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B18 MINI CLUBMAN: A TRIBUTE ACT

Posted by Matt Bell on 30th June 2021

After his equally Mini-mad brother passed away part-way through their latest project, Alec Harris decided to finish what they started and make a monster B18 Mini Clubman that would do his brother proud.

Modifying cars is a great bonding experience. Be it with mates, your kids or another family member, having a laugh while wielding a spanner is a pastime that’s tough to beat. Alec Harris is a man who knows all about the benefits of modifying when it comes to creating quality time to remember, as he and his brother Keith spent many a happy day up to their elbows in grease whilst working on their various Mini projects over the years, including this Honda-powered B18 Mini Clubman Estate.

“My brother Keith and I had been into Minis for a long time,” says Alec. “And I originally bought this one for us to have some fun with back in 2010.”

The B18 Mini Clubman was completely standard back then, but has evolved significantly over the last decade into the fire-breathing monster it is today.

But, as fun as it’s been, the journey hasn’t been an easy one for Alec, as part way through the build, Keith passed away. Hence there’s a tribute to him in the rear window. “We were using the Mini to take him back and forward to hospital for treatment,” Alec remembers. “It took me quite a while to get back into the build after we lost him.”

The brothers were no strangers to Mini tuning, having explored the extremes of A-series turbo projects many times before.

“Originally we were going to keep it A-series, but the cost of parts to make it reliable would’ve been astronomical,” reckons Alec. “So after a bit of man maths, we reasoned that a swap to Honda power was the best way forward.” Luckily, Alec managed to find a complete Honda Civic VTi-S with a powerful B18C VTEC engine for reasonable money, stripped it of the parts they would need and went from there.

Work started on the Clubman with minor repairs and the panelling of the rear quarter windows, but not because they wanted a van. “It’s a spaceframe in the back and we didn’t want the frame to be visible, plus I’m quite tall so it meant I could put the seat right back, as there’s no rear seat.”

This Mini is clearly an impressive custom build and must’ve been fun to do alongside the day job… Alec owns South Coast Vehicle Restoration in Southampton. “We do pretty much everything in-house: paint, bodywork, wiring, suspension, general mechanics, we do it all. We don’t just do restorations though; we work on new cars too, such as paint repair. We’re quite unique. I’m more into the modified stuff though, things that are unusual and a bit crazy.”

To allow the Mini to sit low over the 7x13in Supalight alloys and sticky Nankang Sportnex AR-1 tyres, the rear arches are tubbed and the mounting points sleeved to take centrally-mounted coilovers. And there are equally complex modifications up front: “The bulkhead is modified and strengthened, and the rollcage picks up on every point of the subframe so there is no twist.” Alec says. The single-piece back ‘door’, which Alec fabricated in steel using two original Mini door frames, is bolted closed from the inside. The nearside external hinges remain but have had their external nuts removed, which is a great touch.

When Keith passed away, the project naturally halted, as Alec took some time out of the build. However, feeling that Keith would’ve wanted to see the Mini complete, Alec eventually gained the strength to pick up the tools again and make the Mini into the kind of car that he and Keith had always dreamed of.

“The naturally-aspirated Honda engine was great, but I needed more power,” Alec chuckles. The engine retains its standard internals but now has ID 420cc injectors, Audi R8 coil packs and a Mamba GTX28 ball-bearing turbocharger fitted to a ‘ram’s horn’ exhaust manifold. The list goes on with a TurboSmart Ultra-Gate 38 external wastegate and dump valve, intercooler and AEM water/ethanol injection and launch control, both of which are controlled by a Link G4X ECU. “A lot of people supercharge these engines, but I think turbocharging is more fun,” grins Alec. The TurboSmart external wastegate also allows the engine to run a ‘screamer’ pipe, where excess boost is vented to the unsuspecting public through an un-muffled pipe which exits the car through the nearside front wing instead of into the exhaust pipe. “I did have a cheap one but changed to the TurboSmart, which is actually quite quiet. In fact the whole car is remarkably quiet, except for the Bosch fuel pumps.”

The exhaust is a bespoke, single back box, stainless steel 3in system that Alec fabricated himself. Both the exhaust and turbo ‘screamer’ pipe have protective plates to shield the paintwork against the pyrotechnics. Sometimes you have to compromise, and he admits the intercooler’s positioning isn’t the most efficient. “It’s the only place I had,” he laughs. The Clubman’s normally cavernous engine bay could only afford room at the front for a Honda Integra radiator and oil cooler. So to keep the charged air cool, the Clubman is fitted with water/ethanol injection. “It’s controlled by engine temperature, with the ECU initialising the pump and a control switch on the pipe, so it primes it and then injects it.” The water/ethanol bottle is mounted on the complex cage, just behind the front Cobra Imola Pro bucket seats and four-point harnesses.

