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Road Test

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The car used in the road test described below was built by Jeff Watson, from Watson's Specialist Cars (http://www.watsonsrally.co.uk). Their kit is described here.

The British weather ruined it of course. It was absolutely pouring down and not the ideal weather to be road-testing a 160BHP Mini! There were three of us in the car and I was expecting it to be a bit of washout.

Jeff started the car (he was driving first) and amazingly it sounded like a Mini! OK so the engine wasn't hunting and the car was vibrating like a Mini, but it might just confuse most people. Seems like the Mini noise is actually a product of the engine and the way the shell resonates/vibrates. Either way, this car still sounded like it had some character.

We pulled out of the car park and set off at a sedate pace. Jeff went up to 5th gear and then floored it. It could have been in 3rd because the car just pulled like you wouldn't believe. We got to 4,000 rpm then the engine started to growl, the VTEC had come in and suddenly the car started to really pull hard. It was frightening because of the physical size of the car, the weather and the fact the driver raced Minis! He pulled over after a short time and let me have a go. I'd like to say I gave it a good thrash but the weather, an unfamiliar car and residential roads stopped me doing so. However in a few places I managed to drop to 3rd and floor it. Didn't matter, any gear it pulled like a train. Most noticeable though was the smoothness and the real nice growl of the VTEC coming in at 4K.  We drove around some build-up areas and the VTEC was quite happy at any revs in any gear. When we stopped, the engine idled at an absolutely rock solid 800 rpm or so (difficult to tell because the rev counter was disconnected). This could just be a town car and you'd never know unless you floored it! Again though, it was surprising at how like a Mini it sounded. I suppose it was in part due to the typical Mini big-bore exhaust.

The best part of the drive was a fairly steep hill which I turned into and set off from 1st gear. Now I've driven some quick Minis and they're all the same, exciting but frantic and a hard drive. The unequal length drive-shafts give horrible torque steer. This car was very different: from first it just accelerated quicker than any Mini has a right to, up hill, no wheel spins, no torque steer. We went over grids that would normally require a Mini driver to wrestle with the steering but this car didn't even notice. No fuss, just fast acceleration. Up to 2nd and the VTEC comes in and everything goes mad, Jeff tells me I've got another 4,000 rpm to go before I red-line and another 1,000 before the rev-limiter kicks in but it's too late, we've run out of road and I have to slam the brakes on and take the car back.

That's it then, my honest opinion is that the car is easily the fastest Mini I've driven but had no bad habits. The suspension is hard but the 13" 175x50 Yokohamas gripped incredibly well, even in the rain. Most of all, it is an easy drive. You could just potter about in it or rag it.

The pictures show the car almost finished (the owner is doing the bodywork). Best thing is that the car looks pretty standard. OK the wheels have an aggressive stance but no more than plenty of other Minis I've seen. This is my ideal, I want my car to look as standard as possible but to have a real monster under the bonnet. A VTEC will do just fine...

It seems then, that the Clubman is an excellent choice for this conversion. It's possible to fit the VTEC and still retain the car's appearance. You don't need a removable front, and you don't need bonnet bulges etc. It's all contained within the standard body shell, and other than a few modifications, the car remains as it was when it had an A series engine. The idea of such a conversion has proved unpopular with Mini "purists" because they believe it'll ruin the character of the car. I disagree, because after driving the car, and viewing it, a VTEC Mini remains a Mini, just a bit quicker and more reliable!

 
This picture shows the rear wheel which uses a substantial solid alloy spacer to get the wider track and to compensate for the offset of the Metro wheels.

Note that the arch is also cut away slightly to accommodate the larger wheel and tyre.

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This picture shows the modification necessary to route the steering column to suit the Metro's steering rack. It uses a simple universal joint and an extra hole drilled into the floor pan. It also necessitates putting a slight kink in the brake pedal to stop it fouling the column.

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This picture shows the engine bay. Note the locations of the expansion tank (bottom left) and the servo (bolted to the side). You can also just see where the inner wings have been replaced.

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Pictures (Click To Enlarge)

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The picture above shows the placement of the brake servo on the left hand inner wing. Although the Clubman offers a lot of room for plumbing, there's still very little to spare and some imagination and ingenuity is required.