David Brown Automotive has long planned a move this month into new factory at Silverstone. The place was planned as home base for both the Mini project and Brown’s existing Speedback business: for several years DBA has been building an ultra-low volume £600,000 GT car with styling reminiscent of an Aston Martin DB5, based on the inner architecture of the all-aluminium Jaguar XK. But with orders already reaching into production years ahead, he knows he’ll have to think again – hence the “bigger boat” observation.
Any rethink will have to start with consultations with suppliers about their ability to deliver more components, Brown says: “In the meantime, our job is to make sure the cars are ready for production in every detail. We wouldn’t want to start and then find we had to make alterations.” He understands the requirements of production better than most people: one of his biggest businesses was a dump-truck manufacturing concern that started out making just one vehicle in its first year, but built up to produce 7.5 of these mammoth £300,000-plus vehicles every day – before his firm was bought by Caterpillar.
Why choose to remake Alec Issigonis’s famous little city car? “We’d been thinking about a new project for quite a while,” says Brown. “It had to be something with a bit of volume attached to it. Remastering and improving a famous British car seemed the most appealing idea. There were some obvious candidates such as the E-type, but the Mini appealed most of all.”
For the big Remastered announcement, Brown and DBA built three prototypes to show off potential themes: a luxurious Monte Carlo, a more basic Club Sport and a traditional Classic, ranging downward in price from £85,000 to £75,000 (before local taxes).
The prototypes may look rather like original Issigonis Minis (they have identical dimensions), but they are equipped and finished to far higher standards than those ever contemplated by Austin-Morris, BL, Leyland Cars, BLMC and the rest of the straggle of companies that built almost 5.4m Minis over 41 years.
Officially, DBA refurbishes Minis, rather than making new ones, which means it will never get into the copyright trouble that has dogged other revival schemes. It works with existing cars, obtaining new shells from British Motor Heritage (a legitimate form of restoration) then sets out on a long, labour-intensive job of preparing and de-seaming them, refitting as much of the original equipment as is relevant, equipping each car with a 1275cc engine and much, much more.
Every car has a redesigned dash that looks right for the car, yet houses niceties like air-con, sat-nav, Bluetooth capability, a starter button, a classy hifi, four dashboard eyeball vents, electric windows and a starter button on the dash. The wonder is that this stuff all fits, without appearing to be squeezed in. Brown and his designer, Mike Sampson, have taken great pains to make sure the interior – leather seats, Alcantara headlining – looks compactly, professionally designed. And it does.