1,302cc A-series Black Mini Mk1

1,302cc A-series Black Mini Mk1

It’s all getting a bit Black Mirror down in the woods …brace yourself for dark deeds, it’s all getting a bit Black Mirror down there.


Words Daniel Bevis

Photography Andy Saunders


JET BLACK

If you go down to the woods today


There was an inherent mischief to the Jet Black right from the start. A City-based special edition launched in 1988, it was notable for its oh-so-eighties fusion of inky black and lipstick red, and among its plentiful charms the model came complete with a mixtape of ‘original soul and chart hits’. Which you couldn’t play in the car because it only came equipped with a push-button radio. Buyers were, however, furnished with their own Jet Black Sony Walkman, presumably to listen to as they buzzed about the metropolis with onlookers wondering why they were driving around with their headphones on.


1,302cc A-series Black Mini Mk1

It’s this cantankerous devilment that no doubt drew the Jet Black to Steve Watts, owner of the scary woodland creature you see scampering about before you today. “As cheesy as it sounds, I wouldn’t say I chose this car – this car chose me,” he explains. “I first saw the Mini competing at a stage rally in 2002; my dad was on the pit crew for his best mate and we were servicing next to it. We helped each other out through the day and I thought no more of it. But less than twelve months later, our friend was doing some work on the car in his garage and he spoke about selling it. My dad had recently bought a 306 XSi and the family Cavalier SRi was sat on the drive, and we did a deal with that for the Mini. It was my job to list it in the Auto Trader and the back of Mini Magazine for a profit… but I got attached to it and kept ‘forgetting’ to send the details off! Being 15 at the time, I was working in a bicycle shop and agreed to pay the Cavalier’s worth of £900 in exchange for the Mini, paying it off in instalments. At the time all I wanted to do was paint it green with a yellow roof and Zeemax bodykit – thank god I realised how foolish this would be, and I fell in love with the black and red theme. I still have the V5/2 green slip in my folder which shows the sale date was 21/05/03, so by the time this feature hits the shelves we will have had it twenty years.”

“I still have the V5/2 green slip, which shows the sale date was 21/05/03”

1,302cc A-series Black Mini Mk1


OBSESSION

It’s fair to say that Minis were in Steve’s blood long before this near-sentient Jet Black decided to present its credentials.

He’d bought a 1973 pea-green Mini for £35 when he was just 13 years old, driving it around the fields and thoroughly enjoying himself. Around that time, his folks took him along to a Mini show and he immediately became obsessed; Steve’s dad had had Minis when he was younger and used to sprint one before he was born, and his mum had a 1275 GT, so all of this was spiritually a done deal. And a few years down the line, this sneaky Jet Black knew exactly what it was doing; it had originally been registered just a month after Steve was born, so it was really always destined that they would become compadres.

“I haven’t seen anything else like it anywhere, which was my aim”

There’s another dimension to all of this too. It’s something that’ll be very relatable for a lot of you. “I got into the modified car scene when I was 15,” Steve recalls. “My Max Power-style Peugeot 205 was Redline magazine featured with the previous owner, and I managed to buy it when I was 17, needing some work to get back to its former glory, which I did. Since I first saw the car in Redline at 15 it has been a life goal to get my own feature.” (Hey, we’re happy to oblige.)

“Between the wife and I, we currently own nineteen cars, and all of them are modified in some way.” Among the collection are such retro treats as the Peugeot 106 Rallye, AE86 Toyota Corolla, R32 Nissan Skyline, EK9 Honda Civic Type R, Renault 5 GT Turbo, and a Red Hot Metro to match the Jet Black Mini. Japanese tuning and car culture is chief among Steve’s affections, and this clearly manifests itself as a unique and beguiling influence on the Mini’s current aesthetic treatment.

“All of the work, including the respray, has been done in my small workshop at home with the help of family and friends,” Steve tells us. “Being a used rally car, it was a bit rough-and-ready back in the day, but I was super proud and would commute to college and take it to shows. My dad and godfather have helped me considerably throughout all these years of ownership; various engines have been in and out, my dad has been out in the garage late into the night, up at the crack of dawn to help me get it ready for shows or last-minute MOTs, and never gives up – even if I get disheartened by it. In fact, the day of this photoshoot was his 69th birthday and he was right there with me. He has fabricated various parts through the car, even little things no one notices like the top engine steady, heater valve bypass, clutch arm extension, mirror bracket, removable slam panel brackets, cutting the exhaust so it tucks into the rear subframe, even the dipstick handle.”


BLACK MAGIC

In 2010, the decision was made to give the Mini a full respray – in its original PMF Black of course, the Jet Black wouldn’t have stood for any nonsense on that front. A few panels needed replacing, but Steve was pleased to note that it wasn’t as many as he’d expected, and he was keen to keep a little of its rally heritage alive, hence the presence of the window stickers, sump guard, rollcage and so on. “The respray was done by a family friend who had previously painted my dad’s home-built Lotus 7 replica,” Steve continues. “We matched the red roof and details in the same colour. The Mini already had a red roof and the single offset stripe on the bonnet, which is something I hadn’t seen on another, so I kept that – again in homage to its rally heritage. After that, there was no way I was putting stickers on the deep black paint, so I found a local chap who hand-paints coachlines on old steam trains and traction engines. He did a fantastic job of the pinstripes and Jet Black logos, and it’s one of my favourite features on the car, to see the brush strokes as you get closer.”

