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OG Mini Lunatic Edition vs. NG Mini One

23/03/2013 00:28 |  Comments: 


Former car restorer, damper designer, rotary-engine guru and also an automotive engineer, but generally doesn’t talk much about his former activities. András is our mag’s Leatherman tool: when there’s a project no-one would poke with a stick, he’s the one usually assigned to carry it through. When he’s in Hungary, he works 16 hours daily, then every once in a while he disappears from the horizon. Last time he’s been seen in Auckland… Has a huge garage, lives with a girlfriend.

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Self-appointed race-driver (whenever he gets a chance), avid car sports- and sports car-lover, manager of the mother site’s blog, Belsőség, he can always be found in the middle of the noisiest gathering. Steve has had a long-running habit of remodelling his facial hair bi-weekly. A Slovakian citizen but of Hungarian nationality, he lives in Budapest now. Has a wife, two small children and a dog.

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We knew that the boys who organized the Annual 50th International Mini Meeting in Balatonfüred, Hungary, can supply us an old car – and a new one of course – and we had some vague idea in the back of our heads that the small, twisty Kakucsring-racetrack is a pretty good place for this kind of test, but we were not prepared for this kind of erection.

What was the goal then? A lot simpler plan than you might have thought: we were just dying to find out the truth behind all the company hogwash BMW had been spreading about the introduction of the new Mini. You know, the usual bullshit about the new car having the same fun-factor and agility as the original one.

So we set out to put the notion to the test. Is it the usual marketing crap once again? I was an OG (that's the old type, with the shopping cart-wheels) Mini-virgin – and so was my colleague, András – , so nobody can stigmatize us as being partial to the old one. Of course you should not take us for complete idiots, we knew that the new one was going to be more civilized, more comfortable and faster on the racetrack too. Evolution cannot be stopped, even if we like to think otherwise from time to time.

Our expectations were fulfilled as the 1.6-liter new generation Mini One arrived. It had 116 PS – no old Cooper could match this. It had clever, double wishbone suspension, bigger wheels and brakes. It would eat old Minis for breakfast. Well, at least that's what we thought at first. But then we heard some kind of angry roar behind the fence – sounds of a dogfight obviously – and we immediately changed our minds.

Instead of a nicely restored 850 cc Mk I Hydrolastic they sent us a fire-spitting pocket rocket. On 10 inch steel rims, with its baby blue paint job and chrome fittings it was the biggest understatement we've ever come across. Nowadays, when every OG Mini has speed stripes, Minilite wheels and a big exhaust, this one was something different, something good. There's a difference between look fast and go fast. The first option is for pimps , the second one is for those who know.

Why does the old Mini bite so strong?

This car was born in 1983 and at that time it was a 1000 cc commuter. Yes, it WAS. But take a closer look now: it has widened steel rims, tricky ones however, because they accept the original wheelcaps, widened wheel arches, and massive foglights - you can bet that they have real function on this car.

The thick sump guard and the perfectly fitted roll-cage made us excited. Everything was there, even the bucket seats. This little thingy is a true racer.

The engine has overcome a massive buildup. It's based on a 1275 cc BMC A-series, now with a bigger stroke. It has 1293 cc and AE Hepolite pistons with Goetze rings. The exhaust and the inlet valves became bigger too: 35 millimeters for the intake, 31.7 for the other side. These numbers are rather funny compared to the modern tuned-up engines but getting more power out of this small engine is much more difficult than you might think. The camshaft with 280/290 degrees is a modified one too, the tappets have a 1.5 ratio. Because of these, the valve springs and the bronze valve guides must be changed. Also the cylinder head is different, it's got bigger ports for the best breathing.

The compression ratio is an excellent 11:1 for this old engine. It is fed by an HIF 44 carburettor, the exhaust system is a precise copy of the one that was fitted to the 1965 Monte Carlo rally car. The ignition is electronic, the gearbox is a straight-cut one with FIA-approved gear ratios. And finally the brakes: they're small, but wear an AP Racing logo and the suspension can be adjusted in many ways. Do we have your undivided attention?

As soon as we realized that we want to compare a 30 year-old racing car with a new road car, we had our doubts. It's not a good idea. This fight has been over before it started.

But what a suprise. It wasn't. Partly due to the fact that compared to the new one the old car is a four wheeled pocket-slaughterhouse with wipers to clean your oozing endorphin from the windshield. This is joyful, pure, mechanical porn you can only get from something made in the mid-sixties. It's like a steel crack pipe without flower-power. It has 110 PS. God help us!

I was screaming out loud from pure satisfaction as I pushed the tiny accelerator to the bone and this small animal started to live under my ass. Never mind the monkey-style position behind the comic steering wheel. I didn't have time to think about that, because the car needed my full attention every second. I needed to learn how the tricky gearbox works, how to cope with the wooden brakes and the traction of the small wheels.

To modern eyes it is an ergonomic catastrophe. But this was the last thing springing to my mind, as I started to approach the next corner. The engine screamed and rattled as it missed the 5000 rpm mark with furious anger. It's Friday the 13th and I got to play Jason. I was going to kill them all.

It's madness, it's like a punch to the face: the road became an open book and you could read it with your front wheels. We had lowered the rear tire pressure so it was not tail-happy at all. The car put down all of the grip to the tiny wheels but it was a fight, a fair fight between man and machine and I loved that. I wanted to take this car home and marry it.

As soon as the madness ended I felt like I was Paddy Hopkirk. I've just won the Monte Carlo rally, I'm tired and happy but I am also quite sure that Sir Alec is is smiling down on me from above: look, a satisfied bloke got out of my car in the 21st century!

To be honest I know that I was not able to reach the limits of this Mini. It takes time, and we only had a day, so just to be fair we gave a shot to the new one.

At this point you might be inclined think that the new car is rubbish. But nothing is as black or white as it may seem. In fact, the new car – even on these horrible EcoContact tires – was 2 seconds faster. And that's a lot of a time on a short course like this. It proves that no matter how much we love the cars of the past, progress and evolution cannot be stopped.

The Mini One handles great, its brakes are good and has a precise gearbox which loves a rapid gear change. It is faster, yes. But it lacks the fun-factor of the old one. You're just sitting there in quiet and peace, listening to the radio and from a distance you hear the wheels screaming, and some kind of a noise from under the hood. That's the engine.

If the old one pushes you into the middle of the action, where everything is happening, the new one is just traveling on a Maglev-train. You feel nothing at all, just push pedals in the right order, like a mindless robot navigating the course laid out by an especially cruel engineer whose sole task is to make us dull. The feedback is good for a modern car, but the feeling is something else. It is fast, but compared to the much lighter OG Mini it handles like an oil rig in a juicy bend around the French Alps.

Keeping the ghost of the Mini alive for a modern era? I'm not sure. It's a capable compact with good properties and handling, but its price tag makes you think about buying a used one and save the rest of the money for a tuned-up OG Cooper.

The boy inside you is going to be happy with that. We know that now.

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