Few cars have a fan base as loyal, as passionate about the object of their affections, as the original Mini. A post-war small car built by BMC along austerity measures, with baldly utilitarian aims of maximising internal space while minimising external space, it caught an unforeseen cultural wave in the Sixties and rode the wave of the fun-loving, libertine, sexy urban Zeitgeist to perfection. Think Italian Job, think Carnaby Street, Mary Quant, George Harrison, Mick Jagger…it’s one of the few 20th-century cars to truly earn the description “iconic”.
JUN 16th 2017
First Drive: David Brown Automotive Mini Remastered
Then BMW came along and built bigger, more powerful versions that ignored the entire original premise but somehow cleverly kept the joyful urban spirit intact, and so gathered a new generation of MINI fans who have never stepped foot inside an original model.
And now, into the pot, we have a coachbuilt, reprised, £90,000, luxury version of the original: the Mini Remastered, by David Brown Automotive.
David Brown Automotive will be familiar to some already due to its Speedback GT, a £600,000 coach built car, smacking strongly of an Aston Martin DB5, and based on a Jaguar XKR, now in its second iteration. Eleven of these cars have been built so far, but the company seems to be doing ok firstly because it’s still in existence, secondly because it has just moved to new headquarters at Silverstone and thirdly because it has just launched its second model, the Mini Remastered.
Unlike the Speedback GT, the Mini is not an attempt to look like four different cars at once, while ignoring the donor car at the heart of it all. Instead, this is a blatant celebration of the Mini. While the bodywork’s corners have been de-seamed for a rounder, smoother finish, new headlamps and tail lights designed, plus new paintwork, this is clearly still a Mini, just a plush one with tighter panel gaps.
We tested the Monte Carlo version, which is limited to 25 examples. It is painted in “Rascasse red” with a white roof and matching white fuel tank in the boot, has triple bumper-mounted rally lights, in celebration of the car’s three wins at the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967, as well as a painted door square, dual exhausts, leather bonnet straps and a numbered identification plate in the glove box. The beautiful wing mirrors are original racing spec but have the very modern addition of puddle lighting at night.
David Brown Automotive has sourced original 1,330cc Mini engine blocks and four-speed gearboxes but for the Monte Carlo edition has had its engine bored out and upgraded the performance to 94bhp. It has also fitted disc brakes front and rear, whereas the “standard” version gets drums at the rear. Various parts have been tinkered with for a smoother ride and handling more suited to the taste of someone parting with just shy of £100,000, so there are, for example, new crankshaft bearings and the best iteration of the front suspension bushes designed by Alex Molton.
Inside, the perforated leather seats are “beluga” black and “poppy” red with black carpeted foot mats embroidered with the DBA logo, an Alcantara roof lining and speedo and rev dials that are digitally controlled to avoid too much vibration. Most significantly, the dashboard now contains a touchscreen display from Pioneer for satnav, DAB radio, and iPhone connection. There is also air-conditioning – the car we drove was a pre-production model and the ventilation was fierce but will be dialled down. All this takes some engineering to fit it into such a small car behind that slim dash and is no small feat. The speakers and door handles bulge out from the slim door panels but again, we were assured these details would be trimmed back on the production cars. As is de rigeur these days for luxury models, there is a lot of aluminium knurling on the indicator and window switches.
A remote-control key fob unlocks the car, and the starter button sits on the floor by the gearstick, as the mechanically operated one did in the original. Push it into life, engage first gear – David Brown chose to stick with the original gear knob which is a lovely touch – and you’re off. It’s very noisy on the go, with lots of fizz through the steering wheel and pedals, until you hit about 4,000rpm, when the engine smooths out significantly. David Brown assured us that there will be some rejigging of the engine mapping before the first customer deliveries take place early next year. It’ll need it. The brake pedal also seemed to have a bit of extraneous travel on the move before those discs slow. But the short wheelbase remains a thing of great joy and the ride is still full of jiggling character.
Is it worth £90,000, or should you just buy an old Mini? Or indeed a new one from BMW? It’s a thing of great aesthetic pleasure, that’s certain. Our pre-prod car was still a bit rough around the edges on the move, but if they dial out some of the noise, harshness and vibration, it’ll look just right on the cobbles of a Kensington Mews. Sneer away, but in the end, wasn’t that the resting place of so many of the originals?
Price as tested: £82,500 plus local taxes
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