MODIFIED F56 MINI: THE ART OF JUST ENOUGH

Subtlety, nuance and a creative eye for detail set this uniquely modified F56 MINI apart from the crowd.

From Performance Mini. Words: Ben Birch. Photos: Jason Dodd

Most MINI fans will agree that one of the most exciting things about the brand is the infinite potential for personalisation. No matter what generation or spec you own, there are almost no limits as to the choice of products you can bolt on or screw in to make your MINI more ‘you’.

It’s this very fact that can lead to some owners going well over the top with the spec of their build, and ironically end up making it look exactly the same as all the others. If too much choice can create a confused result, then Edd Little’s modified F56 MINI is a moving lesson in purity and self-restraint.

Modified F56 MINI

Edd says, “Maybe being around lots of different car scenes over the years means I haven’t got sucked into the normal way of doing things. Or then again, maybe it’s just because I’m getting old and have made all of my mistakes already.”

In a previous life, Edd was an air-cooled VW guy –a scene that in its halcyon days was a hotbed of creativity and innovation, and which still influences every other modified car scene today. As anyone who has been into Bugs can empathise, Edd says he wanted to get into another make of car because the ‘dub world had got a bit samey and stale. The VWs are beautifully done, but there now seems to be a set formula for building one, and a lot of the top examples are exactly the same as the next, just painted a different colour. And so it was that Edd’s MINI journey began.

Modified F56 MINI

First was an R53 JCW with a Union Flag wrap. Not all that subtle, then, and his next project took things to an even wilder level with a bit of egging on from his friend and now business partner, Rog.

Edd explains, “I bought a GP1 and managed to keep it standard for five years. Then between Rog and I we decided to go completely mad on it.”

With Rog and Edd both being Porsche fans and owners, they took inspiration from the highly coveted Singer builds from California, including retro tartan seats, serious suspension and trick wheels. The end result was an instantly recognisable MINI; in fact, some may remember it from YouTube, where it was driven by Petrol Ped. If not, type in ‘the perfect B-road Mini’ and enjoy 20 minutes of epic supercharger whine.

Modified F56 MINI

That R53 really helped to kick-start the pair’s business venture, B_Road Hunting Club. Not only is B_Road a growing hotspot for petrolhead meets and coffee days (think the Caffeine and Machine of the south), it’s a place where you can have your dream MINI hand-built by the chaps.

“Over the years we’d each outsourced various work on our own project cars, and a lot of the time ended up redoing the work ourselves as they’d never done it quite right,” continues Edd. “As we got more competent, people who wanted something a bit different started coming to us, and the business grew from there.”

He goes on to describe the usual type of build they get involved in as ‘anything a bit off the wall’, and this is the exact ethos they took to building the Cooper S you see here.

Edd says, “I’d sold the GP1 and had actually put a deposit on a GP3. But when I found out it wasn’t going to be available with a manual ‘box, I cancelled immediately and started looking for something a bit unusual to build my own interpretation of the ultimate B-road F56.”

After trawling through the classified ads, he came across this 8000-mile Rebel Green example, which had already been tastefully modified by its owner Simon.

“If you want a car to be different from the usual you have to go for unusual specs,” smiles Edd, “so the colour was a great starting point.” In fact, he goes on to admit that he’s changed just 20 per cent of the car since buying it – but it’s the last 20 per cent of tweaking and refining that’s really put the cherry on the cake in transforming the looks and the overall driving experience.

Edd says, “The car came with Team Dynamics wheels, the Coolerworx shifter, the carbon interior pieces and the Lohen performance mods. With 300bhp it was always going to be more than quick enough, but it really needed the stance and driving dynamics changed, and the visuals elevated.”

Inspiration for the latter came from an old picture of a classic Mini race car lapping the Goodwood circuit. The little racer’s vintage green paint and white livery oozed pure class, and after a bit of contemplating ‘will it work, won’t it work’, the whole look was boldly recreated by Edd and Rog on the modified F56 MINI with spectacular results. At the same time, they changed the original black roof colour to an ‘antique white’ to match the livery, and, maybe surprisingly, they replaced the JCW hatch spoiler with a standard Cooper item.

Modified F56 MINI

“I think the more subtle spoiler gives cleaner lines,” adds Edd. “It now looks like a modern interpretation of a classic Cooper S to me, rather than just another aggressive modern hot hatch.” To complete the visual changes, the extremely popular TD wheels were removed, precisely because of their extreme popularity.

