150bhp tuned 1978 Mini Clubman Saloon Watsons K-Series conversion kit
A long time interest in Minis has led Gareth Freeman to build a thriving business – and this stunning VVC Clubman…
CLUB CLASS K-SERIES CLUBMAN
Gareth Freeman has a life long connection with Minis, and his latest project is this smooth K-Series Clubman.
Gareth Freeman’s association with the classic Mini goes back a number of years. It’s a family association too. One that actually started thanks to his sister. “It was a family thing,” recalls Gareth smiling. “We all chipped in and helped buy my sister a Mini as her first car. Over the next few years she drove it into the ground! When she decided to move onto something bigger, and more reliable, I bought it.” Having bought the, by now, rather careworn and mechanically tired Mini, Gareth, who was still at school, set to and fixed it up. As it transpired, fixing this Mini proved to be just the beginning for Gareth. “I’ve always been passionate about cars and have always loved Minis,” he enthuses. “With help from David, my brother, I started repairing and restoring Minis in my spare time.”
Before long, Gareth had completed his schooling and thanks to his interest in all things automotive and his Mini experiences, he’d embarked on a career in the motor trade. Nevertheless, despite being much anticipated, he found that this new career was a tad too prescriptive and lacked the flexibility and creativity he coveted. Yes, there were some aspects which were fine, and he’d gained a lot of knowledge along the way, yet he was becoming increasingly unhappy.
Consequently he began contemplating which direction his life should take and whether it would be wise to take a career gamble.
“A few years had passed and I was unable to see my future in having to work for someone else,” recollects Gareth. “Because of this, and because I’d so enjoyed working on Minis in my spare time, I started thinking about setting up on my own.”
“After chatting things through with David, who was willing to invest 25 per cent in my proposed venture and help out whenever he could, I decided to take the plunge. I quit my day job and set up GazSpeed, a company focussing on classic car restoration, custom fabrication, servicing and tuning – classic Minis being a specialism.”
“Starting with Minis made good business sense,” continues Gareth. “It’s a very popular car of course. And because it’s a very compact car, I could accommodate the work in a smaller unit which is more cost effective. What’s more, having worked on and restored a good number of Minis, the business is built on a very good knowledge base.”
That knowledge base together with David’s expert input (whenever possible, he helps out with the bodywork side of the business) and a very high standard of workmanship, has resulted in more and more clients beating a path direct to GazSpeed’s door.
“The first Mini to be worked on at GazSpeed was backdated to look like a retro classic,” mentions Gareth. “This was followed by a fast road/race Mini. A number of Minis have since passed through the workshop, and we are currently re-wiring a VVC-engined car. Plus there’s a custom Pickup in build. This features a full tubular chassis and a rear mounted Hayabusa engine. Then there’s the grey Clubman of course.”
The grey Clubman Gareth is alluding too, our feature car, first entered his life as unfinished project but already running a Rover K-Series engine. Bought via eBay, it had been knocking around the workshop for a while.
“The plan had been to get stuck into this Clubman as soon as possible and build it as a very potent, very functional and very driveable Mini,” explains Gareth.
“However, because the amount of customer work was escalating, it had to be put on the back burner and could only be worked on between these jobs.” Which meant that the build took a lot longer than anticipated. The fact that it needed a bodyshell swap didn’t help the timescale either!
“The body shell was discovered to be pretty rotten,” reveals Gareth grimacing. “So I bought another much more solid one, and started on a ground-up rebuild. In the process, I fitted a GRP clamshell front end.”
“The clamshell looked good, but didn’t quite clear the Watsons’ engine mounting kit I’d fitted (this came from the eBay Clubman). I didn’t want to cut and lengthen the clamshell, as it would alter the proportions of the car, and I wanted to use the excellent Watson’s kit in its entirety. So, I cut the front valance and incorporated a chin spoiler of my own design and manufacture. Doing these modifications provided the clearance needed and gave the car its unique look.”
In addition to the modified valance and neat chin spoiler, the ‘new’ bodyshell also became the recipient of a set of GRP arch extensions… procured from eBay. They were well made, although to get the aesthetics correct and cover the wheels, they needed to be modified.
“To cover the JBW Wheels – the only ones available with the correct offset and stud pattern for the MGF hubs, and in a Mini-lite-style – the front arch extensions had to be modified,” says Gareth. “David split them, fitted inserts, and tapered them too. They fit perfectly now and cover the 175/50/13 Nankang tyres very nicely.”
“David also chose the exterior colour. Basically, it’s Audi Nardo Grey with more black added to the mix. It’s a lovely colour. The contrasting roof colour, which took a heck of a lot of time to do, is something we are also really proud of.” “It’s black gloss, followed by two coats of clear – but this clear was mixed with black and silver glitter. This was followed with three further coats of clear. The glitter looks as if it’s held in suspension, giving a kind of 3D effect.”
