fixed and a new crown wheel pinion was obtained.
Fast forward to the Retro Show and this Mini ran well all day on the Saturday with low boost. Come Sunday, and boom, the gearbox went again! “Lots
“The new engine made an impressive 203bhp at the wheels”
of data was gained about what has been going on, although I do not want to commit to saying what it is at the minute,” Simon explains.
Simon has three goals for his MkI and has already achieved two of them: “First was to be under 500kg, and I got 495kg; then was to get over 200bhp at the flywheel, and I got 204 at the wheels and brake; then was to get into the 12s – my personal best quarter-mile time is 13.01, so I haven’t managed it just yet.”
We certainly believe it, and we reckon there’s much more to come from this Mini, which is one of the fastest, roadworthy MkIs around.
Just a driver’s seat inside... this Mini is built for speed!
Custom gear linkage is made from titanium.
Home-made hydraulic hand brake.
Extra gauges sit with standard instruments.
Despite the quest for lightness, this MkI is still road-legal.
The waif-like build means Simon can actually lift his Mini!
Custom roll-cage integrated into MkI shell.
Simon didn’t want to compromise the classic MkI Mini look.
Inconel exhaust is routed through rear valance.
Simon is still chasing the 12-sec quarter-mile.
Car Kitchen-built 1330 turbo engine develops 204bhp and 293lb ft of torque.
Every panel below the window line was replaced and lightened.
Engine runs up to 25psi boost via hybrid turbo.
Engine features lightweight titanium fixings.
The only view Simon hopes his drag rivals will ever see!
Hone-made rear brake conversion.
Minilight wheels with titanium wheel nuts.
The subtle, standard looks hide big power.
Simple MkI rear lights are retained.
Even the chrome grille has been lightened.
Custom alloy fuel cell - pick up deliberately...
...at the back so minimum fuel can be run.