116bhp A-series Lockdown 1440 Mini Mk1 fibreglass bootlid
As the whole world locked down, Gaetano Palumbo got out in the garage and got busy…
Words Daniel Bevis
Photography Well Chuffed Media
OUT OF THE BLUE
As the world locked down, Gaetano got out in the garage and got busy
Once the shell was perfected it was painted in Honolulu Blue
If you take a straw poll around the Mini Magazine office to see what everyone’s opinions are of the borderline-retro boyband Blue, you’ll get some mixed responses. Jeff loves them, obviously, because their brand of radio-friendly motherloving beats feeds into his nature as a sparkly little pop tart. Chuff has a surprising fondness for them too, having once spotted Antony Costa in a branch of Costa Coffee; the coincidence seemed like a glitch in the Matrix, and now he reckons Blue are just a pandimensional troupe of buccaneers masquerading as a slightly crap boyband. Jon isn’t really bothered either way, as long as they don’t interrupt the football. Ade hasn’t paid much attention to the hit parade for a while, all these young whippersnappers making a racket. And me? Well, sorry, but I’ll have no truck with that sort of nonsense. It’s not so much the cheesiness of the lyrics or the clichéd production that puts me off, but the fact that All Rise presents a thoroughly illogical image of how courtrooms work.
“It was in need of a full and thorough restoration inside and out”
They haven’t even done the most basic research. And worse than that, their claim to ‘have the city on lockdown’ in Fly By II may have sounded cool back in 2002, but it was a slap in the face for all of us in 2020. The very idea that they were cruising around in a lowrider with the system up and the top down, while the rest of us were confined to quarters and working our way through the deepest recesses of Netflix – well, frankly, that’s a scumbag move. Honestly, who’s their frickin’ hype man, Dominic Cummings?
Not everyone, however, was watching Tiger King and baking banana bread throughout lockdown. A small percentage of people managed to drag their backsides away from the sofa to achieve somethinguseful; some even made it as far as the garage, and that’s precisely where you would have found Gaetano Palumbo throughout the early peak of the pandemic. A government-mandated decree to bolt the front door and hide away from other organisms of all types was just the push he needed to crack out the spanners and get started with building the Mini of his dreams.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
This is all really a natural progression for Gaetano, as he’s been keen on taking cool cars and making them cooler for a fair few years now. Elsewhere in his diverse affections these days we find an Audi R8V10 and a cunningly turbocharged Fiat 128 – and why did he choose a Mini as his corona distraction? It was a fortuitous barn find, actually. Well, sort of. “My dad owned the car, but he’d never got round to finishing it,” Gaetano explains. “It ending up being left in a barn for a number of years – and when I ‘found’ it in there, it was in need of a full and thorough restoration inside and out.” And that was all the impetus he needed. All of this was inevitable really; once the seed of the idea has been planted, there’s no way it’s not going to happen. It’s the same feeling you get if you’re sitting on the sofa watching telly and start idly wondering about having a jaffa cake, or if you’re on a road trip and begin questioning whether you might need to stop for a wee: basically, if there’s anydoubt, there is no doubt. The Mini needed a restoration and, with time on their hands, that’s precisely what Gaetano and his father did – a full nut-and-bolt resto, carried out together.
But this wasn’t to be a straight-down-the-line rebuild to factory specs. Oh no. With dreams of performance motoring perennially dancing through his head, Gaetano had a keen idea of the Miniplatform’s potential and a clear vision of how to exploit it to his own fabulous ends. “It took around eighteen months from start to finish,” he continues. “My father de-seamed the body while I set about making the custom-vented steel bonnet, and once the shell was perfected it was painted in Honolulu Blue by some family friends at FB Coachworks – where I’d previously worked and learnt some basic body skills.” The commitment to a unique aesthetic was total; de-seaming has been making a bit of a comeback of late (and it’s executed with magnificent flair and panache here; just look at the sumptuously reshaped gutter around the top of thedoors), and this old-school treatment has been brought kicking and screaming into the present with the tasteful addition of carbon fibre. Arc Angels carbon bumpers are fitted either end, and indeed this racy weave has become something of a theme throughout the car: the arches are carbon, and peeping through the window you’ll spot that so are the dash, rear shelf and doorcards. The interior has a properly racy vibe in fact, thanks to its Safety Devices rollcage, Cobra buckets and Sparco harnesses. And this is no stylistic gesture, this is wholly appropriate for the level of power the Mini is now enjoying: “The engine was completely stripped andrebuilt,” says Gaetano. “The head and block were machined at a local machine shop, Jenkins Engineering, while the gearbox was refurbed at Hardy Engineering.” The specs of the drivetrain are truly impressive today too: the A-series has been stretched all the way out to 1440cc with the combination of 1380 Omega pistons and a Cooper S crank. It’s all lightened and balanced down in the bowels, with the top end wearing a Stage 2/3 head and MED hi-lift 1.3:1 rockers along with a fast-road cam. Fuelling comes courtesy of a juicy pair of Webers, and you know things are getting serious when an A-series is packing twin 40s.
“We’ve just completed the final power runs to see what kind of figures it’s making,” he grins. “We got 116bhp and 120lb.ft at the wheels, which works out to 125-128bhp at the flywheel.” Safe to say that this is one very happy Mini owner. As we’ve emerged blinking back into reality over the last couple of years, some of us have cultivated a world-class TV tan while others have something tangible to show for the slowdown. You see, the crux of all this is that Gaetano’s whole project was achieved in circumstances way beyond anyone’s control, but he refused to just sit back and let the pandemic years pass him by. Out there in the garage with his dad, just the radio for company, they’ve created something to be truly proud of; something wonderfully positive out of such a negative time.
They, er, probably weren’t listening to Blue though.
Dynamic Details — best detailer in the business, he and I spent an entire day polishing it up. FB Coachworks. And the old man, for making sure that I’d tightened all the bolts.
1440 motor is a masterpiece, making some seriously impressive numbers
Draws a crowd wherever it goes. Of course, we did take it to a very popular tourist spot..
- BODY Honolulu Blue paint, de-seamed shell, Arc Angels carbon fibre bumpers, carbon arches, Mk1 fibreglass bootlid, Mk1 front grille, custom bonnet with metal scoop
- ENGINE 1440cc A-series, fully lightened and balanced, 1380 Omega pistons, Cooper S crank, Stage 2/3 head, MED hi-lift 1.3:1 rockers, fast-road cam, twin Weber 40 DCOE carbs, custom rocker cover with breathers,
- MAX POWER 116bhp
- MAX TORQUE 120lb.ft
- SUSPENSION Protech dampers, adjustable hi-los, camber kit
- TRANSMISSION 4-speed manual, cross-pin diff, 3.4 final ratio
- BRAKES Mini Sport 4-pot front calipers, 7.5” discs, Minifin rear drums
- WHEELS AND TYRES 6x10” Force Racing Mamba split-rim alloys, 165/70 Yokohama Advan-032R tyres
- INTERIOR Safety Devices bolt-in rollcage, carbon fibre dash, carbon parcel shelf, Arc Angels carbon doorcards, RetroSport DSN switch panel, handles and window winders, Cobra bucket seats, Sparco harnesses, OMP pedals, Sparco steering wheel, Sony head unit
Custom bonnet is all steel. Props to Gaetano for driving down to Bath for the shoot. He doesn’t live anywhere near Bath!
Huggy Cobras are a highly regarded choice.
High-end finish features oodles of glossy carbon fibre