Z Cars Mini


The Mini has always been capable of more.

Even in standard guise, it hunted muscle cars around race tracks like wasps harassing a nervous child – a testament to its handling prowess, low weight, and predictable handling. Clear from the rally and race track success was that it could cope with more power.

The star of our latest video was the ERA Turbo, a solution using a turbocharged 1275cc Metro version of the engine with a few extra modifications, giving that Mini a 94bhp output. With this engine needing a bit more room, it was pushing the limits of what the stubby engine bay could accommodate. So, is that the limit?

No way. There’s plenty of room in a Mini, the World Record for people in a Classic Mini stands at 27, achieved by Dani and the mini-skirts (UK) on 18 May 2014. But if you don’t need to get too many people in (no more than two, preferably) you can always use that extra space for an engine. Or two.

Sticking an engine behind the drivers means you’ll almost certainly be switching to a rear wheel drive layout too – completely changing the Mini’s handling from “like a go-kart” to “even more like a go-kart”. The conversions need to be done well, though, and over the years Z Cars has tried and tested a few different solutions to get to the point they’re at today.

Z cars mini twin engined R1

In a previous life, when known as Z Cars Ltd and with different owners and priorities, they famously managed to get two Yamaha motorbike engines working together, despite each having its own gearbox, to pump out around 350 bhp.

It was never going to be a usable vehicle, for one thing, you needed to make sure you swapped cogs on both gearboxes simultaneously – a problem ‘solved’ by Z Cars Ltd by simply having a single sequential shifter which was attached to both ‘boxes.

It was, ultimately, a bit too radical, but it showed more than ever just how capable the Mini was at coping with ludicrous power outputs.

Nowadays, Z Cars (Z Cars Evolutions Ltd) is a much more refined place run by new people and with an HQ in Kent rather than Yorkshire and produces high-quality ‘restomod’ type conversions as well as mid-engined track toys.

Their current demonstrator, for example, is a replica of the blue Mini from The Italian Job. At least it is from the exterior. It’s a beautiful, respectful and aesthetically-pleasing car, which boasts modern mechanicals and interior.

The engine is a government-satisfying Ford-sourced 1.0 Turbo Ecoboost, which is small enough to be housed in the bonnet and drives the front wheels. Nevertheless, this little Ecoboost, as seen in cars as large as the new Focus, is capable of flinging a dyno’s needle all the way up to 140bhp. A huge jump over the original Mini’s power.

As well as a modern engine, the interior is also re-worked and uses sophisticated modern solutions, including electronics sourced from a Porsche Cayman for the seat adjust, and much more besides.

We’ve seen similar restomods before from the likes of David Brown and even the new Swind E, but with those options costing close to £100k Z Cars’ beauty (at under £50k) is looking even more appealing. The spec of the showroom car, for example, would set you back £45k. This car also boasts a 5-speed gearbox, a great solution for vehicles which have 13 inch wheels (or smaller) – giving more flexibility than the original 4-speed without the ratios being packed too closely like they would be with a 6-speed.

If you’re someone looking for an incredible small car this one manages functionality and effectiveness without sacrificing aesthetics. This is a capable car and not simply a plaything for the rich to hide away. It’s designed to be used daily and may be the most ideal solution for people who want a beautiful, quality vehicle – but don’t want a car which struggles to get into parking spaces and drinks fuel.

That’s not to say there isn’t still an appetite for a mid-engined Mini with an on-track, kerb-hopping, rear-tyre smokin’ mindset and the ‘new’ Z cars can offer a usable solution for that market too. These can be created with bike engines or car engines like the 1.6 Ecoboost from the Fiesta ST (as chosen by Z Cars for a current Mk1 Mini project car), Honda’s K20, and even VAG 2.0 TFSI engines mated to DSG transmission.

Incidentally, they’re also working on the original Fiat 500, the Mini of choice for Italophiles, and have demonstrators sporting a 2.5 Subaru engine and one with a Hayabusa unit for real screams. More on those Fiats another time…

For now, though, the Mini mayhem means Z Cars should be onto a winner with their well-engineered, charming Minis. Who could resist the appeal of out-performing supercars in a car which, from the outside, appears to be a classic Mini?

And whatever you thought about the madness of that original twin-engined Z, there’s no denying the current crop of Minis produced by Z Cars is a far more viable solution to Maxing the Mini.