Edd says, “A trick I’ve learned over the years is that if you want to create something unique that not many people can copy, you ignore the most popular parts and instead search out the rarest parts.

“By default you end up being one of a kind or certainly one of a tiny minority.” It’s a simple concept but one that takes much research and patience.

“I knew that the old Audi RS6 ran 8x17in BBS wheels with an ET35 offset,” he continues, “the perfect size and offset for the F56 as it’s the same fitted to the MINI CHALLENGE cars.” Six laborious months later and his eBay search finally turned up a set, which he snapped up immediately.

Edd laughs, “The guy had them just sat in his garage for donkey’s years, and within two minutes of putting them up for sale he’d sold them to me. He was stunned.”

The gorgeous German art is framed by Michelin and hung on a B_Road Hunting Club signature mod – a wheel stud kit. “We do it on all our builds. It’s more race-car, looks cleaner in my opinion and works especially well on wheels without centre caps.”

With the right wheels now in the arches, the KW suspension was set up to B_Road Hunting Club’s tried-and-tested geometry, tuned to make the best of English countryside blasts. A lot of people go too track-orientated with their suspension and end up creating something that’s amazing for the 5 per cent of time they drive it on track, but horrible for the other 95 per cent of the time.

Edd agrees: “The beauty of a MINI is that you don’t have to be going ridiculously fast to have ridiculous fun, and for most of us a more road-based set up will be more rewarding more of the time.” It was this grown-up approach that also led to him swapping the Scorpion exhaust for a JCW Pro exhaust. “The Bluetooth switchability of the JCW Pro means I can have it lairy if I want, but for most of the time it’s turned to Sport and it has a much better tone. I also got it with stainless tips just to be a bit different.”

Modified F56 MINI

The sum of these changes to the driving experience is much greater than the individual changes would imply – Edd has owned a Porsche Cayman and owns a replica Porsche 356 period racer, yet still describes this modified F56 MINI as the best car he’s ever had.

“I got in it the other day after not having driven it for a few months,” he enthuses, “and after a few miles hunkered into the carbon-accented cockpit, banging through the short-shifter with my Carrera GT-inspired gearknob. I was laughing to myself. It always amazes me what such a wicked little car this is – the fact you can package so much fun and performance alongside genuine everyday driveability is just mind-blowing.”

After executing such a well-disciplined exercise in sympathetic modification, it’s no surprise that Edd also knows when to stop tinkering. “I’m deep into my 356 project now so I don’t plan to do anything with the MINI other than enjoy it. Anyway, this car is simply spot on, so why ruin it?”

Exactly. You really can create a stand-out show car and driving machine without going bonkers for bonkers’ sake…

Tech Spec: Modified F56 Mini

Engine:

Airtec intercooler, Eventuri scoop and full carbon fibre intake, carbon fibre engine heat shielding, Scorpion decat, JCW Pro exhaust with stainless tips, power upgrades by Lohen

Power:

300bhp and 500Nm/370lb.ft torque (owner’s estimate)

Transmission:

Coolerworx shifter

Suspension:

Wieschers carbon strut brace, KW V1 coilovers, Cravenspeed under-body bracing, Powerflex bushes

Wheels & Tyres:

Stud kit, 8Jx17 ET35 BBS RC307 alloys, 225/40R17 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S

Interior:

Carrera GT-inspired gearknob, genuine MINI carbon dash and door handles, Royal Black Alcantara steering wheel with carbon inserts

Exterior:

Rebel Green and black JCW (pre-LCI), full Pro splitters front and rear, blacked-out badges, custom Goodwood-inspired graphics

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Ford trademarked the Splash name, again

Ford has once again filed a trademark application for the Splash name with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The Splash name was previously used on a special version of the Ranger pickup truck in the 1990s. Like all trademark applications, though, this doesn’t mean Ford has immediate plans to use the name on a production vehicle.

First spotted by members of the Ford Maverick Forum, the application covers “motor vehicles, namely, automobiles, pickup trucks, electric vehicles, sport utility vehicles, off-road vehicles, and their structural parts.” It also mentions “vehicle equipment package consisting of wheels, exterior body parts, and seats,” which is effectively what the original Ranger Splash was.

If that seems a little vague, it’s because automakers often file trademark applications to protect names for possible future use, without having specific short-term plans for those names. That seems to be the case here.

