Brodie Brittain Racing has built some crazy cars in its time. A 1000bhp Lamborghini, a 186mph Sierra Cosworth and a 200mph turbocharged Lotus Elise are just three of the highlights: ample evidence that BBR regularly relishes challenges the rest of the tuning industry refuses to tackle.
So, when a customer telephoned earlier this year to commission 'the fastest Mini in the land', co-proprietor and semi-professional comedian Dave Brodie didn't bat an eyelid. With a proven track record in wringing more than most from the supercharged Mini Cooper S, it was just the sort of challenge he likes. But as BBR embarked on the project it became clear that Brodie and the boys had just about exhausted the potential of the supercharged motor. What they needed was a turbo.
And so started an almost complete re-engineering of the Mini's unremarkable 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, its cooling system and its electronics, not to mention significant beefing-up of the chassis and brakes. Starting with the basic Cooper S engine, BBR's team stripped and then rebuilt the engine using the company's reassuringly old-school big valve, polished and ported cylinder head, along with a BBR camshaft, high-flow fuel system and injectors and, of course, the turbocharger.
The key to the success of this conversion was getting big slugs of air into the engine and as much heat out of it, as quickly and efficiently as possible. The answer was to replace the top-mounted intercooler with an air intake and filter assembly, aided by BBR's hungrier bonnet intake, and to fit a more efficient intercooler on top of the front-mounted radiator. It's a neat and tidy installation that comfortably fits beneath the standard bonnet and doesn't cover the engine with scary-looking spaghetti.
Getting the mapping and electronics to work was a big test, as rather than junk the existing management system, which would have jeopardised the commercial viability of the project (if you're quick you can get one of these 'Phase 5' conversions at an introductory price of £16K), BBR opted to apply a little cunning and 'trick' the standard system into running with a turbo instead of a supercharger, by installing no less than four additional BBR-developed 'Interceptor' computers.
More real-time mapping work continued after the engine was reunited with the chassis, by now suitably uprated with BBR's 'Power Grip' suspension, AP big brake conversion and a limited-slip differential. While there were no doubts about the BBR Mini's ballistic qualities, Brodie had severe misgivings about the savage nature of its power delivery in the lower gears. It was always going to be an issue, of course, with 307bhp at 6550rpm and no less than 313lb ft of torque at 5000rpm. But, undeterred, the team continued to try to tame the beast. Eventually they arrived at a clever three-stage boost control that's automatically switched by throttle position and loading (i.e. the harder you press, the more boost you get). The beast was ready to be unleashed.
After Brodie's call, we're fully expecting the Mini equivalent of Superman, complete with cape and pants outside its trousers, to rumble into the evo car park. So imagine our surprise when we get Clark Kent: standard rims, standard paint, standard seats. Oh, and the small matter of 300bhp+. The ultimate Q-car? We're about to find out...
We've got a session booked at the Millbrook test facility, but before then we've got some road miles to cover on some of our trickiest local favourites. Lumps, bumps, white lines and awkward cambers are all mortal enemies of powerful front-drive cars, and proved the dynamic undoing of the Focus RS, a car that (lest we forget) is some 100bhp down on Brodie's loony-tune Mini.
As you'd expect, hard acceleration in second gear is a grappling match as the limited-slip diff sets the nose sniffing for grip. It takes a firm hand - make that hands - to steer a straight course, but the Mini finds an immense amount of traction and, once the turbo's fully lit from 3500rpm, accelerates demonically. Torque-steer, though less pronounced, is still present through the first half of third gear, but the pace is no less explosive. When you hit fourth, the Mini is absolutely flying, and you'd best be relying on your Road Angel to scan the road ahead while your eyes flick back-and-forth in the rear-view mirror.
The AP brakes have a slightly firmer feel than the standard stoppers, but work smoothly, progressively and, crucially, give you confidence to exploit the 300 T's performance. BBR's suspension modifications are well-judged too, with no deterioration in ride quality, excellent grip, improved wheel control and a more exploitable, throttle-adjustable mid-corner balance. In ride and handling terms it feels like the standard car turned up to 11, rather than a concrete-sprung tuner's special.