The incredible detail of the theme was really gathering momentum by this stage, and Steve was fully committed to making the Mini into the very best example of itself that it could possibly be. It’s a motif that stretches right back through the car’s life with him; the chrome grille that it was once fitted with, for example, simply had to go, and the search for a correct Jet Black grille turned into a lengthy and protracted quest to find a good usable example. “After a bit of forum searching I found a lad who had unfortunately rolled his and had a few parts lying around,” he remembers. “About a month before my 17th birthday, my close mate was going to Fiesta In The Park and invited me to go; turns out the chap on the forum had replaced his Mini with a Fiesta and was also attending. He brought the grille over and gave it to me, no payment required – and I was too young to even buy him a pack of beer!”


HOMEGROWN

It’s these deeply personal stories that imbue this Mini with such a rich and beguiling texture. So much of it has been hand-crafted by Steve and his dad, like the rear diffuser that was knocked up from some spare bits of aluminium found lying in the garage, and the unique fibreglass sideskirts. “We had just fitted some sideskirt lips to my missus’ 350Z and, having never used fibreglass before, fancied a go!” he laughs. “So I borrowed one to draw a similar template, made one in wood, and attempted to fibreglass and gel coat it. The result is great and I haven’t seen anything else like it anywhere, which was my aim.

“The headlights and taillights are covered in Fly Eye tint,” Steve continues, “which I cut into one-inch squares and stuck into a chequered pattern the night before a big show. That was a late night, it took a lot longer than planned! But it was well worth it, they’ve been on for ten years now – so maybe could do with a refresh. And adding to the Japanese theme, the seats and chequered floor mats came out of two different R32 Nissan Skylines.”

It’s this spirit of ingenuity and have-a- go enthusiasm that’s led to such an interesting one-off creation, and the stories behind every single element are what give it such incredible depth and emotional attachment. And as you can no doubt imagine, after a couple of decades of relentless tinkering, it’ll never be considered ‘finished’ and there will always be new ideas to try out. Indeed, since our shoot the engine’s already been out, with Steve whimsically pondering a 7-port head or something equally raucous. “Having grown up in the same town, the car is well-known and people always come and have a chat wherever I stop,” he smiles. “Since fitting the straight-cut drop gears, heads are already turning before I can see them! I took it to a big modified car show recently too, and was placed in the outdoor plaza section along with a lot of mainly newer modified cars on air-ride with expensive wheels and paint jobs – the Mini had a great reception and I took home a 1st-place trophy, which I was surprised as well as chuffed about. Oh, and the name stickers on the windows were crossed out while we were at the church getting married, so I best update and make that official…” You know what? Mischievous it may be, but there’s actually nothing sinister or malevolent about this Jet Black Mini at all. It’s a joyful little thing. In fact, as the years and decades have gone by, it’s become Steve’s best friend.


THANKS TO:

Huge thanks to my dad for all of his help and countless hours spent in the garage with me, I couldn’t have done it without him. Thanks to both mum and dad for selling me the car originally, and to the Rillstones for their involvement. Last but not least, my wife Celia for her constant support through the highs and lows, as well as her detailing skills; she does a great job making it shine and I love having her beside me while we are out cruising the Cornish roads.

Ferrari red adds Italianate flair to the Brit/JDM mashup

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • BODY Full repaint in original PMF Black, Ferrari red roof and bonnet stripe, handpainted pinstripe and Jet Black logos, W&P Deluxe arches, ABS Motorsport front splitter, homemade sideskirts, homemade rear diffuser, chequered headlights and taillights, smoked Fiat 500 side repeaters, smoked front indicators, smoothed scuttle, colour-coded bumpers, colour-coded headlight surrounds, small clip-on mirror, bonnet lifters, removable bonnet on pins, removable slam panel, TRS tow straps, Japanese-size pressed number plates (and genuine Japanese plates for show use)
  • ENGINE 1,302cc A-series, +0.030 pistons, Kent 276 fast-road cam, Weber 45 DCOE carburettor, 8mm red ignition leads, heatwrapped LCB manifold, Maniflow centre pipe, modified centre-exit motorbike exhaust, 3-core radiator, black silicone hoses, heater valve bypass, Dennis the Menace washer bottle, sump guard
  • SUSPENSION Spax adjustable lowered shocks, hi-los, adjustable tie rods, SuperPro polyurethane bushes
  • TRANSMISSION 4-speed manual, straightcut drop gears, pre-verto clutch
  • BRAKES Mini Sport alloy 4-pot calipers, 7.5” discs, Goodridge braided hoses
  • WHEELS AND TYRES 6x10” SSR FL-II splitrims – centres colour-matched to roof in Ferrari red, Superforma PCD adaptors, 165/70 Yokohama A032R tyres
  • INTERIOR 6-point rollcage, red Motordrive bucket seats, 6-point Takata harnesses, Bam Shifts gearknob, Momo gear gaiter, Momo handbrake and gaiter, Momo steering wheel, snap-off boss kit, ZAK dashboard — customised and flocked, smoked and illuminated gauges, Takata grab handles, alloy handles and winders — painted black and red, wide-angle rear-view mirror, chequered floor mats, Sparco pedals, Sparco alloy passenger footrest, 2x fire extinguishers, push-button start, killswitch and extinguisher pull, hidden Vibe Black Air 6x9 speakers, black boot liner kit

Engine is a fast-road screamer — and the bay, like the rest of the car, benefits from that exquisite hand-painted signwriting. Names in the window are part of the journey. A seat/harness combo that would look equally at home in a drift Skyline. Matching door pulls are a neat touch. Red-and-black theme is more eighties than an MFI kitchen full of saucy Athena posters. Japanese influence is evident throughout

“All of the work has been done in my small workshop at home”

Article type:
Review
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