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TUNED MINI R55 CLUBMAN: PRACTICAL JOKER

Posted by Glenn Rowswell on 28th December 2020

As you reach that point in your life when you’ve bought a practical estate car, it’s time to be sensible… isn’t it? No, Jack Hutchins doesn’t think so – his grown-up tuned MINI R55 Clubman’s packing air-ride, Rotiforms, and 290bhp…

Feature taken from Fast Car magazine. Words Joe Partridge Photos Matt Clifford

Life, as the internet is always keen to point out, comes at you fast. You start out tearing about in hot hatches and before you know it, you’ve unexpectedly grown up and you find yourself trundling around in an estate car, desperately trying to figure out where your youth went.

Jack Hutchins, however, is a guy with vision. He’s not prepared to sit back and let life happen to him, he’s out there in forthright fashion actively pursing the next stages of his own personal development. It’s helped enormously that his first car wasn’t exactly your average first car – whereas most of us kick off with a crap twenty-year-old 1.0 runabout, Jack’s debut ride was an R56 MINI Cooper. What’s more, it was practically brand new – he bought it cheap with heavy accident damage, expertly repaired it all by himself, then set about fitting air ride and custom audio and CCW wheels. He’s a fella with a clear idea of what he wants. That car was good enough to earn itself a magazine feature and now, at the tender age of 22, he’s got his second feature car – a sensible-but-not-really R55 Clubman. “I chose an R55 this time as I wanted to stay with MINI because they’re fun to drive, but I needed the extra practicality,” he explains. “Yes, the Clubman isn’t massive, but it’s perfect for what I need it for – my R56 was impractical for travelling around due to the air tank and subwoofer filling the boot.”

Sound reasoning, and what’s also impressive to note is that while the old hatch was in Cooper spec, the Clubman Jack’s driving now is a full-fat John Cooper Works (JCW). Evidently the insurance cliff edge that drops away when you hit 21 is very much still a thing…

“Funnily enough, when I first started looking for Clubmans I was actually looking at diesels!” he laughs. “I liked the idea of having a practical and reliable daily car. It was only a week before I found this JCW that I was on the phone to a company up north about purchasing a Hampton Edition diesel, however, it had already been sold. I gave it another few days of searching and found this car online at UKI Sudbury; it was a little out of budget, but it was the best spec I’d seen for sale and it had the newer N18 engine. The JCW Clubmans are quite rare anyway, so I thought I needed to grab it while I could.”

And so with impeccable logic, Jack scooped it up, brought it home, and immediately started taking it to pieces. As one does. Within a week it was wearing the air-ride setup and CCW wheels from the old R56, and was ready for its first show! Infuriatingly, though, he had to attend said show with one cardboard window after someone broke into the Clubman and stole his camera gear, but such hurdles don’t cause strong-willed types like Jack to stumble for long.

As the car fell into daily use, our man gradually began to pool together desirable upgrades as and when they became available at the right price. The JCW is fabulously well-optioned in factory form, so he already had a head start on the juicy specs and it was more a case of enhancing than starting from scratch. Various carbon fibre trims, a JCW scuttle and strut brace, and a colour-coded Cooper fuel filler found their way into the mix, before Jack set about smoothing little details here and there to give the Clubman a classy and subtle OEM+ vibe. Being a true-blue wheel hound, it wasn’t long before he started considering his rolling stock, concluding that he fancied a set of BBS splits but was happy to wait until the right ones came along – in the meantime, he’s packing staggered Rotiform RSEs with some truly interesting tyre size choices. (A fair amount of stretch, which allows them to tuck in perfectly when he airs out… and just check out the rubber band nature of the 185/35 fronts!)

By the time early 2019 came around, Jack started thinking about readying the car for the trek to Wörthersee – which, of course, isn’t just about Volkswagens any more. The annual stance-scene pilgrimage to Austria embraces modifications with global influence, and Jack’s new USDM-spec arches fit the bill perfectly. But the makeover plans weren’t just about bolting on some new plastics. No, he was going all-in for this trip. “Parking the car up in the garage, I removed the rear wipers, both bumpers, intercooler, intake pipes, downpipe and rear light surrounds,” he explains. “The car was now ready for paint! I then refitted the intercooler, decat downpipe, spark plugs, intake filter, diverter valve, boost pipes and Powerflex engine mount so the car was able to drive, and dropped it off at Sprint Autos in Yardley Wood. When I collected it a week later, the screw holes in the front bumper had been fixed, the rear bumper freshened up, reflectors smoothed, rear wiper holes smoothed, door dinks removed and various other little bits fixed up. I decided not to do the usual ‘de-chrome everything’ job that a lot of people do, I wanted the keep it looking fairly stock with just my own stamp on it.”

