Why buy something new and boring when you can build something awesome and unique? Michael Rebolo didn’t have to ask himself the question twice.
As a long-time fan of American car-building television shows like Fast N’ Loud and Overhaulin’, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before Mike embarked on a build of his own. Although his rat rod Mini might look quite simple on the surface, in reality it’s an intricate build that took three years to get to the stage it’s in now.
It all started with an old Mini body, which in a previous life was raced here in South Africa. It came with a fiberglass front end in poor condition, but that didn’t matter as Mike didn’t need a front end anyway. Otherwise, it was full stripped and missing its original engine.
Buying what was essentially a scrap shell, the seller was curious as to what Mike planned to do with it. Mike simply told him, “I’m repurposing it.”
Body acquired, next on the list was a suitable powertrain. Mike met Fernando from Turf Club Auto Spares in Johannesburg, who sorted him out with a 327ci Chevy V8 motor paired with a 350 Turbo transmission. This combination was completely rebuilt and fitted with a Holley carb and new chrome valve covers.
Before it could light up some tyres, there was the not-so-small task of building a new chassis for the Mini body to sit on, and the engine to sit in. For this aspect of the project, Fernando put Mike in touch with Ettiene at Street Rod Factory in Pretoria – a hot rod builder of over 30 years.
Ettiene was game and started by measuring up everything before diving straight into the chassis build.
Given the full custom nature of the creation, tweaks were made along the way. The first one came when the Mini body was positioned on the new frame for the first time; Mike immediately felt it just wasn’t low enough. To get the car lower, Ettiene went back to the drawing board and returned with a solution – sectioning the frame and cutting out the Mini’s floor.
You might have noticed that the Mini’s roof is both lower and longer too, and this came about while replacing the original roof – which had a sunroof fitted – with a full metal one. During that process, the roof was extended for a hang-over visor look in the front.
The body finish was achieved through a multi-step process, but it’s not finished yet. The bare metal was first sprayed with primer, then black, then brown, and finally silver for the topcoat. This was followed up with a lot of sanding to get the colour and finish where Mike wanted it, and since then the car has been left out in the elements to naturally weather. Pretty soon it’ll be clear-coated to preserve the unique look.
On the flip-side, all of the chrome trim, glass and rubbers were completely refreshed.
For Mike, steel wheels and truck tyres were non-negotiable for this build, and the black wheel centers and white-walls look right at home. The spike wheel nuts were built by Mike’s father, who also had some input into other areas of the car.
The Mini rides on full Jaguar suspension architecture, but once the wheels and tyres were fitted Mike still wasn’t happy with the ride height. The answer? A custom, manually-controlled air ride system with the air tank mounted on the front end of the car – drag hot rod fuel tank style – and the compressor in the boot.
Once the Mini had been returned to Fernando for the engine and driveline to be fitted, all that was left to sort out was an exhaust. Of course, it had to be side-piped.
The Mini’s interior is just as cool as its exterior. There are a number of highlights in here, from the custom laser-etched wooden dash, to the chain steering wheel made by Ettiene, and the knuckleduster shift lever again made by Mike’s dad.
You could say it’s still a work in progress too, as Mike loves finding and adding odd items from classic car swap meets, like this hood ornament.
Have you ever seen anything cooler in motion? Mike didn’t build this as a showpiece – he drives it at every opportunity, with his kids tagging along for a ride most of the time. When it’s parked up at home, they play inside it.
For Mike, the Mini rat rod is a dream come true. It wasn’t a quick build, but Mike says the looks and comments he gets from people every time he takes it out makes the time and financial investment worthwhile. The clip above perhaps best sums up what he loves most about it though.