|THE MINI MAG. Volume 2 No.4|
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Well, here is another Mini fanatic. My Mini poison was injected as a very early age. At race meetings at Oran Park, Warick Farm and also I had a brother who raced an Austin Healy which I used to re-build in my Dad’s garage until the early hours of the morning, and then my brother would take me along to the race meetings as ‘mechanic-gopher’. |
Anyway, to hear a Mini at 8,000 rpm+ was a sight and sound to behold. Lifting of wheels and smoking front tires, and the smell of 100 octane and burning rubber - trying in vain to pass a car 10 times bigger than itself and twice as powerful, but still trying, trying until the flag.
My first attempt to build a sports sedan Mini came when I met a Greek guy called Lakis Manticas, a small guy who was a brilliant mechanic and could really drive a Mini. Lakis taught me how to build motors, gearboxes and how to set up the suspension for each track and explained all the secrets of such.
One day we both decided to build a buckle Mini. We purchased most of the panels from a BMC dealer and fiberglassed them overnight, sending back for credit the next day, we built the car in the BP service station at Mossman. The car was known as the ‘LMS’, which stood for the Lakis Manticas Special. The car was born, and I was proud of being part of making that car along with Lakis. Way back in the 1960’s the care lapped Oran Park short circuit in the 49 second bracket and was dominant and every track it went to. Then, the down-side: there was so many complaints about the car’s shape that the 850 Sports Sedan Association banned the car from competing. I had my first lesson in the controlling bodies of motor racing at work.
Everywhere you went - the drive-in, around the block, or just going for a drive, there were Minis screaming around everywhere. All with a loud exhaust coming out of the centre of the car out the back or GT stripes down the middle of the car, which was all the go in the ‘60’s. As a younger person, I sold cars for Gilbert’s of Waitara, and there it was - a beautiful ‘Lake Green’ Cooper S. which I purchased.
We tuned-up the car, gave it a polish, stuck on the numbers and I first raced it at Warick Farm in Sydney. It was a great track to get your teeth into. I lined up on the grid sixth - scared to death. My left leg shook, my tongue was twice its normal size, and then the flag fell .... Well, I drove flat-out like I was possessed. It was only five laps, but I won and equalled the lap record on my second lap.
I then lined-up at Oran Park and won that race too. Feeling overconfident, I entered a series production race at Amaroo Park, Sydney. They had four categories combined in one event. You spent most of your time dodging the other larger competitors. Well, that was except for one - I still remember the crash as though it was yesterday. The car that hit me was a Phase 3 Falcon. The sign on the side of the car said “Keith Whitehead Marine” - and that was going into Dunlop Loop. I mounted the dirt bank in third gear and rolled 12 times end-for-end - totally destroying my beautiful Cooper S and my over- inflating ego. That taught me, don’t stick your nose in where it’s not wanted - and that stuck with me throughout my motor racing career.
Lakis sold me a Group C touring car, which I fell in love with. It was lighter and a heap more grunt. It was 1293 cc’s and I entered it in Bathurst Easter weekend. There were two races that day - one was wet and I had a fantastic dice with Lynne Brown in his lightweight Mini, which I won by a nose.
The next race was a mixed event with a large field of different cars, mostly sports sedans. I led the under 1300 class and noticed to my amazement I was catching up to the under 2000 cc class leader as well. I recall reading my Smiths Chronometric Taco, which was reading 9300 down Conrod Straight clocking 127 mph - 1 mph slower than the broadspeed Mini which was a lightweight imported from England by Laurie Stewart, which got the tag as the ‘fastest Mini in Australia’. With one lap still to run, I managed to pass Phil Ward driving his BDA-powered Ford Escort down the straight on the last lap, which to this day, I still can’t believe - and neither can he!
Still not satisfied for power, I continued to race the car, improving it in every race. The car had all-alloy panels, perspex windows, Mini lights 10 x 6. Then one day, I was doing some private practise and Oran Park and was standing by the side of the track. To my amazement I saw a Mini going so fast it made my car look like a toy. The car was owned by a famous Mini driver called John Leffler - a very hard peddler indeed. What I noticed first was the sound of the exhaust coming straight up through the bonnet and it made little noise. It wheel-spun the entire length of the straight. It was the fastest Mini for those three laps that it stayed together and then it blew up. John pitted with no pistons and was swearing obscenities at the car and said to me “do you want to buy this f.........ng turbo charger Paul?”. In a flash I bought the engine, took it to my workshop in Crow’s Nest in Sydney to figure out and redesign the intake system and fix the fuel distribution problems. I read everything I could find on turbo-charging, and in those days you couldn’t give one away. The average person who didn’t understand the obvious potential for this technology. Remembering the wheel-spin problem, I had adjustable airofoils fitted front and back to create downforce to reduce the wheel spin, which worked great but only the top end of third gear when you had the speed to create enough downforce.
1275 standard bore, Venolia forged pistons, gapless rings from the USA, one TS04 Chevrolet Raja turbosharger, 45 DCOE Weber, 22 mm. chokes, no waistgate, 3 inch exhaust system, Holly blue fuel pump with regulator, no brains and a big pair of balls ....... The engine would last 8 laps at Amaroo Park, then melt 20 mm. off the top of every piston, flowing alloy out of the exhaust pipe. Five hours later, the engine was fully rebuilt and installed back in the car ready for the race the next day. Lining-up on the grid with a cold engine, 30 grade Castrol, cranking-up the engine with 10 seconds to go. The flag falls... you drop the clutch at 8000 in first gear. Boost 8 pounds. Short-shift to second gear, boost 12 pounds. Flat-change to third gear, boost 23 pounds. Flat-change to fourth gear, boost 30 pounds. Now, as exhaust load increases, so does boost pressure. So as you go up the hill at Amaroo, boost pressure increased to 34 pounds making it sort of like driving in the rain when it’s dry.
Anyway, the big day came. This time I had some star-studded performers to mix it with. Allan Moffat’s Boss Mustang, John McEwan’s Porsche Carrera and other monster V-8 machines. It was an 8-lap event. By lap 5 I was third. By lap 6 I was second. By lap 7 I was first. I lead that fire-breathing Coca Cola machine with Allan Moffat crowding me up against the side of the hill going up towards the loop. I lead with two corners remaining .... The melt-down then occurred, spewing oil and parts exploding in all directions, along with my heart ..... I have spent the rest of my life trying to make those last two corners, but anyway, not many Minis got to pass the calibre of cars that it did. I sold that car that I dearly loved and proceeded to build a rotary-powered Mini, which cost \\$35,000 to build. It was space-framed, had magnesium centrelock wheels, a FT 200 Hewland gearbox was purchased from England, had three radiators and two oil coolers. It Lapped Oran Park 44 seconds, Amaroo Park 51 seconds and was clocked at Surfers Paradise at 152 mph. It was a difficult car to keep tyres on as it wheel-spun in fifth gear. I then sold that car to the Hume brothers in Melbourne - that car is still competing today with a 12A Rotary and it laps Calder at around Group A times.
I started Mini Mania in 1992, and rented a small factory at Burleigh Heads, which has now grown into three factories.