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Flip-Fronts 

Flip-fronts are now quite commonly used on Minis, mainly for racing, but also by people who are fed up with their steel fronts rusting away or who can't afford to repair the front end after an accident. ABS Minis (see Contacts) supply a complete glass-fibre front which even includes the A panels!

Modification to fit Alternative Engines

It seems pretty much certain that fitting any non-A series engine involves some body modification. Even a Metro Turbo engine requires some cutting of the front bulkhead and welding of a box to make room for the turbocharger. The Clubman front is small enough but the standard Mini, also known as the "round front" or "bull-nose" is very restrictive. Certainly it is possible to fit the 1600 VTEC in the Clubman but the standard car will require a modified front end (as yet no-one's managed to fit a VTEC without increasing the size of the front end, but somebody might just figure out a way!). It seems that the Vauxhall engine is too big for either car and requires a lengthened front end. Other engines may not require such modifications but it's unlikely you'll get away without doing anything to fit your non-standard engine. The solution to this problem is to either weld in extra metal to your existing front end or go for a flip-front, effectively replacing the entire front end with a detachable front end. This is usually fibre-glass but may also be carbon-fibre or steel.

ABS Minis (see Contacts) actually supply a glass-fibre front specially for the Vauxhall 16v conversion and they say that it will also suit the VTEC (pictures will follow shortly).

Fibre-Glass vs. Carbon-Fibre

Recently, there has been a trend to use carbon fibre which is significantly stiffer and lighter than glass fibre. It lends itself to being painted well as it is less prone to flexing like glass fibre (although this is usually due to quality issues). It used to be very expensive but is now a bit more affordable due to the number of companies working with it and the demand from the  motor-sport industry.

Carbon fibre tends to look quite decorative with the weave showing and a clear gel coat applied. Curley Specialised Mouldings (see Contacts) produce many panels and body parts made from carbon fibre, for the Mini including, wheel arches, bumpers, roof skin, valances, boot floors, parcel shelves, instrument pods, door skins, boot lids, etc.

Fibre-Glass vs. Metal

It's also possible to make your flip-front from metal, perhaps using the original front end you removed and fitting of new panels as required, alternatively you could make up a new front end from all new panels, or remove an entire front from another donor car. The metal front offers the possible advantage that it might take an impact better in case of an accident, but it will be significantly heavier than a glass-fibre front if that's a problem for you (but with 160BHP from a VTEC why worry?). Others would argue that the metal front will always look better and be more original than a glass front. I guess it's whatever your preference is. 

Conclusions

I prefer the glass-fibre front because it's cheaper, it definitely won't rust, and even though my front is from the cheaper end of the market, it looks great and fits reasonably well (possibly due to the hard work of the fitter though). 

Fibre Bodies

It's possible to replace your whole (metal) car with a glass fibre or even carbon fibre shell if you really want to avoid any rust. Usually, you would need to use your fibre shell with a custom space-frame chassis but there are alternatives available. Domino Cars (see Contacts) offer various glass-fibre versions of the Mini including Cabriolets and even Pickups. 

More detail will be added to this section when I receive it.

One-Piece Front End vs. Two-Piece Front End

Remember that you need to choose which type of front-end is best for you. Here's my list of pros and cons:

Price - A one-piece unit is usually cheaper e.g.. 85 vs. 115 (glass fibre)
Convenience - A two-piece is much better than a one-piece unit because the bonnet section is separate and can be removed easily for routine maintenance such as checking the oil. 
Lights - The one-piece unit makes it more difficult to connect and disconnect the front-end's wiring loom to the car when fitting and removing. Typically, a two piece unit may allow you to place the wiring loom connector in the engine bay but a one-piece unit will require you to place it on an inner wing, which may well be more difficult to access! 
Looks - The one-piece unit offers cleaner lines as you don't have to use bonnet pins and straps to hold the bonnet in place.
Weather-proofing - The one-piece obviously doesn't require seals around the bonnet area so it's less prone to letting the rain in. 

For my own project, I'm currently using a one-piece unit, but when I eventually go for the VTEC, I'll replace it with a (hopefully a carbon fibre) two-piece front end, just for the convenience.

Fitting A Front End

This is relatively easy but try and buy a good quality front end that the supplier can guarantee an accurate fit. It's probably best not to use a second hand glass-front as you don't know what damage it's suffered underneath the paintwork, it may be impossible to fit well to your car (remember all Minis are slightly different) and it may end up costing you more for in the long run if the bloke you get to paint the front has to spend hours on preparation of the previously painted surface.

You're going to have to remove a lot of metal, so get a good angle grinder with plenty of cutting discs (and safety glasses!) and remember to treat the edges of the metal you cut for corrosion prevention. It's also a good idea to protect yourself from the sharp edges left after you remove the front. Rubber window trim is ideal for this.

Be aware that modifying your car in such a major way may affect how your car is licensed for road use. In the UK you may have to find a flip-front friendly MOT garage to get your car on the road. It certainly helps if the installation looks professional so make sure the flip front is fitted well and fit substantial brace bars. The latter should alleviate any safety fears the MOT examiner might have. 

Remove front panel, front wings and 2 inner wings from bulkhead forwards.
Remove the pear drop mounts from the subframe. 
Offer brace bars in place and bolt through the pear drop subframe to front panel mounting holes.
Ensuring the A panels are in excellent condition, weld mounting flanges to hold suitable fasteners to fix the front end in place.
Offer the front end up to the car and and trim top edge to fit back flush with A panels and scuttle panel. Ensure the front end is supported underneath to get it into the correct angle and position. Ensure the arches are level and tape in place with masking tape.
When happy with the fit, drill holes for the front mounting pins at the front. Remove bolts from pear drop mounting holes and fix pins in place. Measure where the Zeus fasteners are to go through the A panels and drill through both front end and A panel mounting flange with a 2mm-3mm drill. Remove the front and enlarge the holes in the flanges to approximately 18mm in order to fit the fasteners flush and rivet them in place.
To wire the electrics use a 7 pin trailer socket. Remember , you only have to wire two contacts for the left and right indicators, one for the high beam, one for low beam and one for side lights, and one for earth, six in total.

Typical Costs

One-piece glass fibre 85
Two-piece (separate bonnet) glass fibre 115
Two-piece (separate bonnet) Vauxhall/Honda converted Mini front end, glass fibre, 185
Two-piece (separate bonnet) carbon fibre 225
Brace bars 35
Zeus fastener (spring and clip) 4.50

All prices from ABS Minis (see Contacts) - February 1999.

ABSMini.jpg (153369 bytes)

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Two piece hinged glass fibre front end

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Complete fibre-glass shell

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Carbon-fibre boot floor

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Carbon fibre bumpers

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Carbon fibre battery box


Vauxhall/Honda Fibreglass front-end from ABS Minis