The Second Coming of the Austin Mini

From Road & Track” data-reactid=”23″>From Road & Track

Don’t call it a comeback, as for some people the Mini never really went away. However, these days something particularly unique is happening with Mini culture. The age of the people involved is basically the same as in the 1960s.

You can thank Japan. While the Mini left the U.S. market some 50 years ago, the little icon has suddenly found itself big in Japan. A couple of years ago, I found myself in Osaka, pulling up to a shop that had at least 30 original Minis clustered around it, a mix ranging from spec racing machines to Honda-swapped hot-rods. According to some of the local fans I spoke to there, Minis were consistently the top foreign import into the Japanese market as the original model soldiered on, and in fact Japan continues to be the largest market for the Mini brand today.

Krys Le
1992 Rover Mini
” data-reactid=”28″>Krys Le
1992 Rover Mini

Photo credit: Niko Myyrä

It’s got the original 1275-cc A-Series engine that’s been reworked to run a Haltech standalone ECU. I bought the car on a whim in 2016 when I was casually browsing Craigslist. I wasn’t looking for a car but went to see it anyway. A bit of back and forth with the seller and I left with a car.

Steveston Motor Co., whom I only knew for a couple months, as well as down countless roads I would never go to without it. The Mini is probably the most social car ever because everyone knows what it is, has a story about one, or wants to take a picture of it.” data-reactid=”44″>My Mini has been the link to many adventures and people I now know. It’s brought me to Japan for Mini Day with Phil and Nico from Steveston Motor Co., whom I only knew for a couple months, as well as down countless roads I would never go to without it. The Mini is probably the most social car ever because everyone knows what it is, has a story about one, or wants to take a picture of it.

Photo credit: Niko Myyrä

Spring Thaw or camping trips down forest service roads. The jobs on my to-do list are: pull the engine to rebuild the gearbox (again), install a hotter camshaft, and change to a bigger throttle body. A concept my friends and I joke around with is converting it to a safari Mini like people do with older Porsche 911s.” data-reactid=”59″>I usually drive my car around town in the evening or weekend but have used it daily a few times over the years in its minimalistic state–bucket seats and no radio or HVAC. A few times a year I take it on out of town trips like the Spring Thaw or camping trips down forest service roads. The jobs on my to-do list are: pull the engine to rebuild the gearbox (again), install a hotter camshaft, and change to a bigger throttle body. A concept my friends and I joke around with is converting it to a safari Mini like people do with older Porsche 911s.

Photo credit: Alex Zanar

My Mini is inspired by Japanese Mark I Minis of the 1960s. I love the look of the original Mini from the 60s, specifically the interior and the front end. The beautiful curved “mustache” chrome work on the grille, and the simplistic dashboard with center gauges is my favorite part of the Mark I Mini. These cars are such an important part of automotive history and I feel they need to be preserved.

Photo credit: Alex Zanar

the book How to Prepare a Historic Racing Mini. The engine rebuild on the D16Z6 has already begun and will take me well into winter of 2020.” data-reactid=”90″>To rebuild a Honda D16Z6 engine that I have, and then swap that into the Mini. I am planning on building the car to the FIA’s Appendix K Race Standard (with the exception of the Honda swap) as outlined in the book How to Prepare a Historic Racing Mini. The engine rebuild on the D16Z6 has already begun and will take me well into winter of 2020.

Ian Wong” data-reactid=”91″>Ian Wong

Photo credit: Ian Wong

RSP stands for Rover Special Project. It’s like the M division for Rover Mini. 1990 was the first year that Rover brought the Cooper line back to life. I’ve owned this Mini for 13 years, since 2007.

Photo credit: Ian Wong

I used to use this Mini as my summertime sunny day driver, both to and from work and for pleasure driving. But after obtaining a collector plate, the Mini is purely for pleasure use and driving to cars and coffee.