By the time we get to Millbrook it's clear that while the 300 T is significantly more of a handful than, say, a Cooper S Works, it's not a total hooligan, and is more drivable than it has any right to be. It also manages to put all of its prodigious power down through mechanical means alone; consequently we choose to switch the standard ASR system off, for fear of frazzling it's poor overworked silicon brain.
Millbrook's mile straight has shattered many an optimistic tuner's dreams, but Brodie's keen to see what his customer's baby can do. No more so than we are, even though it's always a bit nerve-wracking figuring a highly-tuned car, especially one with a standard clutch and gearbox. But as the wily old Brodie says, 'Clutches and transmissions are so much stronger than they used to be. They have to be with all these three-year manufacturer warranties and stuff. We've never had any problems, so didn't feel the need to change anything.'
Even so, we're not going to chase every last tenth, as this is a customer car, rather than a demo car. After a couple of aborted starts (one due to bogging down, the other to excessive wheelspin) we achieve a peachy launch, with enough revs - just over 4000rpm - to keep the turbo spooling and the wheels rotating j-u-s-t faster than our rapidly increasing road speed. A clean upshift into second keeps things boiling away nicely, the diff really digging in to deliver total traction, and by the end of the mile straight we're doing a mighty 140mph: quite something for a 1.6-litre shopping trolley.
We manage to repeat the launch in the opposite direction, and as experience is telling us we've got a representative time, give or take a tenth, we decide to preserve the machinery and download our runs from the V-Box and interrogate the data. The results are mighty impressive, with a best 0-30mph time of 2.72sec, 0-60mph in 5.78sec and 0-100mph in 12.86sec. Averaged with our next quickest run (in the opposite direction, to negate the effects of the wind) it still equates to 0-60mph in 5.89sec and 0-100mph in 13.3sec. Though it has inevitably lost out in the scrabble to 60, it piles on speed from then on, clawing back time to bring it back on terms with an Impreza P1 as it hits 100mph.
Job done on the mile straight, it's now the moment Jethro and I have been nervously awaiting: the high-speed bowl. Normally a Mini presents no challenge around Millbrook's massive two-mile saucer of concrete. But as we've already established, this is no normal Mini.
With the five-lane banking practically deserted, the only factors pegging-back Brodie's ballistic Mini are physics and fear. It's been a while since I've done any performance testing at Millbrook, and the top lane of the banking feels bumpier than ever. To make things even more interesting the wind is gusting strongly, whipping over the top lip of the bowl and subjecting the still-accelerating Mini to unsettling, invisible shoulder charges as the weather-beaten Armco flashes past the driver's door mirror.
After a strong surge to 140mph the Mini's brick-like aerodynamics are taking hold and our acceleration is abating gently, almost as though we're driving up an increasingly steep hill. But the blown 1.6-litre engine isn't done yet, and the V-Box's red LED display bears testament to its stubborn desire to propel us to ever-more unfeasible speeds. At 147mph Jethro and I reckon it's given its best, but we're battling the teeth of the wind. With the throttle still pinned we fly around into the relatively sheltered portion of the bowl, and the Mini surges on with renewed vigour, first to 150mph and then, finally, to a mighty impressive v-max of 155mph.
Whenever I drive around the Millbrook bowl, I always think that if God had meant man to drive around in circles at 150mph he would have equipped us with dry-sumped heads. Sure enough, as I ease off the throttle and gradually nudge down the banking, I feel fleetingly giddy as the fluid that's been pushed firmly into my right ear sloshes back to its correct level. My right forearm and shoulder ache from holding just under a quarter turn of left-hand lock for three consecutive laps, and it's a great relief to be able to relax after bracing myself against the g-forces generated from six miles of constant- radius 150mph+ cornering.
It's been a wild ride, thanks to the lumpy surface and tempestuous elements, not to mention that unfeasibly strong 307bhp motor. Bovingdon reckons it's been the most entertaining v-max since he passengered a 150mph run in an R500 Caterham. Now safely back at our temporary base on the mile straight, I have to agree, especially as a bit of mental arithmetic reveals that by applying a correction factor to compensate for the banking's speed-sapping lateral scrub, the BBR Mini's straight-line peak speed rises to a spectacular 160mph. The fastest Mini in the land? You bet.
For more info go to www.bbrgti.com or call 01280 700800