1997 Ford Ranger SPLASH

1997 Ford Ranger SPLASH

“Trademark applications are intended to protect new phrases, designs or symbols but aren’t necessarily an indication of new business or product plans,” Ford spokesperson Dawn McKenzie told Motor Authority when asked about the filing.

Application filings like this are fairly common. Ford recently filed a new trademark application for the Thunderbird name, while General Motors and Toyota have sought to renew trademarks on the Cheyenne and Celica names, respectively.

So it’s unclear if the Splash name will actually return on a new Ford vehicle. It would be interesting to see Ford exploit 1990s nostalgia and launch a new Ranger Splash, though, or perhaps even a Splash version of the recently-unveiled Maverick pickup.

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MK2 ESCORT RACE CAR: KING OF THE HILL

There have been a number of awesome Escorts built and raced over the years, but this Mk2 Escort race car and Austrian Hillclimb Championship contender is surely among the best of them all.

Feature from Fast Ford magazine. Words and photos: Robb Pritchard

Arches, splitters, wings, diffuser. It looks like something straight out of modern DTM. But the familiar rectangular grille with two round headlights is such a contrast of eras that it takes a moment for your brain to register what your eyes are seeing.

Pikes Peak may be the world’s most famous hillclimb event, but the sport is incredibly popular in parts of Europe too (the really hilly bits!), and because of the lack of rules regarding builds, it’s the place to see some seriously impressive race cars – such as this absolutely stunning Mk2 Escort race car. But it certainly isn’t just for show: this Escort competes in the Austrian Hillclimb Championship in the capable hands of its creator Christopher Neumayr.

Mk2 Escort Race Car

The story starts with a 17th birthday gift from his grandma – a BMW 318 that, without going into any incriminating details such as speed limits, he managed to park on its roof on a quiet country road. The next two cars also ended up the same way, so Christopher’s dad, wanting to focus his son’s obvious need for speed in a more controlled environment, allowed him to use his precious RS2000 in a local hillclimb event.

“It was a really nice car. It was light so had a great power-to-weight ratio and handled really well.” Unfortunately, in one of his very first events something broke and pitched Christopher head-first into a wall at very high speed. He was lucky to come away with just a few cracked ribs and bruises. But the car? The impact was hard enough to push the engine and gearbox back so much that the rear axle was bent. Needless to say, there wasn’t much left to salvage…

Mk2 Escort Race Car

From their hospital beds, many people would have looked at the photos of the mangled mess of twisted metal and pool of mixing oil and coolant flowing down the road, and decided that tearing up mountains at break-neck speeds might not be for them. But for Christopher (who might not be wired quite the same way as the rest of us) it was a galvanising moment that led him over the next few years to create this incredible Escort from the remains of the old. No sheer rock face was going to stand in his way.

The central part of the shell is the only part left of the original car, straightened, stripped and cut out to the minimum metal allowed in the regulations. Christopher chose to run in the E1 class for non-turbo cars, as a ‘charger would put him in the top class with 800bhp 4×4 monsters, which is not the place you want to be if you plan on competing with anything resembling a budget.

Mk2 Escort Race Car

A Cosworth YB engine minus the turbo was the chosen powerplant, but it is far from standard. A Farndon crankshaft designed especially for non-turbo cars, coupled with the stroke reduced from 77mm to 72mm, allows it to rev to an incredible 10,000rpm. Cylinders were bored out from 90mm to 94mm and fitted with CP pistons from America, smaller bearings create less friction and weight, and the lengthened and balanced conrods were also from Farndon.

The head is quite special too: heavily ported on a CNC machine, it has bigger inlet and outlet ports and a special profile for the cams, which are bigger and more aggressive than the turbocharged YB designs. All this makes a healthy 304bhp on racing fuel with 187lb.ft of torque. And in a car that weighs much less than a tonne, it’s enough to hit 60mph in ‘about three seconds’!

Mk2 Escort Race Car

A six-speed sequential gearbox – made by Tractive in Sweden – also features a pneumatic paddle shift that Christopher designed himself; modestly, he confesses it took a long time to get right. The rear 909 Ford Motorsport differential and independent suspension setup is from a WRC Escort Cosworth, and is mounted directly to the roll cage just like the works rally cars. How did Christopher  manage to work out all the engineering for such a complicated transplant? “I just looked at a lot of photos and saw what part needed to go where,” he says.

