As a boy growing up in Europe, Tony Goncalves fell in love with the Mini Cooper. "I wanted to own one before I was old enough to drive," he says. After owning several Minis, Tony began to realize that older British cars require constant attention, and reliability can sometimes be an issue. His comments reminded us of the old joke about why the British don't build televisions--they can't figure out how to make them leak oil.
After being in the body shop business for many years, Tony decided he wanted to build a Super Mini. How-ever, not unlike the cobbler's kids, Tony worked on everyone else's cars but his own. In fact, his Mini had been sitting for years, waiting for some kind of transformation. Then, along came Carlos Tavares, who was also a Mini lover, and together they decided to proceed with a project. Carlos brought in his car and the dream got under way. After some discussion, Tony decided to keep only the body of the classic Mini and chose a newer, faster mid-engine platform on which to build the muscular Mini. This not only increased reliability, but also improved the performance and handling.
Many configurations for the mid-engine came to mind, but the Toyota MR2 was chosen because of its size and reliability. Tony acquired an '85 MR2 and took a lot of measurements. "We wanted to make it look different but still keep the Mini recognizable," Tony says.
The MR2 was stripped, and Carlos shortened the chassis by taking 11 inches out of the center with a chop saw. The two halves were then joined together and braced. "Next, the floor from the Mini shell was cut out, and we started mating the two cars by trimming here and there until the Mini shell fit over the MR2 frame," he adds. The gas tank is stock MR2, but also had to be shortened 11 inches to make it fit in the original, under-console location. The Mini's engine bay now houses the radiator, cooling fan, and A/C condenser. After all this was done, the MR2 chassis was still driveable, and the engine was never removed. It took about a month to mate the body to the frame.
Once the chassis and body had been fitted together, the wheels and tires were ordered. The suspension was modified with Carrera coilover shock kits, Eibach springs, and Gab inserts. With ride height set, it was time for the body modifications. Keep in mind that the width of the MR2 was kept intact, which at 65 inches is about 10 inches wider than the Mini. Also, Tony went to 16-inch wheels and tires instead of the standard 10-inch Mini wheels. The tires are Michelin 195-45/16 in the front and 225-40/16 in the rear, mounted on Typhoon 16x7-inch wheels. The front suspension is MR2 struts that have been modified, and the rear are also modified MR2 components. The car features a wheelbase of 80 inches, a height of 46 inches, and length of 126 inches, still mini by most automotive standards. Weighing only 1,600 pounds, the MR2 Toyota's 1,600cc engine provides a quick ride, and with the suspension package, the car handles like a go-cart.
Next came the body modifications. Foam was poured around the Mini, and Tony began the painstaking task of shaping and working out the design. "We wanted something different, but didn't want to retrace the curves of the Mini body," he says. "We also didn't want to just add bubbles over the wheels."
Tony started at the front of the car because it was the hardest to modify. The new front wheels were aligned with the front of the car, so he needed to design the bumper in a way that didn't cause it to resemble an add-on. The shape of the flares came out the way they are because of a seam on the Mini body, just below the headlights. After about an hour of hand shaping, the design began to emerge nicely, and the rest of the project was relatively easy.
After seeing the body shaped in foam, several people immediately wanted cars. It took about a month to make the plug for the fiberglass molds. After the parts were taken from the mold, epoxy was used to bond them to the steel body.
While Tony performed the bodywork, Carlos worked on the interior. Since Tony and Carlos wanted to keep as many MR2 components in the car as possible, the stock dash and console was modified to fit the smaller interior. Sev-eral small, carbon-fiber pieces were added to the dash to enhance its appearance. A new Sony stereo system was installed, and carbon-fiber door panels were fabricated to complete the interior appearance. All carbon-fiber work, including the rocker panels, was done in-house. A roll-cage was designed and installed for safety and extra rigidity for the chassis.
The car was built during the shop's off-hours, and took about four months to complete. Mechanically, everything is Toyota. The car has air conditioning, cruise control, and an electric sunroof (from an Audi). After much discussion, the car was painted with a DuPont smooth yellow base, and clearcoat system.
Tony is still a bit unsure how he will offer his Mini design. He has fiberglass molds for the whole car, but he's still trying to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the cut-down MR2 chassis vs. a custom tubular platform.
At the recent Northern California Kit Car Club's annual show in San Leandro, we presented the prestigious Editor's Choice Award to Tony's Mini, because of its refreshing novelty, and the obvious amount of work that went into this prototype of what we predict will become a popular kit.