Some people would be happy to trundle about in a 100bhp Mini. James Melbourne is not one of those people. Well, that is, he used to be – but now look what’s happened, he’s gone a bit nuts…
The history of mankind is studded with examples of people getting carried away. The Spanish Inquisition, the Wars of the Roses, the Watergate scandal, the Harry Potter series… none of these things needed to have happened, but it’s an inescapable human compulsion to keep pulling at threads until we’re well past the point of no return. We’re a self-destructive species, we favour confrontation over tranquillity. We just can’t let things lie.
James Melbourne’s MINI is a case in point – although, to be fair, we’re rather glad that he got carried away with this one. Because if he hadn’t had the green-eyed envy monster sitting on his teenage shoulder, he’d just be pottering around in a mildly fiddled-with old Clio. Here, allow him to explain:
“I passed my test at 17, and saved all my pennies to buy a Mk1 Clio,” he reminisces. “I only knew about the basics back then, so tinted windows, a bolt-on exhaust, alloys, induction kit, and a sound system had me pretty much believing I was at the top of modification world. After that I got a new Corsa C which received similar treatment, although it was around this time that my cousin – aka ‘Mini Man Joel’ – was outside my house fixing an intercooler onto his friend’s Cooper S. After installation I was taken on the test drive of my life! And that’s where my love for MINIs began.”
Aha – there’s the catalyst. So what’s the fuel? Well, as already mentioned, it was envy. Pay attention. But before that, there came ambition, and tenacity. “I worked my socks off on two jobs to buy a stock nat-asp MINI,” he says. “Being a 1.6 it was then the fastest car I’d ever owned, and at the age of 19 it was even more fun as all my friends had 1.2s; on spirited drives I was always at the front.”
However, the Mini Man Joel connection saw James increasingly associating with a new bunch of mates… and despite having carried out his usual round of aesthetic mods, James now found himself tumbling from the top of the tree right to the roots. It’s like when you go to big school, and the cock-of-the-walk feeling of being in Year 6 dissolves as you realise that Year 7 is less than zero. “My stock 100bhp just didn’t cut the mustard,” he laments. “My new mates all had 170bhp+, so my eyes were well and truly opened. As was my wallet…”
Before he knew it, James was diving headlong into the murky swells of engine modification – something that turned out to be a one-way street for him. Once you open Pandora’s box, there’s just no way to shove all the evil back in.
With his cousin’s help, he managed to eke a fruity 157bhp out of his motor – a mighty percentage gain, certainly not to be sniffed at – but the trouble was that everyone else was modding at the same time; while he was closing in on that aspirational 170bhp figure, they were all moving away from it, getting north of 200bhp. It was just a giant game of cat-and-mouse. And you know there’s only one way to win that game: evolve. Stop being the mouse and become the cat.
Alright, we’re not actually suggesting that cats evolved from mice. We’re not mental. The point we’re making is that James needed to have a bit of a rethink. It was time for an engine swap.
“Joel offered to swap in a supercharged Cooper S motor at a decent price, so how could I refuse?” James grins. “It received a few tweaks before going in, and then I found myself with the familiarity of the old car, with the performance of a new one. Win-win!”
This stage of the project marked a very important step-change of momentum, as the engine was remapped by the guys at 1320Mini – a place that James would end up popping back to once or twice… with a further cash injection at this juncture, the evolving MINI was putting out 223 horses at the wheels, equating to a chewy 256bhp at the crank.
The engine mods just kept coming, until one fateful day when the thing blew up. Which was a bit of a downer. But the irrepressible boys at 1320 rebuilt it with forged internals and a new blower. By now, of course, James was totally power mad. He’d got completely carried away. He wanted it all. And after eyeing up an uprated supercharger, then thinking about twincharging, he decided to go for a full-on turbo conversion.
“At this point there were no turbo kits on the market for the MINI, so the only working kit in the UK was 1320Mini’s own 580whp drag car,” says James. “That was enough for me to give the guys the go-ahead!” So the motor was unceremoniously stripped down and, with an Owen Developments turbo in the crosshairs, all manner of fabrication and relocation commenced. A fancy sidewinder exhaust manifold appeared, and the reworked engine block was painted gold (“because gold is expensive, and that machine shop was not cheap!”). The turbo’s blades are anodised gold for much the same reason, and the external wastegate and screamer pipe certainly offer a show of making the snail’s presence felt.
