If you read off a couple of the initial stats about this car before seeing it in the metal, you’d naturally be led in one direction. Twin cam engine. Super lightweight. Bright yellow nose. Competition-tuned coils. You’d think classic performance Lotus, right? Then you’d continue to read down and things just wouldn’t add up. Bolt-on steel wings. Built in Birmingham. Does that say leaf-spring suspension? A pickup body?
This car features an unholy mash-up of classic concepts that seem poles apart, yet have been made to work seamlessly together. Adam Kent-Smith’s plan with this build was to create the Morris Minor you’d have wanted to buy if you walked onto a British Leyland forecourt back in the ’70s. A Lotus Twin Cam powered Minor Pickup. The fastest way to move sheep in the west.
Being beautifully finished and authentic on the outside just makes the fierce growl this 1972 Minor produces even more incongruous, and awesome. The gearbox, freshly installed, is ferocious – just like the engine. The glorious Lotus Twin Cam revs infinitely, daring you to push harder. This is a car that will blow the minds of regular sportscar drivers when it looms in their mirrors, just before they’re consumed by a major monster of a Minor.
A decade or so back, you could perhaps have asked legitimately, ‘Why a Minor’? Loved by a hardcore, perhaps more pitied by the mainstream, thankfully attitudes have changed towards this humble car. Volkswagen Beetles were fortunate to be adopted early into the modified scene: the image of low-slung Bugs with the backdrop of a sun-drenched Californian vista was always going to make them more attractive than the thought of a stout and boring Minor under a rain-soaked British sky.
Yet that hardcore have persevered – and expanded. Converts are flocking to the Minor as Beetle prices get ever more ridiculous and the myriad opportunities presented by the Minor platform have become clear. The Minor is a close fit to the Beetle ethos on every level; the incredibly diverse things you can do with them and the sheer number that were made. Minors are not rare things; even this model is considered a limited version and yet 326,000 pickups were sold between 1956 and 1972. That’s of well over 2.5 million Minors in total. You can pick up a wreck for peanuts.
More and more I’m seeing Minors proudly displayed at car meets where once they may have been nervously tucked away in a corner, and not just neat and tidy originals. Nose-down hot rods. Slammed track-day specials. Performance vans. They’re all out there, and now seen in increasing numbers. This Lotus Minor Pickup is a fantastic example of just what you can achieve. Whereas Pickups were once just the thing for moving hay or even sheep around farms, now this Minor is aiming at moving round the UK’s tracks – fast. It’s exciting, it’s different; classic and yet raw.
The surprising thing is how stock the body is; new and beautifully restored, yes, but with fresh eyes a Minor Pickup is pretty cool straight out off the farm. The pickup tail has tall, imposing sides; the nose that little downward slant – partially a result of its new suspension setup, but it will retain that feel even after bedding in.
Adam is a self-confessed serial classic car owner. He’s owned several Morris Minors, starting with a Pinto-engined one when he was 20 and including another V6 supercharged variant, alongside various Triumphs, Sunbeams, Jags and one defiantly non-British excursion, an out-and-out quarter mile monster ’55 Chevy. Adam’s new Minor Pickup project followed on from owning another Minor pickup about 10 years back, but one he’d bought ready-restored. Builds are personal things, so it just lacked the connection that he was after.
His plan was to start from scratch, creating a performance pickup themed around what was available in the ’70s. Adam wanted a period engine and had prepared an A-Series, but hadn’t considered the Lotus Twin Cam until a friend happened to pop round in his Elan. A light bulb came on; some quick measuring confirmed that with a bit of work the engine could fit in the Pickup. The salutary lesson here is, never have friends when you like modifying cars. They’re terrible things, insinuating devilish new ideas into perfectly well-formed plans.
