Meet the Mini Remastered by David Brown Automotive

Photography by Dirk De Jager

Seeing “remastered” branded across a favorite record can stir up all kinds of feelings. Did they make it better–or, more likely, worse? They must have messed it up, you think, shedding the original textures and muddling the mix.

Sometimes, though, a redo comes out just perfectly. Witness the heralded remaster of “Pet Sounds,” the Beach Boys classic. It impeccably captures Brian Wilson’s original vision, mono sound and all.

Can that same magic be applied to a four-wheeled classic? When the right firm grabs the right car, the answer, fortunately, can be yes. 

Topping the Charts

Some 60-plus years ago, a drawing on a napkin revolutionized motoring in the United Kingdom and, later, the world. The brief was for a small, frugal and inexpensive car for the masses, but Alec Issigonis’s concept turned out to be so much more. 

The Mini that he designed for the British Motor Corporation would become just as groundbreaking as other international icons: Ford Model T, Volkswagen Beetle, Citroën 2CV and Fiat 500. The Mini, once again, motorized a population.

In a vehicle just 10 feet long, 80 percent of the volume was devoted to passengers and luggage. Placing the engine in the transverse position up front and sending drive to the front wheels kept the setup tidy. To keep costs low, the body was designed so workers could quickly and easily weld it together from the outside. 

In the process, Issigonis created a seriously fun car thanks to its low center of gravity and tiny wheels. Issigonis actually favored 8-inch wheels but settled for 10-inchers at a time when most cars were riding on 15-inch wheels. Then John Cooper applied his magic, turning the Mini into a racing legend. 

The Mini quickly became a favorite across all levels of society, including the glitterati. The Beatles fell for it. So did Twiggy and Peter Sellers. 

By the time three Cooper S Minis starred in the 1969 cult hit “The Italian Job,” the tiny British pocket rocket was already a living legend. Steve McQueen had one, as did Enzo from Modena. The classic Mini soldiered on until 2000, at which time BMW already owned the British brand.

Back in the Studio

Countless Minis have been remastered over the years, with results ranging from terrible to just fine. But backing up, what is there even to improve? 

To answer those questions, it helps to understand one of today’s Mini tuners. Meet David Brown (no relation to the DB of Aston Martin fame). This David Brown is a U.K. entrepreneur who oversees various projects. The most important one, perhaps, is his own brewery. 

Call it a modern take on a classic shape–although a classic shape that remained in production through 2000. David Brown’s version of the Mini adds subtle, modern touches, from a/c to the slightly updated taillamps. 

He’s also an avid driver and lover of classic cars, although he has tired of their incessant unreliability. So, in 2014, he set out to marry his enthusiasm for all things classic and British to modern dependability. The resulting Speedback GT combined an aluminum body with Aston Martin DB5 styling cues and Jaguar XKR underpinnings. His appreciation for British craftsmanship is obvious in the attention to the woodwork, in the fine leather, and in the many Union Jack-themed details. “Britannia rules” all over again.

Back to the Master Files

David is now applying that same formula to the classic Mini. It looks ordinary at first, but then you start detecting the oddities. The funky rearview mirrors are definitely not original, but they don’t look out of place, either. 

The straps across the bonnet are a nod toward “The Italian Job.” And the three additional fog lights form a strong visual reference to the Monte Carlo-winning Mini Coopers. 

There’s more: Notice how this car does without the seams found on the original Mini? As remasterings go, this is a thorough one. And you can have one, too.

Francis Robertson-Marriott at David Brown Automotive explains the procedure: “Either you will bring us a classic Mini with the paperwork, or we will find you one. The state of the car is not important, because we change pretty much everything.”

There is a caveat for anyone who plans to register the car in California: Then the donor needs be from 1967 or earlier. 

More power, yes, but also a bit more weight. The modern Mini still needs about 11 seconds to reach 60. 

Next, the shop completely strips the car. New bodywork is delivered through British Motor Heritage, the company that holds the rights to the original tooling for the Mini. “At the same time, we have the welds removed,” Francis explains. “They were a weak point in the original Minis. We will also give the body-in-white an e-coat treatment before it goes to painting.” 

Paint quality at David Brown Automotive is exceptional. In this case, bringing the remastered Mini up to the required standard takes four weeks, and the styling options are many. The shop’s catalog contains 12 standard colors on offer, “but pretty much anything is possible, really,” adds Francis. A rainbow-themed car? Judging by one of the shop’s finished projects, someone was enjoying the Sgt. Pepper aesthetic. 

The engines are modernized as well. The basic offering is a 1275cc four-pot offering 71 horsepower; that engine in bored-out form goes to 1330cc and 83 horsepower. Both receive modern fuel injection and a Motec control unit. 

And if you want, you can swap the four-speed manual for a five-speed or even a four-speed automatic. The wheels grow to 12 inches and are paired with Yokohama rubber. LED bulbs are fitted. 

Pretty much the only thing that stays the same is the chassis number, so these cars still qualify as old-timers. That means they can dodge current standards. 

Inside the Control Room

The updates continue in the cabin, which exudes a noble air that just can’t be duplicated with faux leather and engineered wood. 

The trademark Mini driving position remains, with a fairly straight-out steering wheel that demands some stretching of the arms. The high-placed gear lever stays as well, but both the wheel and the shift knob feel extremely upmarket. 

The shift knob is finished with high-quality leather, while the replacement steering wheel is a David Brown creation: a fully wooden unit with visible rivets holding the rim together. It’s a beautifully crafted piece that was first used in the Speedback GT. In the Mini, it again provides a delicate interface with the machine. 

The brushed aluminum used for the pedals and steering wheel wouldn’t look out of place in a private library. The gauges are newly made by Smiths and look stunning. 

There is some modern technology present as well, but it’s well integrated. A USB plug hides in the glovebox so occupants can charge their smartphones on the go–or connect to the multimedia system, if need be. 

Next to the gear lever, you’ll find the start-stop button and two very decorative toggles that operate the windows. Even the cup holder looks like it was taken from a design magazine. And, thankfully, air conditioning has been added. 

Anything we didn’t like about the interior? A contemporary dashboard replaces the stock gauge pod, meaning those cubbies found in the original Mini aren’t found here. The aftermarket Pioneer multimedia system also looked a little out of place. 

These Go to 11

It’s the thoughtful details that make the difference. The car feels more modern than a classic Mini, especially in this plush environment. But at the same time, between that classic seating position and the thin pillars, it remains every bit the original Mini you remember.

BMW’s new MINI may offer a modern take on the brand, but it’s really only a Mini in the brains of those marketing it. If there’s one thing the Mini Remastered makes clear, it’s that you can fine-tune a Mini, but you can never replace the original. Take the wheelbase over 10 feet, and it stops being a Mini.

Thanks to Stowe College (stowe.co.uk) in Stowe, Buckingham, U.K., for providing us with this magnificent backdrop.

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