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Watson's Engineering







Watson's Specialist Cars had two cars to show me, a Clubman and their own race car.


This was just a shell really, but was used to check the fit of a newly constructed frame before it was sent for powder coating. It's a shame Jeff didn't have a fully built demonstrator but he's promising one soon. In fact the last one he built, the first bloke to try it insisted Jeff sell him that very engine and frame straight away. So much for the demonstrator!

If you look closely at the pictures, you can see the subframe brace bars. These run to the front of the subframe providing extra rigidity and allow the car to pass the UK vehicle testing regulations (MOT). 

The other parts Jeff supplies are the necessary linkages between the engine and the gearbox and a suitable linkage between the Mini steering column and the Honda rack. Note that the conversion requires the Mini rack to be removed because the Honda rack is mounted on the subframe. 

The Clubman shows that it's possible to fit the VTEC but I still haven't seen one in a round-front other than the race one. For the latter, a fibre-glass front had to be utilised with some length added to it. These are now readily available in the UK due to the popularity of the Vauxhall conversion. The real problem with the VTEC in the round front is the placement of the radiator. There is no space at the side, and whereas the Clubman provides plenty of frontal space, the round front does not. I suggested that perhaps bike radiators complete with tiny efficient fans could be used. Not only are they probably more efficient than a typical car version, they are lighter and curved. A curved radiator might be much easier to place in the bay than a normal one. As an example, my ZX9R putting out 140BHP uses a tiny curved radiator complete with 12VDC fan for cooling, and that engine needs a lot of cooling! Many bikes also have incredibly tiny but efficient oil coolers. Perhaps this is the way to solve the problem with the round fronts! Incidentally, one company is working on a way of fitting the VTEC to a round front. I'll give you more information on this as it becomes available...

Jeff's Racing Mini

This car had just come back from an event in which it crashed into a load of hay bales. The impact was enough to fracture the radiator and break its mountings. Note in the picture how a strap is holding the radiator on! This is how Jeff finished the race, with a boiling radiator and virtually no cooling. He still finished though, and the engine didn't suffer any ill effects! The race car runs a Superchip, huge throttle bodies (I'll get the spec from Jeff ASAP) and non-standard gearing. Other than that, the spec is standard and the car is very competitive, achieving many wins so far.

Note the creative placement of the alternator to the front LHS! Also note the use of standard 14" Metro wheels to suit the running gear which allows a wide choice of tyres. The wheels stick out a hell of a lot which gives the car an aggressive stance.

Strangely, the car has kept the original cast iron manifold, something I would change immediately. There's a performance tubular steel replacement available which would certainly decrease the weight at the front. However, Honda learned their lesson well with bike engines so no doubt the standard item flows very well. I'd still change it!  

Kit Details

Basic kit includes subframe, alternator conversion bracket and other fixing brackets. They can also provide all the other parts you might need including coil-over shocks, Metro running gear, used VTEC engines and suitable drive-shafts. Geoff recommends the use of spacers that he fabricates for the rear wheels to provide a similar width to the track of the front wheels.

The basic kit cost is 750+VAT, drive-shafts cost 100. Microsoft Excel spreadsheet containing all the prices of the parts needed for the conversion: 

I've been to see this kit and can appreciate the level of work that's gone into the sub-frames. They're built on a jig and I imagine a lot of development has been necessary. However, I still think the kits are expensive considering that all the parts necessary are not provided. I'd like to see the price of the basic kit lowered and a standard kit offered which does include all the parts. The standard kit would include the joint to mate the Honda steering rack to the Mini steering column, the drive-shafts, a suitable loom conversion and the hydraulic clutch conversion pipe.

I've compiled a list of typical costs:

Sub-frame 750
Drive-shafts 100
Hydraulic clutch conversion pipe 20
Coil-over conversion 200
Wiring loom conversion 100
1600cc 16v VTEC Engine complete 800 (est)
Metro running gear (calipers etc.) 75 (est)
Glass-fibre front 90
Extras - radiator, tubular exhaust manifold

Latest Kit Details - August 2000

Thanks to Andy for the latest pictures. Geoff explained that the latest version of the kit includes an improved and less obtrusive method of suspension. The coil-overs have been moved to the subframe where the original rubber springs would have mounted. The new types of springs are shown in the pictures and are mounted on a type of HiLo (adjustable height suspension trumpet). 

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This development allows you to use standard shock absorbers such as Spax, Konis etc. and will be available in the near future to suit standard Minis, fitting in the original subframe position, front and rear. The suspension travel is more progressive with these springs. Ring Geoff on (+44) 01924 361002 for more details or see his website:


Jeff's Racing Mini

The pictures to the right show a black J registration Cooper with the Honda B16 VTEC engine fitted by Watsons. What's special about this conversion is that the front end remains fixed and has been extended in steel by 90mm. It uses a fibre glass bonnet and appears to achieve the standard appearance of the round front Mini. I believe the car is for sale when complete and will cost 6,750.

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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VTEC in a Clubman

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Clubman front

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Upper (LH) Brace Bar

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14" Metro Wheel

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Jeff's VTEC Racing Mini

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Typical Kit

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Spacers, springs and brakes

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Latest subframe

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Ready to go!

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Improved mounting

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