Now we start on my build of this Austin Mini van. At British car shows that I attended I became aware of a new option for conversions which could provide improved performance and also better economy. This being, to discard the original Mini drive-train and replace it with that from an early model Honda Civic. The change from 850 to 1490cc and technological advancement from about 30 years time will provide a jump from 35 to 110 hp and also an additional 10 mpg (possibly more) of fuel economy, not to mention improved reliability.
Searching on the internet I located a 1993 Civic EX whose body had been totaled in a roll-over accident but was actually still driveable. This would provide a good donor for the drive train. As our garage was already full I was able to impose on my friend Richard Neale to store the donor Honda next to his barn in Loganville. The D15B7 engine and drive train that would come out of this car displaced 1493cc and output 105 hp. With the complete wrecked Civic available I was relatively sure I could collect all of the necessary parts to transfer to the Mini. Interestingly enough it turns out there is an operation not far away, in Royston, GA, which since the early 2000’s has been developing and producing front sub-frame and rear suspension kits which will directly mount various Honda engines into a classic Mini. Mini-Tec (also called Super Fast Minis) produces complete builds for Minis at their facility and also has all of the parts available for purchase. After a bit of investigation I placed an order for a Mini-Tec MTD front sub frame and a Rear Coil-over sub frame. Now the work could begin.
Initial work on the Mini conversion involved dismantling, labeling and storing parts. It was simple to remove the doors and hood. The rear suspension was taken off and disassembled. Gas tank drained and removed and remaining engine fluids drained. Lights, markers and wiring taken off.
Removed engine accessories (carb, alternator, master cylinders and so forth). Radiator and hoses removed and the shift linkage taken apart. Front suspension disassembled as much as possible. Window glass was taken out and cheap tinting removed. I have an idea to do a flip-front end so now the front fenders were cut off at the a-pillar in front of the windshield. Using an air saw I carefully cut the fenders in front of the seam where they connected to the body. Also at this time the inner fender metal was cut out to make space for the MTD front sub-frame. With everything disconnected it was easy to pull the engine. Since it is not going to be used it went in the back of our pick up for the trip to a recycling yard.
To clean up things in the engine bay all the remaining electric wires and hydraulic lines were removed. Then the seats and pedals came out in the interior. Next item for removal that also will not be needed was the front sub-frame. It joined the engine in the back of the pick up. In order to facilitate a flip front for the Mini, I connected the left and right fenders to the hood. This was done by using a 1/8″ metal strip to establish a uniform dimension between the sections. The pieces were then drilled and connected with bolts spaced about 3″ apart. Also, in order to reinforce the fender sections at the cut edges I added pieces of 16 gauge metal for reinforcing. These are strips about 1″ wide, trimmed flush at the edges and spot welded in place.
Now that disassembly was taken care of I was ready to put together a rotisserie to make working on the body easier. First a frame was assembled from 2×4’s and 2×6’s. Sturdy 3″ wheels were put on the bottom to make it movable. This is the type of thing which comes together as you go. Next I built a support for the front end and was able to attach it to bolts which originally connected the front shocks. The rear end was not as easy, but I was able to connect a brace using the rear door frame and the tops of the inside fenders. I pulled out the jack stands that had been supporting the Mini and it looked good, about a foot off the floor. Each end support had a 5/8″ bolt in the center and I could rotate the whole car 360 degrees with no obstruction. That will make it easy to work on the top and bottom of the car.