The Mini ERA turbo is one of the more distinctive variants of the iconic mini. I’m ashamed to say I used to think the ERA was simply a Mini with a bodykit… After being hastily corrected by an owner at a show, I was then told of the changes to the ERA model. This was not another lazy limited edition with a new stripe on the side, but perhaps the most significantly reworked Mini.
The ERA variant of the Mini was so called because Engineering Research and Application (ERA) were the company behind it. They met with Austin Rover and proposed a new variant of Mini that would be built by ERA and sold and serviced by existing dealers.
ERA Mini Design & Engineering
On meeting with Austin Rover in 1988, ERA shared a detailed file of their plan. It covered the engineering and design concepts along with projected performance, costs and profit margin. It was considered a spiritual successor to the discontinued Cooper S.
By now Austin Rover had stopped production of the Metro, including the MG and Turbo models. This meant missing out on the lucrative “hot hatch” market. The easiest way back into the market was to use the long standing Mini, but the Mini Cooper was simply too old and outgunned by faster, more modern machinery.
By making use of the Metro Turbo engine, ERA could build a Mini that would perform competitively using mostly standard components and have it ready the following year. At this point it’s pertinent to note that the Mini had outlasted the Metro which was supposed to replace it. Although the Mini was long in the tooth, it was deemed a good enough base for another “hot hatch”.
Modifications & Concepts
The proposal discussed key engineering and design concepts, explaining in detail the modifications needed to get the Mini ERA project up and running. These explained the aims of the project.
Mini ERA Engineering Concepts
Mini ERA Design Concepts
To engineer the car to an OEM standard
Out perform all previous Minis
To use as many Austin Rover components as possible
Compare with other performance vehicles such as the Peugeot 205
To make it serviceable by any Austin Rover dealer
Be driveable under all conditions & safe in the hands of all kinds of driver
Minimal special tooling to reduce financial risk
Be styled as to be instantly recognisable as an ERA Mini, but not to lose the Mini shape
Be trimmed and equipped internally to modern standards of comfort and finish
Following the initial proposal, a competition derived A series turbo was built. This was used to test the cars performance and handling. While many people quote the direct use of the Metro Turbo engine, the Mini ERA sales brochure noted that the engine had undergone significant durability testing – which may have indicated further changes. The following modifications were confirmed on the final road car:
Dellorto horizontal 45mm twin choke carburetter
Turbo with 12psi boost
Lightweight forged pistons and compression rate dropped to 7:1
Modified cylinder head with 1300 inlet valves
Lowered by 15mm
Rear anti roll bar
Toe out and negative camber to prevent torque steer
Mini ERA Turbo Performance
Visually the Mini ERA is easy to spot with the chunky 80s bodykit set off by star shaped alloys with concealed wheelnuts. The interior was changed to include adapted Metro seats and a center console with a boost gauge. The interior made use of connolly leather, thicker sound insulation and a sunroof. The brief was performance but with luxury too.
Of course, what really sets this car apart from the myriad of limited edition Minis, is the performance. In place of the usual revvy A-Series character, is a torque rich engine, making progress easy. The ERA car would remain the most powerful Mini even when compared with the last Cooper models when the Mini itself ended production in 2000.
For many, owning an original Mini ERA Turbo is something of a dream come true. With only 436 cars produced from a planned 1000, it’s rarer than a Mini Cooper S and yet cheaper. The turbo engine will be easier to drive in modern traffic than Mini’s of that vintage too. Indeed, anyone that’s used to wringing out the A series motor will find the shove of acceleration from the turbo engine a pleasant novelty!
Don’t let the bodykit fool you – In the world of drastically overpriced classic Minis the ERA Mini is good value and will always be the fastest official Mini ever sold.
Paul is an automotive aficionado with a passion for cars. His passion for automobiles has only grown over the years, and for the past 11 years, he has been blogging about British sports cars. Readers can expect irreverent content about classic models, interesting car stories and more!