Photo credit: John Haddon

I have owned these Minis for almost 10 years—10 years of blood, sweat, and many tears. The Estate was fitted with a Zeemax body kit with wide arches to cover the 13-by-7-inch wheels, which do a fairly decent job of handling the 250 hp generated by the turbocharged Honda D16 powerplant. The Pickup is much tamer. It has a full heritage body panel restoration and was fitted with more modern internal hinged doors with roll-up windows, tartan interior, and a 1.3-liter fuel-injected motor and air-conditioning. Ten-inch SSR wheels complete the JDM theme.

What I love about Mini ownership is that every show you go to brings out unique modifications and styles of Minis—no two seem to be alike. Mini ownership seems to encourage creativity, and to me, making your classic Mini your own is the best part of the hobby.

Photo credit: John Haddon

Next project is for the Mini Pickup to receive a power upgrade. The 1.3-liter is coming out and being replaced by a supercharged 1380-cc motor with a Jack Knight five-speed with straight-cut gears and a limited-slip. Nothing beats rolling hot into a corner and not having to slow down.

Photo credit: Jeremy Brown

It’s a modified 1961 Morris Mini, powered by a B18C5 type R. My parents call it Morris, but it’s “Mo” to its friends.

When I was in high school, I used to sneak onto this large property, sort of an extended back yard behind a house, to sit in the old cars the owner kept there. One time there was a really old Mini, with slider windows and external hinges. I fell in love immediately, and eventually bought it for $500. It was a rescue animal. We got it to turn over and run long enough to get it into [our] back yard, and then it died. That was in the year 2000. It sat for years. But then everything changed.

Photo credit: Jeremy Brown

I was at work in early 2019 and my dad called. He’d just gotten news that he’d been diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. I hung up and had a quick cry in a side office, then went to see my builder on my lunch break. I said if I can get the money, would he be able to finish it for my dad’s 70th birthday, about six weeks away. Nineteen years after driving it on the grass at my parent’s house, I drove it for only the second time on the grass of Queen Elizabeth Park, for the All-British Field Meet.

Dad came down for the show, and honestly, I don’t think he’d be more excited if I had an actual child. He only refers to it as Morris, never “the car” or anything normal, and generally treats it like his grandchild. These days dad is doing well. He responded really well to treatment and the initially grim prognosis has since reversed and he’s on the mend.

I love so many things about Minis. I was a small kid growing up, so small cars immediately appealed to me. It’s hard to be in a bad mood and drive the Mini. Everyone you see smiles and waves, and kids absolutely love it. It’s like driving around in a big puppy.

Photo credit: Jeremy Brown

I still live in Vancouver so I don’t drive a ton, but the car is great for bombing around town, and it’s been really great on road trips to the island, the interior and the States—but ear plugs are a must. Have I mentioned how patient my girlfriend is? We just got a bike rack for it, so I’m excited to look even more ridiculous ripping down the highway. As for future plans, I recently read you can connect a [Honda] CR-V drivetrain to a B-series engine and make a Mini AWD, so…

Steveston Motor Co. provide support for unique builds. They’ve recently moved into a shared space with Adam Trinder, a machinist whose mid-engine Kawasaki-powered build remains one of the wildest Mini projects we’ve ever seen. Clubs like Matchbox Mini, championed by owners like Felix Yuen, help keep old Minis invigorated with young blood, with new owners drawn into the Mini lifestyle.” data-reactid=”196″>There are dozens and dozens of stories like these. Local shops like the Steveston Motor Co. provide support for unique builds. They’ve recently moved into a shared space with Adam Trinder, a machinist whose mid-engine Kawasaki-powered build remains one of the wildest Mini projects we’ve ever seen. Clubs like Matchbox Mini, championed by owners like Felix Yuen, help keep old Minis invigorated with young blood, with new owners drawn into the Mini lifestyle.

Photo credit: Jeremy Brown

Thus, more than a half-century after it debuted, the appeal of the Austin/Morris Mini is still fresh. It’s a scrapper, a terrier and a terror, half garden-gnome and half Braveheart. Thanks to a shot in the arm from young enthusiasts, it’s as beloved as ever.

Some cars get one chance to shine. Some bask in faded glory. Love for the Mini is as strong as it has ever been. This little car’s moment is still right now.