He also made the front uprights, but the geometry was hard to perfect. “If the setup didn’t feel right I tried a different way,” he says. But what he means by ‘trying a different way’ is completely scrapping the previous version and fabricating a new design…

The suspension is three-way adjustable by KW, with a custom setup specific for this car. Brakes are six-pots from Tarox, but the discs are tiny, as all hillclimb races are fast and uphill so there’s no need to carry any extra kilos of steel on the wheels.

Power is important, but perhaps more so is weight saving. With the minimum limit being just 790kg, if something is not needed it is not fitted. Christopher’s car is exactly 790kg.

Aerodynamic aids are also unregulated, and if you don’t think you’ve ever seen a Mk2 that looks quite like this then you’re right. All the bodywork is unique to this car. “The splitter and wings took a lot of work cutting away foam blocks to make the moulds. It was many hours of scraping and sanding before I had what I wanted, but after about a hundred hours I stopped counting!

Mk2 Escort Race Car

“Many people have asked if they can buy a set from me. I have the moulds so I can repair the car quickly if I have an accident, but I won’t sell them. I like having the only Escort that looks like this.”

The huge rear wing and diffuser produce massive amounts of downforce. “A friend of mine has a virtual wind tunnel programme, so we entered in all the car’s dimensions as accurately as we could and ran it on the simulator, and it really helped with the setup of the car. Now I can understand how much the suspension is compressed at 200km/h without having to drive that speed in a badly setup car just to test it! I can go through corners unbelievably fast now.”

Some hillclimb events have faster courses than others, so like in many high-speed, high-technology racing series both the wing and diffuser can be adjusted. Weather conditions affect setup as well. If it’s a wet event everything is tuned to maximum downforce.

Mk2 Escort Race Car

Generally the courses are short at just a few kilometres, so getting off the line as quickly as possible is key to getting a good time. The three-piece BBS wheels are the same size front and rear, as the MBE ECU’s traction control measures the turning of the front wheels to control the spinning of the rears. The ECU programme has eight vectors for changing the start mapping from wet to totally dry. It saves a couple of seconds per run… and cost €4000. Christopher estimates he’s invested over 1000 hours into the build. “I finished it when the car was as good as I could get it, because who wants to drive a crappy car?” he shrugs. Apart from the time, the cost just in parts is around €70,000.

The first race was in May 2014, and it was terrible. “There were problems with the electrics, with the engine, and the ECU was completely confused with the traction control.” It was another 18 months of development to get everything working properly – a year-and-a-half working until 2am, designing, fabricating and testing.

Christopher’s gritty never-give-up attitude finally paid off when he came away with his first win, three-and-a-half years after the crash. “It was such a great feeling,” he smiles. There were so many times that I wanted to give up because getting the car as fast as it needed to be just seemed so far beyond me, but a lot of friends and fans encouraged me, and that always motivated me.”

And Christopher’s not finished there. In his quest for ever faster times up the hill, he’s recently started a WRC-spec Mk7 Fiesta build, which he reckons is on course to set him back a cool €250,000!

In the meantime, Christopher is content to keep getting his hillclimbing kicks from his awesome Escort.

Mk2 Escort Race Car

Tech Spec: Mk2 Escort Race Car

Engine:

Naturally-aspirated Cosworth YB 2.0-litre with shorter stroke (72mm) using custom Farndon crankshaft and conrods and custom CP forged pistons (94mm bore), CNC-ported cylinder head, custom high-lift cams, throttle bodies within custom carbon airbox with intake kit, four-branch exhaust manifold into custom exhaust system, dry sump system with custom breathers and tanks, MBE ECU with custom wiring loom, custom cooling package, 10,500rpm rev limit

Power:

304bhp and 187lb.ft (on race fuel)

Transmission:

Tractive six-speed sequential gearbox with custom paddle-shift, twin-plate AP Racing clutch, Escort Cosworth rear cradle with 909 Ford Motorsport 9in rear diff

Suspension:

Custom three-way KW Suspension coilovers, Escort Cosworth WRC independent rear suspension conversion

Brakes:

Tarox six-pot alloy callipers with custom non-vented discs

Wheels & Tyres:

BBS 10x15in three-piece split rims, Avon super-soft slicks

Exterior:

Custom carbon fibre panels incorporating one-off bodykit (moulds all owned by Christopher), custom aero package including adjustable rear wing and rear diffuser

Interior:

Full motorsport weld-in roll cage, excess material removed/weight saved, carbon panels, single competition bucket seat with Sparco belts

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