Do car-build shows bother you? Are they too heavy on drama without enough actual building for you? Do you find yourself more interested the actual fabrication than the fabricated drama between mechanics or cast members? Do you wonder how Richard Rawlings gets any work done with all those rings? Well, two Brits are building the kind of project car that we actually want to see, and you should be watching them do it.
Nik Blackhurst and Richard Brunning are a pair of British mechanics who run a small shop called Bad Obsession Motorsport. Both have experience in rally, kart and GT racing, both in the UK and in the U.S. Together, they build and prep race and rally cars in Shropshire, England. (Go ahead and sound that out, I’ll wait.)
Nik and Richard have taken on the shamelessly ridiculous task of shoving the drivetrain and suspension from a 1991 Toyota Celica GT-Four, known as the All-Trac Turbo in the US, into a 1980 Mini 1000. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, Nik outlines in the first episode that he intends to drive this thing legally afterward, and wants it to look as much like a lightly-modified Mini as possible.
If it sounds insane, it is, but when has relative sanity ever been part of the equation for anything that you’d consider fun? It seems hypocritical to hold anyone else to that standard, you jerk. Anyway, here we have two Englishmen, gallons of hot tea, a few puppets, and at least one wife building a delightfully asinine project car in Shropshire.
The fourth-generation of the Mini left quite a bit to be desired when British Leyland constructed them. The generally poor build quality of an economy car slapped together in 1980 was only worsened, or improved, by the passage of cruel time and the infiltration of the elements. There may be a sort of unappreciated genius in the construction, though; all the new rust holes allow for the egress of water and noxious gasses.
Despite that now obvious improvement, Nik has carefully and skillfully removed all the rust from the car, along with the wheels, the front suspension, the rear suspension, the fuel tank, the interior, the engine, the transmission, the gear shifter, the steering, and large swaths of the underside of the body. What was left, was the barest of shells, and a clean, if daunting, starting point.
The fifth-generation Celica GT-Four was an entirely different animal when it left its Japanese maker. This, of course, is the road-going version of the AWD monster that Toyota created to dominate the World Rally Championship.
This particular version, the ST 185, won four events in the 1992 season. It came from the factory with Toyota’s turbocharged, intercooled 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the 3S-GTE. It mounted transversely and mated to a five-speed manual and delivered the power to all four wheels through a more-than-capable AWD setup.
Nik and Richard aren’t the first to graft modern (or more modern) suspension into a classic looking body. Several other shops have produced interesting and deviant projects that utilize modern running gear but favor classic design. What makes Nik and Richard’s project unique is the unimaginable difficulty of cramming all that running gear into a car that could fit into an elevator cab.
The engineering challenges range from laborious to nearly impossible, and seem to occur without relent. As you might imagine, almost nothing fits within the tight confines of the Mini shell. Suspension components had to be modified, the steering has been nearly completely redesigned, engine accessories are being relocated, and the unibody isn’t even close to recognizable as a Mini from the underside.
The Celica running gear requires that each component be rethought. The turbo, intercooler, and cooling system are fully redesigned using off-the-shelf replacements in new arrangements and custom mountings. The doors now accommodate power windows and locks, despite never having them from the factory. Even the pedal assembly required significant rethinking and fabrication before installation.
Nik and Rich—I’m calling him Rich now—plan, explain, and execute the solutions with adept skill and a healthy dose of dry, British sarcasm. The result can appreciably be called “fabrication porn.”
Additionally, they planned for six months before making the first cut. Nik designed and built an absolutely genius full-body jig that serves as a platform for the work. It’s motorized and transformable to assist in almost every job they do on the car.
Thankfully, Nik and Rich decided from the project’s inception to produce a series of YouTube video episodes to document the process. Despite a slightly rough start, the episodes are really, really well put together. Nik and Rich present the project in a near-professional-entertainment-show quality and format, but don’t shy away from showing the details of how the fabrication is accomplished, all without boring you to tears.
I asked Rich why they chose video over a blog. He said:
Firstly, picture blogs are all well and good, but they don’t really get down to the nitty gritty; they’re essentially just some photos and text, not particularly inspiring sometimes. Secondly, the sheer frustration with the current crop of TV car shows. They never show you how they actually do stuff. It’s just ‘boom’ there it is on the car. The thought and design behind each decision are rarely mentioned. We wanted to show people why we do stuff along with how we do stuff.
This is what sets Project Binky apart from most shows: They stop and explain almost every design problem, and then they show you how they solve it.
We tend to have a love/hate relationship with car shows because they’re more contrived drama than actual work, but Nik and Rich seem to have fixed that. They take you through each step in detail, but they throw in plenty of humo(u)r and generally keep it from boring you. You’re not going to be watching them endlessly sanding and grinding, but you’ll get a real sense of how it all goes together without wanting desperately to skip ahead.
Though their format and style may not have the broad, polished appeal to make it to primetime television, it’s still incredibly refreshing to actually see the parts and pieces get made and installed, rather than to just see them appear on a car before hastily cutting to a “prank scene” or to someone telling us why the build has to be finished in the next few minutes.
Currently, Project Binky is somewhere near halfway done after three years, which is impressive given that both Nik and Rich work full-time jobs. Rich pries himself away from a wife and tiny children to assist in the fabrication and cut together the videos. Nik, I assume, tears himself away from a cabinet full of pale ale, whiskey, and Leslie Nielsen movies.
Once you get a few episodes in, you’ll be hopelessly addicted. Prepare yourself for some Netflix-level binge watching. When you get caught up, you’ll join a fan base that breathlessly awaits new episodes like they’re Walking Dead season premieres. Project Binky promises to be an unbelieveable finished product, but it’s the construction that is so satisfying to watch (and rewatch.)
Episode 14 should be done in the coming weeks, so plan your work exit strategy accordingly. Here’s part one if you need to get started.
Clay Weiland is a ham-fisted shade-tree mechanic when he’s not managing construction projects in Washington, DC. He has owned, driven, and modified vintage BMWs for 15 years, and one or two of them have even had nice paint.