The seats themselves have been mounted to suit his height, which meant Alec also needed to make changes to the steering. “The wheel position is over toward the driver by 2in, and 6in closer, as my seat is positioned on the floor and tight back, to fit me.” The OMP steering wheel also has a B-G Racing quick-release boss. But as stripped out and racy as the Mini’s interior looks, Alec has allowed himself some creature comforts in the form of a later Mini heater and electric windows, which mount behind the aluminium door cards. “The only thing that remains original Mini is the wiper motor and the rear lights. The loom is one of the things that can really let Minis down, so pretty much all the wiring is now Honda, and is mounted behind the custom dashboard.”

A Honda binnacle shows the basics, with the rest of the information from the Link ECU displayed on a tablet mounted above the steering wheel.

The Honda gear lever is mounted further back in the cabin for comfort, while the tunnel is also raised and squared off; the only bit of floor that’s been changed. Other internal changes include a hybrid pedal box which is late Mini linked to a Honda master cylinder.

Alec has achieved what he’d intended by moving away from A-series power, with the current configuration producing a reliable 350bhp+ at the front wheels. He doesn’t have any rolling road figures as he’s found live mapping to be more effective for this turbo system.

As yet, Alec hasn’t had the Mini down the quarter mile, but he has taken it around Goodwood circuit and was really happy with how the car performed. But it’s not all about the go as, to slow things down, a set of Mini Sport billet four-pot alloy calipers and vented and grooved discs have been squeezed behind the front wheels and provide prodigious stopping power.

The B18 Mini Clubman has not just provided a fitting tribute to his late brother, but has also given Alec a great showcase for his skills, not least his talent with a spray gun. The latest orangey-red colour, which looks amazing in direct sunlight, uses a three-stage process. “I fancied changing the colour from the previous green. The paint is a water-based MIPA three-stage with a red base and a gold Xirallic tinter which is the next one up from pearl. A lot of the new black paints have Xirallic in them.” The paint really is as vibrant as the photos show but it was not just a case of rubbing the car down and slapping on some paint, as all of the logos in the bodywork are also painted and prep-work is key. “I’d just gone over to MIPA paint for my business and it was during a training day that I decided on the Mini’s colour. It’s not one of their ‘off the shelf’ colours. A lot of reds bleed through, so I used a high-build white primer, flatted that, and then laid down the red base with the Xirallic over the top, then clear over that.”

He then flatted the shell and painted the graphics before re-lacquering. “With three-stage, the paint is OK to match if you have a small repair, if you know what you’re doing,” he says proudly.

Alex is considering whether to re-paint the Mini back to its earlier stealthy black look, but this vibrant colour certainly catches people’s attention and showcases his skills nicely, and after all, there’s only so much stealth you can have with that huge turbo hanging out the front! But either way, he’s sure to continue enjoying his cool Clubman. “It’s a car I use quite a lot,” he says. “In my opinion, cars are to be used and not just left in the garage to look at. In fact, I was driving it home the other night and it tried to kill me! I like cars like that wake you up, and Keith did too.” We’re sure Keith would be very proud of what his brother has achieved and Alec can be proud that he’s finally fulfilled their vision. And what better way to honour loved ones lost than a turbocharged tearaway tribute drenched in eye-popping orange? We can’t think of one!

Tech Spec: B18 Mini Clubman

Engine:

1.8-litre, 40cyl, 16v Honda B18C engine, ID 420cc injectors, Audi R8 coil packs, K&N cone air filter, Mamba GTX28 ball-bearing turbocharger, ‘ram’s horn’ exhaust manifold, TurboSmart Ultra-Gate 38 external wastegate with screamer pipe, TurboSmart  blow-off valve, top-mounted intercooler and AEM water/ethanol injection Link G4X ECU, Bosch fuel pumps, bespoke, single back box, stainless steel 3in exhaust system, Honda Integra radiator and oil cooler

Performance:

350bhp+

Transmission: 5-speed Honda SB9 manual gearbox with Kaaz plated-tyre LSD

Suspension:

Custom coilover suspension all round with custom rose-jointed suspension arms

Brakes:

Mini Sport billet four-pot alloy calipers and vented and grooved discs

Wheels & Tyres:

7x13in Supalight alloys with175/50/13 Nankang Sportnex AR-1 tyres

Exterior:

Rear windows removed and replaced with panels to convert to a van, wide arches, alloy fuel filler cap, one-piece rear door, F1-style mirrors, custom front bumper with turbo cut-out, gloss black grille, roof and vented bonnet, full respray in MIPA three-stage red base with gold Xirallic tinter

Interior:

Stripped interior, custom rollcage, Cobra Imola bucket seats with blue harnesses, custom aluminium dashboard with Honda instrument binnacle, aluminium door cards, electric windows, later-sepc Mini heater system, tablet displaying ECU parameters.

From Fast Car. Words & Photos: Jim Jupp

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