You've never taken the modern-day Mini Cooper seriously and it shows. Rarely do we come across even a modified version, much less a full-blown build. Look, you're not alone - the cute, non-threatening body lines bunched up together in a portly package don't exactly scream aggression. At a time when hot hatches have seemingly experienced their second uprising, the Mini's adorable proportions just never placed it on most enthusiast's wish lists.
Like most hatchbacks, given the right set of wheels, a respectable ride height and a few well-selected additional parts, there's a good chance the Mini Cooper can change your mind. We spotted this 2011 model at a few different events during Thailand's hyperactive calendar of car meets, shows and drag races that never seem to stop throughout the year. The color combination is eye-catching, and the appropriate wheel and tire combo got the nod from us, but we didn't take an in-depth look until that awkward, clamshell-style hood was propped open.
Long gone is the anemic original powerplant, replaced by a K20A, the high-revving 2.0L from Honda's DC5 Integra Type R. The owner, having previously built and enjoyed an EG chassis Civic, has an affinity for VTEC powerplants. After the original Mini engine let go, he decided to try his hand at a cross-platform swap. As you might imagine, the process involved plenty of custom fabrication and we're pretty sure there were some moments of frustration along the way. Anchoring the new heart are Hasport's billet aluminum mounts which have no business in a Mini's engine bay, but here they've been adapted using custom base brackets welded to tubular extensions that run parallel with the factory frame. A time-consuming process in order to maintain proper axle geometry, the engine swap was just one piece of a 3-year puzzle that the owner tackled on his own.
To feed the K20A-swap, a trio of custom formed inlets reside near the windshield and allow fresh air to pass into an air-box that butts up against the firewall and keeps heat out of the path of an HKS high-flow air filter. A pie-cut titanium intake arm directs the air in, while a custom 4-1 titanium header and exhaust system let it exhale and terminate in a rather mild finisher that fits within the confines of the factory rear bumper opening. Rather than trying to tie the Mini Cooper's native wiring into the Honda ECU, AEM Series II management was employed.
The titanium intake, header, shock tower bar, overflow tank and other custom pieces have become commonplace in Thailand. With material costs and shop labor incredibly low in the region, the high-strength metal can be found on the majority of custom builds, and not just under the hood. Atop the rear hatch sits a bold, angular roof wing that "toughens up" the Mini's innocent appearance. The familiar burnt rainbow treatment plays well with the bronze CE28 wheel and blue Endless brake combo. Other, more subtle changes outside include a custom front splitter, side and rear diffusers, a carbon fiber hatch and Craft Square mirrors.
On the opposite end of the spectrum as compared to the exterior, the cabin of this Mini Cooper is as wild as it gets. The carpet, rear panels, headliner and seat backs have been deleted and the door panels, dash front and rear seat bottom treated to a camouflage material wrap. The alcantara of the Recaro TS-G seats matches the re-stitched upper portion of the door panels and dash top. The factory temperature switches and head unit are now housed in an aluminum lower dash console and an array of gauges, a staple in Thailand, lights up from the passenger side. Surrounding the driver is, you guessed it, more burnt titanium with a bolt-in roll cage. The integrated harness bar is already set up with eyelets to accept a new set of seat harnesses and complete the interior.
We've come to expect some pretty wild engine swaps from Thailand but this K20A Mini Cooper is one we never could have imagined. The melding of a lovable chassis from England and a stout performer from Japan all wrapped up with Thailand's signature style is something special and perhaps the only thing more impressive is the sort of perseverance put forth by the owner, who made this all happen with his own two hands.