As well as furnishing the Clubman with a perfect and extremely tasteful paint job, one of the motivating factors behind the build was to engineer a much more refined interior. In brief, Gareth not only wanted this to have more than a touch of class, he also planned to eliminate as much noise intrusion as possible.
“Having undertaken structural modifications to the bulkhead, and having tubbed the rear wheelarches and fitted custom new rear shock absorber towers to cater for the VW Golf MkII rear coilovers I was fitting, plus fitting a beam rear axle, I could finally focus my full attention on interior refinement.”
“The underside and the interior of the shell was sprayed with Raptor bed liner coating. The interior was then covered in a very high density soundproofing material. This has significantly reduced the interior noise levels.”
Keen to continue the theme of refinement, Gareth fitted Mercedes A-Class, electrically-adjustable front seats (mounted on a modified and reinforced cross brace). For the rear he chose and customised Hyundai i30 seats. The end result is a well-integrated, classy, yet subtle aesthetic.
An aesthetic that’s matched by the other carefully-chosen fittings and fixtures. The instrument cluster, which Gareth has custom-wired into the existing loom, hails from a ‘98 MGF. Everything works perfectly. It’s housed in a modified MGF binnacle that’s been treated to a crackle black finish. There’s a GRP dashboard too, complete with a rather impressive fake leather-stitched covering.
“Getting the seats to fit and redesigning the dash was quite a mission,” grins Gareth. “But it all worked out really well in the end.”
THE VVC FACTOR
What also worked out well, was the 1.8-litre K-Series VVC engine swap. By rights, due to the sheer physicality of this engine when compared to an A-series, the under bonnet area should look busy. But it doesn’t. With its bespoke engine frame, custom pipework, and clever detailing, it’s very neat indeed, boasting an appearance that could almost be mistaken as factory. “I wanted the engine to look as if it was meant to be there,” acknowledges Gareth. “And I wanted the service items to be accessible. There were a number of other practical considerations too.”
“Due to there being no inner arches, I fabricated a stainless steel airbox. This provides plenty of airflow to the Ramair filter, yet stops it from being blasted with rain water and road dirt.”
“The filter feeds air to a 52mm Aluminium throttle body. The original wouldn’t allow the engine to idle properly. For the exhaust system, I’ve modified the factory downpipe to take a different flexi. This is mated to 2.25 inch stainless steel exhaust piping and finishes with a RC40 silencer.”
“Cooling is handled by a high-capacity Honda Civic radiator. It has the perfect dimensions and volume, although I did have to get the bottom outlet relocated to the other side. The header tank’s a Ford item, although I can’t remember which car it’s from!”
Even though Gareth admits that it would have been nice to keep this Clubman, it simply didn’t make financial sense. “The only way for the business to move forward, is to keep reinvesting in it,” says Gareth. “There was also a lot of interest in the Clubman and it sold very quickly. It now resides in sunny Majorca and the new owner is thrilled with the car.”
It’s little wonder he’s thrilled. This is a cracking car, in a cracking colour, and ultimately, powered by a cracking engine. Go Gazspeed!
- BODY 1978 Mini Clubman saloon. Watsons K-Series conversion kit. GRP front clamshell, custom GRP arch extensions. ‘Tweaked’ Audi Nardo Grey paint, special black/sparkle roof colour, black gloss bumpers, Racetech mirrors on modified stalks, LED lighting throughout. Modified MPi fuel tank
- ENGINE 1796cc K-series VVC, DTA management, standard injection system, modified manifold and system, cold air intake and Ramair filter. Uprated Honda Civic aluminium radiator, electric fan.
- Power: 150 bhp
- SUSPENSION MGF front suspension, GAZ dampers, square-tubed rear beam axle, VW Golf MkII GAZ coilovers, MkIII Mini trailing arms.
- TRANSMISSION Standard five-speed gearbox. Uprated clutch and release bearing, hydraulic clutch conversion,
- BRAKES MGF front discs and calipers, Superfin rear drums, braided hoses.
- WHEELS AND TYRES JBW 6.5 x 13 inch splitrim alloys with 175/50R13 Nankang tyres.
- INTERIOR Mercedes A-Class leather front seats, modified Hyundai i30 rear seat, inertia reel front belts, DSN Classic brushed aluminium accessories, MGF binnacle and instrument cluster, custom wiring, GRP dash, fully soundproofed.
Front end was totally remodelled to hug the new engine and subframe. Rear suspension features beam axle and Golf coil overs. The plan was for a ‘factory look’ engine install, and with a lot of hard work, this has been achieved. Custom airbox is a very neat touch. Interior is a one-off and a tribute to Gareth’s vision. MGF binnacle has been incorporated into the custom dash. Mercedes A-class seats are fitted. Gareth is chuffed with the end result, and the car has already found a keen new owner. Deep flake finish features on the roof. JBW wheels perfect fot the MGF hubs. The Racetech mirrors have been modified.
“A very potent, very functional and very driveable Mini”