Once that seed was planted, the project crystallised. The Lotus Minor Pickup should look like it was a factory option, that when you strolled into the dealership this was simply a spec you could choose, like the practical version of a Lotus Cortina. It had to be period correct wherever possible, though not to the detriment of safety or core performance.A Pub, A Chassis, An Engine
As with so many builds, it started with optimism, enthusiasm and a box of rusting parts. Seven years ago Adam bought a donor Pickup and found himself staring at a pile of bits and a chassis literally in two halves. It’s that point where fear, uncertainty and doubt could have rightly set in. Luckily, fate would provide an unused though old chassis – fate being a drink in a pub, the classic place for such things to occur. Firstly, you normally need a drink or two to deal with the project that lies ahead; two, you’ll probably meet someone else doing the same thing. Adam spent a couple of years gathering together all the parts he wanted, and then got to work gathering a team around him.
Adam engaged Jonathon Heap and his expert team at JLH to oversee the build. Specialists in all things Minor and Midget, chained down in their workshop is another epic Minor: Horace, the 340hp, supercharged race beast of a Minor that’s almost as wide as it is long – though that’s another story. After they made sure that everything generally fitted together, the chassis and panels were stripped and blasted, repaired as necessary, painted inside and out and then prepared for reassembly. The exterior appearance looks perfect, but the important thing is that Adam knows that all the invisible bits have been attended to as well.
Where possible, original panels were tracked down (such as the front wings, tail-gate and floors). There were to be no short-cuts. For the pickup rear, rather than looking at the typical starting point for rot at the base of the panels, they meticulously reconstructed the entire unit from the frame up. Original panels are almost impossible to source, so fresh parts were laser-cut and TIG-welded in place. The finish is definitely straighter and better quality than original…
The chrome front bumper has been reduced to a subtle metal strip around the valance; race-style pegs hold the tail-gate up whilst rubber stops serve as both stops and a small measure of rear protection.
The original fuel filler cap is restored and shining on the rear exterior of the bed, though now the hose leads to a blank, the actual competition-spec fuel cell under the deck having its own direct filling point.
The paintwork is exemplary; you can always tell the quality of a finish just by touching it. The colour echoes the classic mid blue so often seen on Minors, but is a brighter, fresher colour: a two-pack BMW Mini Ice Blue in fact, sprayed and lacquered so that it gleams under the sun.
The yellow grill makes this Pickup stand out on a number of levels. Not only is the obvious nod to Lotus in colour, but the crinkled texture means this is an even rarer Austin Minor, rather than the more typical Morris. Adam’s Pickup is actually one of the last 800 to ever roll off the production line.
Whilst JLH toiled away on the body, Adam concentrated on the loud bit. He’d actually built a 1380cc A-Series engine to go into the Minor Pickup, with the idea of upgrading it with a twin-cam conversion kit, until that fateful delving into the Elan changed everything. Putting a twin-cam engine into a Minor isn’t completely new, but a Fiat or Alfa block is the typical solution, or even something completely different and modern like a Ford Zetec.
However, not only is this a iconic Lotus Twin Cam, but it’s a seriously uprated Twin Cam. Tuned to around 160hp with 135ft-lb of torque – up from around 105hp as standard – this is one hardcore unit. To put that power in context, the Minor Pickup weighs in at around the 800kg mark. 800kg.
Authentic Twin Cams are not cheap things to get, even in poor condition, but with the concept locked in there would be no wavering. After a lot of searching, Adam used John Smirthwaite at JS Motorsport to source and prepare an appropriate block, with the specific aim of fast road and trackday use.
JSM supplied a donor engine for Adam and JLH to work with whilst he crafted the actual Twin Cam into shape. It looks factory fresh on the outside, but on the inside it’s anything but standard; bored out to 1,660cc, with forged pistons, gas-flowed and ported heads, high-lift cam, bigger valves, lightened and balanced crank and con rods, high pressure oil pump and twin 40mm Dellorto carbs. Pretty much everything you’d want to do, hence that substantially increased power.
With the intended output far exceeding anything the Minor was originally built for, strengthening and bracing was added in across the car. The rear cross member of the engine bay was trimmed back to fit the Twin Cam, and the cab then reinforced.Making The Morris Dance
There are only two big areas where Adam has deliberately gone away from ’70s parts: the gearbox and suspension. The ’box is a reconditioned quick-shift Ford Type 9 unit, with heavy-duty internals and new ratios to handle the power – more than enough in fact. That’s matched to a lightened flywheel and an AP Racing competition clutch.
