CALGARY — Some people never change. Malcolm Mann considers that as a good thing.
I’ve known the Scottish ex-pat for more than 30 years. When I was a teenager attempting to flog BMW 2002s, Datsun 510s and Austin Minis, the Calgary mechanic came to the rescue more than once in a mechanical pinch.
Through it all, Mann’s passion has always been the classic Austin Mini. He bought his first in 1967. He has raced them, tuned them, fixed them, and even built new ones using a mix of completely rebuilt parts from donor cars and reproduction components installed in Mini body shells imported from the UK.
However, the allure of building a Mini powered by a modern engine always intrigued him, and that’s just what one he’s done with his latest project.
“I first saw this 1968 Mini panel van in the 1980s,” Mann says of his history with the car he’s created. “I was driving to work at Raybern Motors, and it was silhouetted against the sky on 52 Avenue in Forest Lawn.”
At the time, Mann was not in a position to buy it or store it, so he told a friend about the Mini. “He bought it but didn’t do anything with it, so I got it from him about 20 years ago and it was just waiting in a corner of my shop.”
There was rust in the car, and five years ago it was mounted on a rotisserie so the bad metal could be cut out and fresh panels welded in place. Mann was not in a rush, and the work was done mostly during the winter months.
Two years ago, Mann came across an engine from a 2001 Acura Integra. Commonly known as Honda’s B-series, this DOHC engine and five-speed transmission will fit into a classic Mini using a subframe kit from Mini Tec in Royston, Georgia. The Mini Tec subframe is powder coated tubular steel and it bolts directly into the Mini, allowing the Honda engine to essentially slip right in.
“My history has been building high-horsepower Minis, and the most you could get from them would be in the region of 130 hp, and that wasn’t easily obtainable,” Mann explains. “Those engines wouldn’t last as long if you drove them hard.
“The Honda engine, with a few upgrades, makes 195 reliable horsepower in a 1,400-pound car. With that amount of power, I wanted to upgrade the brakes.”
Mann improved stopping efficiency with a power braking system from a late-model Rover Mini, a right-hand-drive vehicle. The modification required parts from an auto wrecker in Holland. “I’ve got 8.4-inch vented rotors and four-piston calipers up front and finned aluminum drums in the rear, with coil-over suspension at both ends,” he says.
Mann found a set of bucket seats from a Mazda Miata and sourced a one-piece custom carbon fibre dash. With a gauge package from a wrecked 2000 Integra, Mann can monitor the transplanted Acura engine and transmission.
Mann upgraded the front of the panel van with a fiberglass flip front end from Mini Tec. “These Honda engines will fit into a stock Mini, but it would be difficult to work on because it’s all crammed in there,” Mann says. “This fiberglass front end is extended 2.5 inches, and it gives room to run a larger aluminum radiator.”
The panel van was given Mann’s trademark stance with fender flares and deep-dish 13-by-7-inch Minilite wheels; almost every Mini he’s built has been so equipped. Another Mann trademark is the large stereo system that allows him to enjoy the Beatles and Steely Dan while cruising.
A list of custom modifications as long as Mann’s arm, including the clutch master cylinder, gearshift mechanism, intake manifold and exhaust system, helped complete the car. But it wasn’t finished until Calgary painter Rob DiVita of DiVita Auto Design laid down a custom paint job.
On the road in 2016, Mann is now ready to move onto the next project.
“I like to build them, drive them and then move them on,” Mann admits.
While Mann hasn’t changed his interest in Minis, he has made a major life change. In 2014 he sold his Auto Mann garage to Bill Ridge. Mann continues working three days a week, but is set to fully retire at the end of June. “I’m still welcome to come and use a hoist,” he smiles.
That could come in handy, as he’s contemplating building a modern-day BMW Mini, something he can drive year round.
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or [email protected]
June 4: Fourth annual Two Wheel Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on 3A Street N.E., motorcycle entry from Edmonton Trail and 38 Ave. N.E or pedestrians from 40th Ave. and 3A Street N.E., one way traffic only. Over 45 groups, shops and businesses with displays and a show and shine for all makes and models of bikes and scooters. Applications are on https://www.twowheelsunday.com. A show specifically for Harley-Davidson FXR motorcycles will be on a separate lot hosted by MJK Performance. Drop by for a hot dog and a soda, donations to the Veterans Food Bank accepted.