Mini ERA Turbo

ERA is a name with a glorious past – and in the summer of 1988, the owners of the marque approached Rover in order to revive the name on a very special Mini.

This is what happens when you put a turbocharger under the bonnet of a Mini… a little bit of magic.

Turbo’d fancy…

ERA Mini re-enacting the famous scene from The Italian Job

ERA Mini re-enacting the famous scene from The Italian Job

THE Mini revival of the late 1980s was a welcome, if unexpected bonus, for Rover Group that seemed to be growing in confidence with each new model launched. Japanese demand for the small car was unprecedented, and John Cooper soon carved himself an enviable business crating out tuning kits and various other retro accessories for keen Far East owners to bolt onto their most British of cars.

Cooper wasn’t the only one to recognise the massive potential of the Japanese market – or indeed the Mini itself. Interest in classic cars in general was ballooning at the time, and plenty of other companies wanted to cash in on the boomtime years. The ERA Mini Turbo was a car conceived to bring the Mini upto date in terms of performance and handling, while retaining as much charm as possible from the original car… in fact, what the company set out to create was a modern Cooper – even though that was close to getting on the drawing board over at Rover Special Products (RSP).

In 1988, ERA set out to engineer a car to the highest automotive standards, and there would be no compromise on engineering quality. Fresh from its work on the M-Series engine, the links were already there, and so the new Mini project would use as many tried and tested standard Rover components as possible, and should minimise the use of special tooling to avoid lengthy testing and uneconomic production batches. It should be easily and readily serviceable by any Rover dealer.

With that in mind, it remained instantly recognisable as a Mini, and was distinctive from its humbler brethren. Interior trimming was lavish, and equipment levels would be high, as to satisfy the inflated wallets of the customers who were clamouring for such a car. Unlike some of the more specialist Mini and Metro models which took things to extremes, the ERA may have enjoyed high equipment levels, but the essentual classicism of the original Mini remained – therefore, there wre no digital instruments or super-modern gimmicks.

All those additions…

The ERA started life as a part-built Mini City, arriving from Austin Rover as a shell with headlining, glazing, and subframes. Accommodating the turbo of the 1275cc Metro engine required part of the bulkhead to be cut away while, to aid cooling, holes are let into the rear of the bonnet and covered by a discreet bulge.

ERA set out the Turbo to the fastest ever production Mini, but not by using an intractable high revving competition engine. Using a turbocharger would deliver excellent torque characteristics and mid-range performance.

Boosted by a Garrett T3 turbocharger that was also used by the MG Metro Turbo, the performance was ample. Thanks to modifications to its ECU, the turbo produced more boost – up to 0.48bar at 6000rpm – although it was tailored back at lower engine speeds to keep combustion pressures below the detonation threshold.

There’s no intercooler so the charged air is blown directly into the SU HIF 44 carburettor and then into the A-Series engine. Power is up by 1bhp over the Metro to 94bhp at 6300rpm, and torque is upped to 87lb ft at 3600rpm. Performance claimed by ERA was 8.8secs for the 0-60mph run, and a maximum speed of 110mph. Thankfully the chassis was upgraded to cope.

In terms of styling, the bodykit was styled by Dennis Adams, the designer of the Marcos sports cars and the Probe concept car. It was an aggressive effort, and despite the company’s protestations, it had plenty of boy racer appeal. Matching the high price tag, the quality of the kit was excellent, and strong enough to survive everyday driving – and if you took a close look at the radiator grille, you’d have seen it was straight off the Italian-built Innocenti Mini-Coopers.

The interior is almost totally changed. Gone were the standard Mini seats and the ‘bus driver’ driving position, and the welcome drop in noise levels added refinement to the Mini mix. Specially designed and tested sports style seats were installed, giving excellent support and comfort. The dashboard sported a full range of VDO traditional dial instrumentation on an entirely new instrument panel.

A sunroof was fitted, and complemented the combination of best Connolly hide, cloth, ambla and deep sound deadening carpet.

On the road…

Put simply, the ERA Turbo was a Mini with a Metro Turbo engine (a popular conversion in subsequent years), featuring fat wheels and uprated brakes. The 165/60HR13 Goodyear NCTs, and the 6Jx 13 five-spoke Track Star wheels were well covered by that controversial bodykit – but they did allow oodles of lateral grip. ERA’s suspension tweaks worked a treat. The idea was to banish torque steer, and it worked – understeer was reduced, and lift-off tuck-in was a bonus that came to those who liked to push on. The ERA was a breeze to drive down a typically twisty English B-Road, but physically demanding all the same.

According to Autocar & Motor magazine, the fun was hard to contain: “The donor MG Metro doesn’t boast state of the art turbo technology and lag can be annoying at times, so it is curious that ERA’s modifications seem only to accentuate this trait. Boost has been raised from 7.5psi to 8psi which raises peak power fractionally to 96bhp at the same 6100rpm. But an unchanged peak torque rating now seems to arrive higher up the scale; precious little happens below 4000rpm – roughly the point at which the engine sounds as if it will shortly asphyxiate. Instead, it finds itself whipped up to 6000rpm in very short order. Even with only four gears, this means that the ERA feels impressively rapid in a rush though the box. Should corners intervene, the ERA zips through them with delightful nimbleness.”

Despite all that, the ERA wasn’t over the top in terms of price – yes, it was expensive, and you could buy a very nice Volkswagen Golf GTi 16V foir the same money as this hotshoe (list was nearly £12,000), but for the Japanese who loved that sort of thing, it was money well spent.

Brief specifications:

Engine Four cylinder inline OHV turbocharged
Displacement: 1275cc
Compression Ratio: 9.4:1
Maximum Power: 94bhp at 6130rpm
Maximum Torque: 87lb ft at 3600rpm
Performance Max Speed: 115 mph
0-60 mph: 7.80 secs
30-50 mph (2nd gear): 3.40 secs
50-70 mph (3rd gear): 6.30 secs
Standing 1/4 mile: 16:60 secs

Taken from

Production details by colour were as follows:

Cars made for the European Market, signified by the letter ‘R’ as a prefix to the four digit ERA serial number embossed on a brass plate riveted to the slam panel.

Numbers of ‘R’ prefix Cars Produced by Colour

Red (Flame Red 89) 30 consisting of: 22 Full Production; 6 Pre-Production; 2 Prototype(1 Targa Red)
BRG (British Racing Green) 56* 50 Full Production; 5 Pre-production; 1 Prototype (1 HNA Green)
Black 9, 8 Full Production; 1 Prototype
White 4, Full Production 3; Prototype 1
Silver 3, Full Production 2; Prototype 1

Total Production 102*

*Note: Of this total: 3 BRG coloured cars were later converted to Japan Spec, re-numbered and exported. 1 was stolen and dismantled. 1 was written off. Cars specifically made for export to Japan, identified by having no sunroof but fitted with Air Conditioning in lieu. These cars also have a wider body kit, to satisfy Japanese regulations, concerning wheel exposure, and a moulded central box at the front to accommodate Japan format number plate.

These cars have the prefix RJ to the four digit serial number embossed on the plate fitted to the slam panel. All cars are full production.

Red (Flame Red 89) 157
BRG (British Racing Green) 180
Total 337 (which includes 3 BRG cars that were re-engineered from cars listed on the R Prefix List)

Posted in: Mini - Classic
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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