Once he had the car back, Jack renewed the CV boots, water pump pulley and tensioner, and gave it a full service, readying it for a remap and a bit more power. He then busied himself wiring in the USDM arches to the existing sidelights, and fitting height sensors for the air ride so that the Air Lift 3H management’s self-levelling function could be enabled and the car would maintain its set height, regardless of what he threw in the boot or how many passengers he was carrying. The final flourish was to complete the boot build. Again, practicality was the watchword, so he trimmed the spare wheel well in black carpet to match the interior, tucked the wiring and compressor out of sight, and simply made a low-key feature of the satin black AccuAir ENDO air tank and Air Lift Performance management block so that it still oozed show-car appeal.

“I added in some little extras,” Jack continues, “like the water trap drain hose under the car, the pressure release valve, and the handy addition of a quick release for air tools such as the tyre pump. All the tools and emergency kits are stowed away in the lower section of the boot in a genuine MINI rubber boot lining, making it easy to remove everything to get to the tank and quick-release valve. Then, to finish everything off, I took the Clubby to Millsys Autos in Nuneaton for a weekend to get it Stage 2 remapped.” The JCW-spec N18 is a formidable thing, and Jack’s up-specced it with an Airtec intercooler and Scorpion decat; the JCW intake is already superb so instead of junking and replacing, he’s upgraded that with an ITG filter. The car hasn’t been on the dyno yet, but given the specs it’s safe to assume a figure somewhere in the region of 290bhp.

“I’ve driven the car near enough every day since I bought it and, touch wood, haven’t had any major issues,” he says. “It’s carried everything from my luggage around Europe to a VW Beetle engine around the UK! I’ve had a few people say they don’t like the look of Clubmans, but I haven’t had anyone say that they don’t like the look of this one…” All of which makes Jack’s point rather well. The versatility of the MINI range meant that he could upscale his beloved older project to something similar but bigger, and along the way he’s gained a whole load more power and oodles of eye-catching custom ideas – but above all this was built to be used. Don’t let the show-car finish fool you, that’s exactly what happens. Sure, life can come at you fast – but if, like Jack, you’ve got a clear idea of what you want, you can take it all at your own pace.

TECH SPEC: MINI R55 Clubman

Styling:
USDM front arches, rear reflectors and wipers smoothed, de-badged, Cooper fuel cap, JCW scuttle vents, blackline headlights and side repeaters, LED DRLs.

Tuning:
N18 1.6-litre turbo, Stage 2 Manic remap, Airtec intercooler, Scorpion decat, GFB diverter valve, Forge boost pipes, ITG air filter, Evo X spark plugs, Powerflex engine mount insert, 6-speed manual. Power: 290bhp

Chassis:
8x17in ET30 (front) and 9x17in ET30 (rear) Rotiform RSE cast wheels, 185/35 (f) and 195/40 (r) tyres, Air Lift Performance front and rear shocks, Air Lift 3H management and height sensors, and JCW strut brace.

Interior:
Factory options inc. heated front screen, panoramic sunroof, Harmon Kardon speakers, heated Recaro seats, 2x seats in rear (rather than the usual 3), leather dash top and Alcantara dash trims, carbon fibre gear knob and handbrake handle, carbon fibre speedo surround, carbon door handles and door trims, spare wheel-well trimmed in black carpet with air compressor, air tank and management.

Thanks:
“I’d like to thank my Dad for letting me use his tools, Tony from Sprint Autos in Yardley Wood for spending the time sorting out the paint and bodywork, and the MiniFOO guys for all the help with the questions I’ve been asking! I’d also like to thank the two companies, Shift.Co and Millsys Autos for sorting out parts and tuning.”