June 24, 2010
Mad Minis. Click image to enlarge
By Tony Whitney
When a car boasts a production run of 41 years, it’s bound to have seen just about every kind of modification possible performed on it – the good, the bad and the seriously ugly.
A new book by Iain Ayre, Mad Minis – The Crazy World of Modified Minis, celebrates all kinds of Mini mods that have been experimented with on the iconic British car over the decades, and expectedly, some of them are almost beyond belief.
This very cleverly put-together and infinitely “browsable” hardcover volume has surprises at every turn of the page. How about, for example, a Mini fire truck, complete with bell and hose reel? This one is no wacky adaptation, but a restored vehicle that was actually used by a hospital in the UK. There are Minis with weird and wonderful engine swaps, of course. The book features everything from a Pontiac Firefly turbo in a basic Mini to a pickup version boasting nothing less than a Ford GT40 racing powerplant mysteriously shoehorned in. For anyone aspiring to reproduce the latter engine upgrade, be warned that the car was described by its owner as “genuinely dangerous,” though it turned some quick laps on a track in the hands of a driver who managed to keep it pointing the right way long enough.
Iain Ayre is well qualified to create a book like this, having published many widely-published volumes on kit cars and modified models as well as writing countless articles for magazines in several countries. British born, but now a B.C. resident, Ayre has handled more than a few large scale vehicle upgrades himself, so his experience on the topic is very much hands-on. The book covers modified Minis in several countries including Canada and readers will recognize many of the cars from field meets and show-’n-shine events in this country.
The Mini was one of those kinds of cars that enthusiasts started modifying as soon as the first model rolled off the showroom floor. Having “matured” as an automotive enthusiast during the 1960s (though car nuts never really mature do they?) I can remember most of the hacked-around Minis of the day quite well: Minisprints that had a lowered roofline; Radford Mini de Villes with their special paint job, walnut burl interior trim and Connolly leather; and the Mini Marcos that looked nothing like a Mini until you checked underneath or experienced the Lotus-like handling. Racing Minis abounded over those four decades and still do at vintage events – often hounding far faster and larger cars on tight circuits, just like they did in the 1960s.
Like the Marcos, there were other adaptations that departed drastically from the original concept. The Mini Moke gets several pages in the book and deservedly so. This tiny “off-roader,” once the darling of hippies everywhere, was actually designed for military applications and the intention was to parachute the little beasts from Hercules transport aircraft into battle zones. Sad to say, the Moke has the ground clearance of an Italian exotic car and unless the troops happened to be waiting alongside a paved road, they weren’t going anywhere. Even so, Mokes are always a big attraction at classic car shows and deserve their place in modified Mini history.
Ayres’ book is an engrossing piece of work and quite apart from being entertaining as a cover-to-cover read, it’s a great book to keep close by for delving into and browsing now and again. You don’t have to be a Mini owner or even an enthusiast either – anyone with the least interest in things automotive will find it just as fascinating.
The book runs the gamut of every conceivable modification to the legendary Mini and there are one or two models you couldn’t conjure up if you tried. There are convertibles, pickups, trikes, racers and innocent-looking Minis with fearsome power lurking under their hoods. Perhaps most remarkable of all is a 2/3 scale 1920s-style London double-decker “omnibus” that was built in the 1980s (there were 40 in all) for use at summer festivals, theme parks and the like. Obviously, no bus of any kind could have the slightest resemblance to a Mini, but under the hood is a standard 998-cc 4-cylinder engine, transverse-mounted and mated to a standard Mini gearbox.
Iain Ayre’s entertaining and lavishly illustrated book is published by Haynes Publishing in the UK (www.haynes.co.uk) and is priced at $34.95 on the dust jacket, but like all books nowadays, this can vary depending where you buy it. The ISBN number is .
Title: Mad Minis: The Crazy World of Modified Minis
Author: Iain Ayre