We test out the latest David Brown limited edition model which brings an eyebrow-raising price tag to a Mini.
In the latter days of my school education a good friend had an original Mini as his first car, and I don’t think he’ll mind me saying that few can have combined such naive fearlessness and irrepressible enthusiasm for driving flat out behind the wheel of that British motoring institution as he did.
Oh how we giggled uncontrollably as one near-death experience was quickly followed by another, the raucous howl of the mercilessly thrashed 1.0-litre A-series emanating from a bodyshell two-parts rust to one-part filler, and covered in a variety of shades of British Racing Green that had seemingly been applied by a blind man with an assortment of aerosol cans. I think in modern terms we might have been called a ‘menace to society’.
Matters got more serious with the arrival of a 1380cc motor, which replaced the gallantly expired 998cc lump. The new engine promised the frankly terrifying prospect of over 75kW, a number of quite some significance given the car it was in can’t have weighed much more than 650kg. Unsurprisingly, but perhaps inevitably, that car ended up unintentionally ploughing a field, but ‘big’ engines in old Minis have always subsequently appealed, and hence the considerable excitement at sampling the 1450cc Oselli motor fitted to this, the – deep breath – David Brown Mini Remastered Oselli Edition.
When I first set eyes on the Mini Remastered, my brain persists in saying something isn’t quite as it should be. I stare, squint and then stare some more, but fail to put my finger on it until someone points out the shell has been de-seamed. It’s this removal of excess metal, along with the modern LED headlamps and black chrome details, that give the car quite a different look. Personally, I like my Minis as God – or Issigonis – intended, the seams like character lines on a familiar face, but you may of course think differently. David Brown Minis are built up from a new British Motor Heritage shell, and the finish certainly looks impressive.
Oselli’s history goes back to the 1960s and they’ve a long tradition of tuning the venerable A-series engine. In this guise they’ve liberated 92kW and 153Nm of torque from it, which sounds like more than enough in a Mini. Reading through the measures taken is a step back in time through the history of the tuning industry, with talk of hand polished and ported cylinder heads, a strengthened crankshaft, a racier camshaft and twin SU carburettors.
There’s also a limited-slip diff, four-pot front brake calipers with 270mm discs (the rears are still drums), Bilstein dampers and a sports exhaust. The transmission is now a five-speeder (a four-speed automatic ’box coupled to a 1380cc engine is an option), the wheels are 13-inch Enkei items, and there’s a rorty sports exhaust playing all the usual A-series greatest hits.
The Oselli engine dominates all proceedings and is certainly keen to the throttle, but it requires considerable stoking to really hit its stride, a situation exacerbated by this car’s 790kg kerb weight compared to the 600-700kg of an original Mini. David Brown quotes a 0-100km/h time of 7.8sec, which feels about right, and the Oselli Edition proves enjoyable if a little rough around the edges.
Grab it by the scruff and it’s a madcap thing, skating into corners with a sliding rear end and then tugging the wheel this way and that under hard acceleration. It’s a bit disappointing to hear the tyres rub against the inner arches during hard cornering, though, and while electrical power assistance means those large wheels don’t equate to heavy steering at parking speeds, it also contributes to an odd feeling as you turn away from the straight-ahead – a moment of vagueness before a very abrupt fall onto lock that makes it difficult to really flow along the road. It’s a very non-Mini sensation.
Still, of equal importance may very well be the fact that there are multiple colour choices of graphics to go with either the dark grey or off-white exterior, plus a hand-crafted leather and Alcantara interior with a choice of two or four seats. There’s also a Pioneer infotainment system with Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay, plus air-conditioning, electric windows and central locking. Not exactly things to shout about on a ‘new’ car, but a big deal if you want modern luxuries and functionality in a classic car.
Just 60 of these Oselli versions will be built, and they cost – wait for it – from £117,600 (AUD$207,000). Strong money, whichever way you look at it. If your perception of this British icon is encapsulated by the Mini Remastered, with modern conveniences and customisation options in a ready packaged product, but with the added performance of an Oselli motor, then I get why this might appeal.
As for rivals, well a Porsche Cayman GT4 RS costs about the same. And if you’re into something a little more environmentally conscious the brilliant Taycan starts out even cheaper than the Mini. We’ll leave that there.