Concepts and prototypes : Rover Minki 1 and 2

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

AROnline is committed to telling the complete history of BMC>MGR – especially by sourcing original accounts from those on the ground, who can provide readers with the definitive inside view.

Former Rover Group and MG Rover Engineer, Pete Bourne, recalls his involvement in one of the most fascinating projects from the Rover Group in the 1990s – the Rover Minki 1 concept. Here’s his account…


Plenty a good tune played on an old fiddle

Rover Minki 1 and 2: The Mini shape lends itself well to a hatchback rear end, as these images prove.
The Mini shape lends itself well to a hatchback rear end, as these images prove

According to an old CV of mine, Minki 1 was built during 1992. My memory of events is not that clear, but I will do my best to tell you as much as I can.

At the time, the Chassis Development Workshop was in the Flight Shed. We were pretty much self-contained with vehicle ramps, pit, test rigs and equipment, machine shop and welding area. In addition to this, there were offices for the Chassis Development Engineers.

During this time Rob Oldaker had moved the Chassis Department into the same function as the Styling Studio. This meant we were all upgraded to ‘red’ security cards and enabled us access to some of the more secret areas including at times the Styling Studio at Canley.

Tony Spillane: manager of the Rover Minki 1 project

The Rover Minki 1 project was a small-scale affair, and was managed by Tony Spillane. I was selected to help him. I was a hard worker, very inventive and had proved myself very capable in niche jobs.

Interestingly, Tony had built himself a three-cylinder diesel Mini which he used daily, and I believe he used it to sell the Minki idea to upper management. It used a Mitsubishi engine and gearbox. I thought this was a little crude, but an interesting concept.

Tony came into the workshop to discuss things and present some drawings and sketches. The basic plan was to build a buck to show a three-cylinder K-Series engine with end-on gearbox, and a running prototype with a standard Mini powertrain, but with Metro suspension and a modified driving position.

A three-cylinder engine powered the 1982 ECV3 prototype – it was the grandfather of the K-Series engine, which powered the Minki 1 prototype.
A three-cylinder engine powered the 1982 ECV3 prototype – it was the grandfather of the K-Series engine, which powered the Minki 1 prototype

The Rover Minki 1 comes together quickly

Tony was a natural at finding all the bits and pieces, and the buck was getting built very quickly. The buck would also have a Rover Metro front subframe installed, which had to be heavily modified to fit the Mini Body In White (BIW).

The buck engine was basically a four-cylinder, with the number one cylinder cut off. Another buck existed at Canley, which had a tailgate and a completely new dash. This dash would eventually come to Longbridge and be installed into the Minki prototype.

Wynn Thomas and Tony Hunter were responsible for the dashboard, and an evolution of this ended up in the MINI (R50).

Making the Minki work

I undertook the installation of the subframe in the buck and was responsible for the initial powertrain fit. The buck then went up to the Buck Shop for finishing off. The main Minki donor arrived shortly after and was stripped down completely. Again, I did the majority of work on this car, and – again – we cut down a Metro front subframe, modified it to suit the Mini body and installed inter-connected Hydragas suspension.

At the front, we had to split the Hydragas units vertically, as a standard one would not fit. The upper gas sphere could then be fitted in the wheelarch and connected to the lower part of the unit by steel tubing. I recall the first run on the road being disappointing as this tubing was far too small to allow a decent flow. We soon fitted large-bore tubing.

At the back, we used a standard mini subframe and modified it to accept Metro Hydragas units. To save money on the Metro, they used the same-sized Hydragas units for front and rear. This meant that the rear units exerted far too much pressure and the back end would be on its rebound stops.

Suspension ingenuity

To alleviate this, helper springs are inserted which act against the Hydragas unit. On Minki we could not use these so we hunted down a pair of old Hydrolastic springs from an original Mini. These came from a scrapyard in Stoke Works.

Another thing Tony wanted was a better driving position. We cut and shut a standard Metro steering column and angled it to get away from the standard bus-like position. I think we also moved the seat rails back a little to give more clearance to the knees.

The car was then handed to the Chassis Development Engineers to tune the suspension.

Meeting Moulton

Alex Moulton was consulted during the development of the Rover Minki 1 project
Alex Moulton was consulted during the development of the Rover Minki 1 project

During the project, Tony invited me to join him in meeting with Alex Moulton down at his country estate. This was a magical experience for me. Alex was very inviting and settled us down in his study – he talked and listened intently.

Alex took us out in his personal Hydragas Mini, which only had two seats: one for his chauffeur and one large armchair in the back for Alex. We later took this car back to the workshop for investigations and testing.

After the ride, we had lunch served to us in his dining room and, after that, he showed us around his cycle factory – a lovely day… Eventually the programme was shut down, and Tony and I went our separate ways onto other projects.

After Minki 1 comes Minki 2

From what I gather, when BMW came on the scene, one of the first things they asked was what the plans were for Mini. This caused a bit of a panic, and management soon asked for Minki to be brought back to life. Unfortunately, Minki 1 was scrapped off by the finance people at Canley!

Tony was asked to develop a plan to build another Minki Prototype, but this time had more resources to play with and Minki 2 was going to be a much grander affair. I was assigned to the job and Tony soon came down to see me and talk over the plans.

The Minki 2 would now be a four-cylinder K-Series engine with an R65 gearbox, Hydragas suspension, Metro steering column and pedal box, and Metro seats. We had no parts left from Minki 1, so everything had to be done again from scratch.

