Remastering the classic 1960s Mini for the modern driver
Despite being one the world’s best-loved automotive icons, the story of the original Mini is far from a fairy tale. Born in troubled times, the pocket-sized runabout was developed as a flippant response to German competition and scribbled on the back of a napkin. After overcoming early teething problems, the cheap and cheerful city car eventually sold in its millions and surviving examples are still cherished and coveted the world over. Now celebrating 60 years since its inception, the Silverstone-based specialist coachbuilder David Brown Automotive has painstakingly remastered the original to create a resto-mod tribute fit for the modern-day motorist.
The story of the Mini starts back in the mid-1950s as warning lights lit up across Britain’s burgeoning car industry. The 1956 Suez Canal crisis had hampered the country’s supply of oil, ushering in fuel rationing while sabotaging the sales of manufacturing giants such as Ford and Vauxhall. In response, smaller-engined German bubble cars started to arrive in the UK, which appealed to cost-conscious British car buyers. But Leonard Lord – the man at the top of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) – was less convinced. Strong-minded and tempestuous, the British car boss declared at the time; ‘God damn these bloody awful bubble cars. We must drive them off the streets.’ And with that, he commissioned English-Greek designer Alec Issigonis, the creator of the popular Morris Minor, to come up with a solution – ‘a proper small car,’ in Lord’s words.
Issigonis got to work and designed a car that was capable of carrying four adults and their luggage in a handsome package that measured just 10 feet bumper to bumper. ‘Wizardry on wheels!’ fast became the strapline blazoned on every advert for the revolutionary new car. Priced between £497 for the base and £537 for the De Luxe model, BMC sold just shy of 200,000 in the first year. Everyone from factory workers to city slickers, Steve McQueen, Twiggy and even Enzo Ferrari owned a Mini. The cute compact had taken the world by storm.
Six decades later and the classic Mini dream still lives on, albeit in a slightly more gentrified form. Keeping things alive and well is down to affable automotive coachbuilding start-up David Brown Automotive. Springing onto the scene in 2013 with its flagship Speedback GT, the company’s first foray with the Mini came four years later, when it launched the Mini Remastered at the London Motor Show in 2017. On first impressions, DBA’s remastered classic is hard to differentiate from the 1960s model and so it should be – each is based on an original donor car ensuring it’s still eligible for classic status. Yet despite its subtley altered appearance, over 14,000 hours goes into the conversion, with only the doors, engine and gearbox carried over from the donor car and even those are overhauled and rebuilt.
With a new, stiffer and refined bodyshell, the remastered Mini still sports its original 1,275cc powerplant, which rattles away reassuringly above the footwell. With 75hp, the resto-mod Mini pulls away sharply with a booming exhaust (non-standard, naturally) that crackles and pops when working through the gears. It’s an enhanced but magical Mini motoring experience offering all the fun driving dynamics of the original but with fewer flaws.
On the inside, the revamped interior is a far cry from Issigonis’ sparse, utilitarian cabin. Hand trimmed in sumptuous leather, the Remastered sports all-new seats and redesigned doors cards, which incorporate speakers linked to the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Despite these contemporary touches, the driving position remains unchanged from the original, which makes for a novel driving experience when sitting behind the wooden Mota-Lita steering wheel.
While a dose of nostalgia is very welcome in today’s often drab car market, the trimmed and tweaked Mini comes at a sizeable price. With the original weighing in at under £600 in 1959, the retro David Brown Automotive Mini commands a staggering £75,000 asking price, which can rise above £100,000 depending on the buyer’s appetite for customisation. But this novel revamp is not aimed at the casual car collector. While its fine details go some way to justifying the financials, the Mini Remastered is far more than a costly customised classic – it’s a niche but magnificent tribute to an automotive icon that inspired a generation. Although attempts have been made to recreate, revitalise and even reinvent the original compact car over the years, the Mini Remastered is the best effort yet. §