Real car enthusiasts are something of a rarity.
I’m not talking about those who are just doing it for the ‘gram – they shouldn’t even be worth mentioning, but are referenced here for the sake of clarity. I’m talking about all of us, the self-confessed car enthusiasts and hunters of speed around the globe.
So often, we describe ourselves as car enthusiasts, when in fact we’re just fans of one particular automotive sub-genre. As one self-aware friend recently told me, “I don’t really like cars, just Japanese ones produced between 1980 and the early 2000s.”
I’ll put my hand up and admit that I’m just as guilty of this as the next person, although I do strive to learn and understand more about other car-related subcultures that might have passed me by otherwise. The result of this though, is that I often feel a little bit ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ when documenting cars, their owners, workshops and events.
Part of me remains envious of those who have dedicated their lives to every aspect of one particular manufacturer or model, and can list obscure part numbers off the top of their head. But, I still believe the sweet spot is someone who is capable of all of this, but is willing to stick their head over the fence to see what others are doing, and to incorporate a little bit of this into their cars.
I wouldn’t be surprised if a picture of James Kelly appeared beside the word ‘Mini’ in the dictionary, nor have I ruled out that he might have an altar dedicated to Nick Swift at home, but he’s one of those rare types that despite being clearly infatuated with Minis, is very much aware of the world beyond his own.
My mother’s first car was a Mini, but that’s pretty much where my connection with them ends. So, when James starts going through his other cars with such passion and detail I should be overwhelmed, but instead I’m caught up in his enthusiasm for them. There’s a red JDM-spec factory Mini Turbo, an original and immaculate aqua-coloured Mk3 Mini Cooper S which was one of only five ever sold new in Ireland, a cafe racer styled 1961 example with 1,380cc power and a Honda B16A-powered Clubman.
Then there’s this – James’s company car and daily driver, a supercharged 1980 Clubman.
There’s a decent bit of variety in his current list of projects (some of which we will try to visit at a later stage) but this is as good a place to start as any. James originally believed he was just buying a shell, which turned out to have a van full of parts waiting nearby. Over the course of 12 weeks, the car was fully built from that shell.
The patina is genuine, having been retained for novelty. Most of the panels on the car are its originals, but it did require new front floors, sills, door steps and a rear valance. The driver’s door is still the original, having been repaired.
The car’s original colour, Snap Dragon Yellow, has been reapplied underneath and also features subtly around the car. James describes the arches as being “weird European ones.”
The ABS Motorsport front splitter is a Mk1 Golf design adapted for a Mini. Of course, there are other details, like the Raybrig 7-inch headlights.
The wheels are Force Racing 10×6.5-inch three-piece units with Yokohama Advan A032 tyres.
The mesh design obscures slightly the KAD 4-piston billet calipers on the front, paired with KAD vented and grooved discs with EBC Greenstuff pads. The rear drums wear Mintex shoes, with all four corners being served by braided lines, a late Mini brake servo, bias valve and pedal box.
Despite its diminutive size, the Clubman still packs considerable punch. Within the de-wired Lamborghini yellow-painted engine bay lives a 1,330cc +60 overbore motor wearing an Eaton 63 supercharger sourced from a Mercedes-Benz CLK. There’s also a Jonspeed Racing Stage 5 Unlimited road/race cylinder head.
The exhaust system starts with a heat-wrapped Maniflow Stage 3 large-bore manifold which feeds into a 2-inch Maniflow system with twin DTM-style pipes. Cooling is taken care of with a Radtec alloy radiator and a 13-row oil cooler lurking behind the front license plate.
All told, it’s a setup good for around 150hp on standard boost levels.
The driveline features a rebuilt gearbox with a X-pin differential, central oil pickup and new bearings. A Metro Turbo clutch with an unsprung disc is used for engaging and disengaging the power train. It also has a neat shifter.
On the suspension side of things, the spec continues to be quite thorough. There’s Spax gas adjustable dampers all round, with KAD rear camber plates. Mini Spares supplied rose-jointed tie-rods and bottom arms along with a full poly-bush setup front and rear, and there’s an MST Japan coil spring conversion, too. Bros Garage Japan adjustable front shock mounts have also been used.
With regards to steering, there’s a Mini Sport 2.2 quick-rack, with Mondo Sport bump steer-correcting steering arms.
The interior can be succinctly described as fun. James has gone a bit wild in here with a snakeskin headliner and door cards that have been trimmed in the same material as found on his local bus service. The front seats are Recaro LX fishnets, mounted with Juran seat rails.
There’s a lot of audio as well, including a 1,000W Pioneer amplifier and dual MTX 12-inch subwoofers in a sealed box. The head unit, being located on the passenger side of the dash, can be remote control operated. Not that it’s very far to reach.
To come back around to the original point, I think that to be a proper car enthusiast doesn’t mean that you must never worship at only one altar, but just be willing to acknowledge and appreciate what other people in other areas are doing. When you combine passion and knowledge with creativity and inspiration, wherever it might be found, I believe it’s always going to be a great recipe.
I’m curious if I’m alone in thinking this, so would love to read your thoughts in the comments below. Should cars and builders always keep it within the family, so to speak, or should we all seek more variety from other areas in our projects?