Of course, the basic lever arch suspension would never cut it with the Minor’s new role, so Adam went for JLH’s bespoke competition kit, with full coils all round. The lovely detail is that the rear leaf springs have been left in place, which means at first glance you could think that it’s still packing the original setup.
In fact, you get the perfect solution where softer leaves hold the axle in place but the fully adjustable coils do the work; four-link suspension with Panhard rods stop any axle tramping, and it’s all picked up from the existing mounts.
The rear axle is from an Escort with RS halfshafts, linked to a Quaife limited slip diff. Braking is taken care of with 4-pot 260mm vented disks with HiSpec Motorsport 4-pot callipers up front and 8-inch drums at the rear, so it stops as well as it goes.
The cockpit is a beautiful place to be: clean and simply laid out. Once strapped tight into the Willans harnesses and the Twin Cam is burbling away up front, you have to pinch yourself to remember your in a Minor – and a Pickup at that. The attention to detail is obvious throughout. For instance, the iconic hump on the dash that contains the Minor’s basic switchgear is there, but the aficionados would notice that it’s just that bit wider. A new piece was custom fabricated to contain the new dials and switchgear that the both the Lotus lump and more modern conveniences required without losing period style.
The layout looks period and authentic, not drawing attention to the addition of things like the push button starter. There is a new wiring loom threading its way through the car, powering modern conveniences like a 12V charger and USB slot. The original placement of many ancillary items was pretty poor, so for practicality they’ve been tidied up, things like the indicator stalk now controlling the water jet and high beam.
The wooden steering wheel was tracked down at a classic car show. It’s not a Lotus piece, but the boss tops it off perfectly.
For the seats, Adam had a pair of old Healey low-backs stashed away, rather mice-chewed and sorry for themselves. But after some expert attention this is the stunning result. The tan leather with light blue piping looks classic and classy, and their pedigree again matches the period spirit of the build. Another Healey part is the gear knob, complete with its original overdrive switch – not required on this build of course, but enough to cause confusion and surprise for anyone looking in!
Those race harnesses aren’t there for looks: they pick up from the original seatbelt hard points, secured at the top to welded, strengthened mounts on the bulkhead.
The pedals are old school originals. I love the embossed M logo on the clutch and brake, though the throttle pedal looks tiny and fragile on its long stem. Adam reports that its small size doesn’t cause any problems with feel: tiny pedal goes to big power.
The metal door cards and chrome sills lead on to the stunning metalwork throughout the pickup, all created by Concept Racing. They bespoke crafted all the race-style aluminium items, such as the radiator, header and oil catch tanks and big fuel cell.
All the ancillary items are cleanly tidied away, using existing runs or convenient mounting points that all go to retaining that factory-fresh look on the outside.
The battery and servo are on the chassis rail – there’s a whole lot of handy space under the pickup bed – and although the exhaust manifold had to be bespoke made, the side-pipe follows the original layout under the cab and exits at the same point.
Adam took the wheel for a quick blast around the countryside; the looks on people’s faces as we howled past was priceless. The pitch of the Lotus engine would get their attention, then they’d see what was carrying it. I can’t imagine this car getting anything but beaming smiles of joy from all who witness it.
Back on firm ground and with the noise of the Twin Cam still in my ears, there was a final chat about the future of the car. The chassis, suspension and ‘box have all been deliberated specified to handle north of 200hp, able to handle something like a BDA. A BDA you say?… Ah yes, that’s a distinct possibility as a follow-up, if no other project gets in the way. Although I hear that something else has, indeed, already got in the way!
People have commented that the restored Lotus engine might be worth more than the car, but the value of this Minor is definitely in the sum of its parts. The engine is the heart, but the Minor is its soul. Sure, a modern sportscar could wipe the floor with this Minor around a track as far as lap time is concerned, but I think there’s no doubt who’d have more fun or make more impact. Not only that, Adam could even carry hay bales whilst lapping in this most aggressive of humble utility vehicles… Or maybe some very concerned sheep? Now that really would confuse people at track days!