Minis are probably some of the most recognizable cars on the road, even though they’re not all that common anywhere anymore. Most of the Minis you see today are probably driven by enthusiasts rather than commuters, and some of the most extreme versions are currently being made by David Brown Automotive in England.
The Mini Remastered, as it’s called, is said to be the last word in classic Minis. And at nearly $110,000, it had better be.
(Full disclosure: David Brown Automotive invited me to have a spin in the Mini Remastered on a sunny London afternoon. I met them at a fancy hotel by Battersea Park, was given some fizzy water, and thrown the keys to a manual and an automatic-transmission car for a few hours of play.)
First, you may be thinking that the David Brown in David Brown Automotive is a play on the David Brown of Aston Martin. Not so, though you could be forgiven for making the assumption.
This David Brown got his start in earth moving equipment before selling up and moving on to more high end businesses. Currently, as well as owning David Brown Automotive, he has a a number of other projects including a brewery, a stone import/export business, and he’s invested in a high end property company. (Also, unlike Aston Martin’s David Brown, he is very much alive. David Brown Automotive is named after a real person called David Brown, just not that one.)
Anyway, David Brown Automotive is the car company for people who want nice things that stand out. The Speedback apes the look of a classic, but is based on modern mechanicals (a Jaguar XKR convertible if you really want to know). It’s full of convenient tech, and certainly looks distinctive, though you’d hope it would be considering it costs around $700,000.
It’s a car for people who want the best, and something different, all at once. With its Mini, David Brown Automotive isn’t looking to throw some new rims on an old Cooper and call it a day.
It’s a Mini. A small car that’ll seat four people and take a modest amount of stuff as far as the fuel tank allows. Its wheels are pushed as far to each corner as possible to maximize interior space, and its dinky 1.3-liter motor provides… some grunt. Or at least, that’s what it is underneath all of David Brown Automotive’s work. See, the VIN, engine, and gearbox are original, but the rest is new.
Once an order is placed, a Mini is sourced and gutted. Its engine and ’box are rebuilt, while the David Brown Automotive team gets busy with the rest. A body is sourced from British Motor Heritage (old Minis tend to rust the moment you look at them, so a new body is kind of a must), and work begins creating whatever the customer wants.
The body is de-seamed and e-coated so it won’t suffer the same ravages of time the original cars fall victim to. The rear lights are modeled on those from the Speedback GT, while the headlamps are super bright halogen units. A few other cosmetic tweaks like an engraved filler cap, new badges, and some pretty cool bullet wing mirrors find their way on there as well.
You can have pretty much any paint combo you want–as evidenced by the three-tone car I drove–and you can go nuts on the interior as well: An alpine-themed test car had wonderfully furry floor mats.
There are a number of convenience options to choose from, including a heated windshield. But basically, customers are truly offered a blank canvas. So the spec process can take some time. Add that to the 1,400 labor hours it takes to build the cars, a David Brown Mini can take a while from conception to reality.
In fact, I’m told there were 2,500 inquiries from folks wanting one in the first 12 hours after the car was announced in 2017. Considering the company is aiming to build its 50th by the end of the year, the wait may be a long one if you place an order today. DBA hopes to be building 200 a year by 2021.
You can throw down for the standard 1275cc motor, or have a breathed-on 1330cc lump instead. Each car gets power steering because, well, six-figure customers need it. In the UK, before options, it retails at £90,000, which is roughly $110,000. For a Mini. The end result, whichever color and spec you go for, should be your perfect Mini.
The hotter-option 1330cc motor gets you 83 brake horsepower and 90 lb-ft, while the 1275 nets 71 BHP and 88 lb-ft, quite the difference for a 1,631-pound car. According to DBA, the lower-powered car will get you to 62mph from rest in 11.7 seconds to the perkier car’s 11.2. Both will apparently top out at 90 mph.
DBA also estimates that it’ll crack 35 MPG during mixed driving.
Man, this thing is fun. I had an afternoon to play in the Mini Remastered around the streets of London, and while lots of it was typical traffic (England was neither built around the car, nor has it ever fancied adapting to it), the free stretches were hilarious. You can hurl the little Mini around corners, nail the gas and create lots of noise without going anywhere near the speed limit. It feels pretty brisk when you need it to as well–few things will keep up with you away from the lights.
You know how if you have a crash you want to walk away from it? Well, that means cars are big, with thick pillars, chunky airbags hidden away to protect your face from getting turned to mush, and meaty crash structures to stop the door folding in on you. The side effect of this is that modern cars are huge... and it makes this car feel even smaller by comparison. The Mini probably won’t fare too well in a smash, but it’s tiny. Want to get through a gap that’ll cause your ass to pucker in a Golf? Go for it. Tiny spot to parallel park in? You’ll fit.