Making the K-Series fit in the Minki

Because of the wider powertrain, the Minki body would have to be cut down the middle and widened by 50mm. I believe that Tony came up with the idea that they should also add 50mm to the length to give more leg room.

The BIW work was all done at Canley and, once painted, it came over to me where I had already been working on the mechanicals. We gradually built Minki 2 up and then came the day to take her out. It really worked very well ‘out of the box’, as we used to say. It was now time to get the ride and handling chaps onto it. I supported a lot of the suspension tuning as well as Vern Houghton, another Chassis Technician.

Tony actually came across an advert in some motoring mag, showing a four-cylinder K-Series-powered Mini. He suggested we got in touch and pretend to be interested in buying it, but in reality we just wanted to take a look and drive it… Oh, what a mess! A very shabby example of how not to do things. It was also very poor on the road and was extremely harsh. We soon left.

Minki 2 gets great feedback from management

The car was now receiving some good reports from management ride and drives, and was now ready for John Towers to test it. A date was set and the car sent to Gaydon for a test drive by Towers early the next day.

An Engineer and I were sent to Gaydon to carry out final preparations, and set the ride heights. During a safety check at the end of the day I noticed a small leak of Hydragas fluid from one of the units. We were using special tuning units, which could be stripped and all the internals changed to make performance adjustments.

They were notorious for leaks. I took them out, re-sealed and re-fitted, but it continue to leak. By this time everyone in the workshop had gone including my Engineer so I was totally on my own in a secure workshop that, had I left, I would have been unable to get back in as my key card wasn’t cleared for this particular workshop.

Burning the midnight oil

We did have some spare units in the workshop’s store, but the stores were locked up! The store was surrounded by eight-foot steel panels and above them about a 10-inch gap to the roof. I decided to break in: it was like The Great Escape, but in reverse.

It was even worse the other way round carrying a pair of hydragas units! Anyway, I managed to fit these and set the car up before leaving at about 11.30pm. I believe the ride and drive went well and, later on, Minki 2 was presented to the BMW Engineers.

That was the end of my involvement with Minki, although it stayed at Longbridge for some time. Eventually, the Minki programme was halted and Minki 2 went off to Gaydon and became part of the British Motor Museum collection. I have never seen it since. I have been to the museum many times, but never saw it there.

10 Comments

  1. Wow, what an interesting story and the sort of ‘battle against the odds’ and ‘hunt for suitable parts’ Rover Group initiative I love reading about.

    I last saw Minki 2 on display in the British Motor Museum about seven years ago and loved seeing how the K Series engine and Rover Metro dashboard had been fitted.

    Thanks for sharing this story

    • Thank you David for you feedback. Working at Longbridge was a truly magical experience for me. Although we had limited budgets we just got on with it. The Chassis Engineers were world class. When BMW took over I was amazed that they had ten times the amount of Engineers doing the same job that we were doing at Rover!

  2. As I was obsessed with Minis in the 90s, I love reading about this, and I can imagine how great a car it would have been. But surely in terms of crash testing etc. it would have been a brand new car? How on earth could it survive a crash test?

    The mpi mini a few years later showed how much the A-series could still be improved, even then, but it was still lumbered with the 4 speed gearbox in the sump.

    Cut-down Rover Metro seats made it into the Mini in 1993, can we assume that was a spin-off result of this work? They were comfy, but the seatback had been shortened to allow the seat to tip forward (for some reason it couldn’t tilt/slide like in a Metro) which then meant the headrest was at shoulder height even when fully raised… and of course then the seat couldn’t tip forward any more…

  3. 3 cylinder diesel engine in a Mini – surely a Daihatsu rather than a Mitsubishi since that was the one Innocenti used in their Bertone Mini derivative?

  4. The 3-cylinder diesel used in the Tony Spillane Mini was actually the 50 hp 993cc 3-cylinder Daihatsu C-Series turbodiesel from the Daihatsu Charade turbodiesel.

    Would have been quite interesting seeing UK Minis powered by both 38 hp diesel and 50 hp turbodiesel engines from Daihatsu, though also wonder whether Minki 2 was theoretically capable of being fitted with the TUD diesels as on the Rover Metro/100?

    In reality a number of elements from Minki 2 should have appeared much earlier on a production version of the Barrel Car / Project Ant. From the 50mm increase in width / length and end-on gearbox to featuring a proper hatchback, along with an earlier introduction of 12-inch wheels and Hydragas suspension. It effect such changes would have also the installation of the 4-cylinder K-Series to be a much easier affair.

    Out of interest when did the PSA MA 5-speed gearbox that formed the basis for the R65 gearbox first appear and on what models?

    • Thanks. Was wondering what PSA models the related PSA MA 5-speed gearbox appeared in, as some claim it appeared at the same time as the introduction of the PSA TU engines while others claim the gearbox appeared prior.

      Also wondering if you know anything regarding 1991 Rover Metro SP prototype that had it reached production was to be powered by a 120 hp 1.4 K-Series Turbo, apparently the engine was also tested in the R8 though it is not mentioned how they compared to the Honda powered R8 models?

      • By SP I am assuming you mean Special Products? The only project I recall at that time was “Atom”. We built a one off in the old Chassis development workshop next to Methods Build before we moved to the Flightshed. Was a Metro. Turbo A series with Webber carbs and straight cut gearbox as I recall. Up and coming Engineer was Adam Ruddle. You will find him on Linkedin.

    • Hello Martin, yes I recall that. At the time I was still recovering from my brain injury and didn’t keep up with things. Thank you for the link. I never did manage to get back into what was my beloved car industry. I had to give it up last year after being off sick for over two years.

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