“The core of the intercooler was rated at 500bhp, so that became the aim,” he says, with a totally straight face. “One of the biggest issues while tuning the motor was fuelling, but this was corrected by 1,000cc injectors. 26psi and 4th gear found the 1.6 scream to a respectable 472bhp, with 411hp at the wheels.” Strewth. It’s a bit of a step up from those humble one-hundred-horsepower beginnings, isn’t it?
This MINI though, as you’ve probably spotted, isn’t all about headline figures. James has put a phenomenal amount of effort into the interior, commissioning LG Trimming to retrim everything in sumptuous Bentley leather and Alcantara, complete with the MINI’s custom ‘CooperxT’ logo. There’s a whole lot of carbon-fibre in there too, and this neatly complements the fresh new black wrap of the exterior. The body features a smattering of the fabled MINI GP as well, popping up around the spoiler and skirt regions, just in case you weren’t already suspicious that all is not as it seems with this vibrant and fragrant MINI.
‘Fragrant’? Oh, yes. Because it reeks of SUCCESS. “Running the car on low boost – which reins power into the low 300s – I lapped the Nürburgring in 8-minutes and 20-seconds, and topped out at a GPS-verified 186mph on the autobahn,” James says casually, as if that’s the sort of thing you’d be expecting him to say.
“People’s reactions to the car are priceless,” he continues, “especially when I’m overtaking supercars on track. It’s also got anti-lag, which is a real show-stopper as it sounds like a machine gun and spits 4-foot flames out of the exhaust.”
He’s come a long way from those humble beginnings then, hasn’t he? From 0-186mph in just a few years, this bone-stock nat-asp MINI has gradually but relentlessly mutated into a flame-spitting, supercar-baiting monster. Whoever said getting carried away was a bad thing?
OWNER: JAMES MELBOURNE
TECH SPEC: MINI COOPER S
GP rear wing, GP front bumper, GP sideskirts, GP tailgate, Cooper S bonnet, Jaguar bonnet vents, carbon-fibre wing mirrors and door handles, carbon- dipped splitter, bonnet grille and sideskirts, custom black wrap, custom brushed black roof with body tattoos, OEM Xenon headlights with custom halo, custom light brows, smoothed arches, Cooper S carbon-fibre fuel cap.
R53 Cooper engine, Owen Developments 28/73HTA turbo, Tial v-band, 38mm wastegate, screamer pipe, Tial B.O.V, ATI Super Damper, 1,000cc Grams injectors, Cat cams, 1320Mini sidewinder manifold, 1320Mini custom billet collector, 1320Mini ported head, GS valves and Crower springs, titanium retainers, forged Wossner pistons, Vipec i88 ECU calibrated by 1320Mini – with switchable maps, forged rods, 3in 1320Mini custom Borla exhaust with decat, Clutch Masters FX400 clutch, Clutch Masters single-mass flywheel, Pro Alloy front-mount intercooler and radiator, Pro Alloy custom header tank, AEM AFR gauge, Cooper S fuel pump, battery relocated, 6-speed manual ’box with short-shift, Quaife 1.5 LSD, launch control, anti-lag, 472bhp (411whp).
17in ET35 OZ Racing Formula HLT lightweight alloys with centre-lock caps, 215/40 Yokohama Advan AD08R, BC Racing coilovers, 19mm front anti-roll bar, 22mm rear anti-roll bar, carbon-fibre rear strut brace, adjustable rear control arms, R56 4-pot Brembo calipers, drilled and grooved 330mm discs, braided brake hoses, Driveshaft Shop Level 2 axles.
R56 custom Recaro seats with diamond-stitched Alcantara and Bentley leather including ‘CooperxT’ logo, custom dash with Bentley leather top and diamond-stitched Alcantara underside, custom Alcantara gaiters, rear seat delete in diamond- stitched Alcantara with custom logo, custom sun visors with personal logo, black Alcantara roof lining, carbon-dipped interior parts, OEM satnav, OMP baby 300mm steering wheel, TRS harnesses.
“Mini Man Joel, 1320Mini, LG Trimming,
Tauro Wraps, Pro Alloy, Owen Developments, Minimikedetailing, Jason RMM Moore, JDM Touge, Stance Daily.
Words Daniel Bevis Photos Matt Woods