People freaking love to see a Mini. I have a set route to test cars through the middle of London, it goes through basically all of the landmarks (Buckingham Palace, Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, etc) and is usually crawling with tourists. Tourists are a good gauge of whether you’re in a cool car. The more people smiling, nodding, taking pictures, etc the cooler it is.
Naturally, I took the Mini through the usual route. People were all over it. It was admittedly pristine, but it’s also a rare sight on British roads despite being so stereotypically British. You don’t get that reaction in a new MINI, and you certainly don’t get it in a supercar.
While the primary portion of my test drive was in a five-speed stick shifter, I spent a bit of time with an auto-equipped car. It’s slushy, sluggish, and feels pretty antiquated. If you really hate rowing your own gears and live in a city that’s wall to wall traffic then it would make sense. Otherwise, it’s not worth your time.
The two cars I tried were early builds, but in one the door trim was a little more mobile than I’d like for a $100,000 car. On the other, it was fine. It could have been a result of journalists prodding and poking it, or it could have been a fixing failing to do its job properly.
Speaking of early builds–the air conditioning works really, really well. I was neatly chilled in my little box of fun. However, when I turned it on while stuck in stationary traffic, the power suck caused engine power to momentarily but noticeably drop. There’s a lot of load on the small mill, but it was a concern.
The Mini may have been a miserable way to go on a family holiday in the ’60s, so I’ve been told, but as a way for getting around town it’s tough to beat. It’s so small that any gap can be leapt into with ease. In fact, gap hunting becomes so entertaining you end up darting around like a fly just to see what you can get yourself in to. Its size also means parking is easy–though because it’s so small, you only end up taking up a tiny part of a spot that would make modern hatch drivers nervous.
The 1330cc motor fitted to the test car is a wonderfully revvy thing. It makes a delightful farty noise as it goes about its business, and it makes you reminisce for a time when cars made distinctive noises. Its 83 BHP isn’t much, but it’s enough to shoot you to 30 mph with ease. Once you’re there, you can shove it in third and it’ll sit there all day.
Except you don’t want to cruise all day, because its five-speed stick is hilarious fun. There’s next to no travel on the clutch pedal, meaning you simply stamp your foot down, plug over to the next ratio and lift. It’s fast and mildly addictive. There’s not much puff available in first and second, but enough to get you to the limit briskly enough. When you’re in full-on race mode getting away from the lights, slinging yourself around corners, or aiming yourself at a gap it makes you feel like you’re in The Italian Job. Wonderful stuff.
David Brown Automotive added power steering to its Remastered Mini. Original cars, obviously, didn’t have it, so it’s an odd sensation here. It’s decently weighty so you still feel like you’re doing something to make the car go, and you still get some feedback from the front. This is, you could speculate, because customers may like the idea of a classic but don’t necessarily want the workout they provide.
Much like the gear shift, it’s a riot to fling around city streets. Your arse is a few inches off the ground, the car sounds like it’s doing a billion miles an hour, and everything outside seems very large–everything around you is amplified. Turn-in is quick, and you get a little bit of lean while you hammer it around each bend. Inside the car you feel like Paddy Hopkirk on the Monte Carlo Rally, outside you probably look terribly slow.
Weighing in under a metric ton means there’s not much for the dinky brakes to have to stop. They’re pretty decent in a hurry, though planning ahead is always a good idea in an old car, even if it’s been gone through. Just in case.
We’re talking insane money here, and those who decide to spend it (and they have) will get the Mini of their dreams. Their color, their trim, their spec… all theirs.
If you’ve got the time, you could probably build a pretty decent approximation of your own for a tenth of the cost, which is probably what you’ve been thinking since you found out how much these things cost.
Those who buy these things likely have neither the time nor wrench skill to pull it off, but they know what they want and can afford to have it.
As a money-no-object thing, this Mini Remastered is a wonderful toy. It’s characterful, fun, good looking, and offers low-speed thrills by the bucketload.
However, it’s massively expensive. You can have a lot of car for the entry fee to a DBA Mini Remastered.
But, dear reader, you and I are mortals with the readies to buy and maintain one, maybe two cars at a time. These are to be added to a collection, left at a holiday home, or used as a toy by people who have the means to drop big money on small things at the drop of a hat.
The Mini is an ace car, always has been and always will be, the David Brown Automotive Mini Remastered is as well. But a really pricey one.