At 8200rpm, this Toyota-powered MINI bakkie will blow your mind
Johannesburg - According to Nuren Govender, there are plenty of stories of him using Tupperware containers and pot lids as steering wheels, pretending to drive around the house as a child. His fire for cars was lit early, like so many of us, but he's moved on from storage and crockery to more unique and sought after items - such as his rare 1973 MINI Pick-up truck...
"It took me around six months to find this one and I was very lucky to actually find it because these vehicles are extremely rare. It was more a case of buying with the heart instead of the head, though, because it was in terrible shape when I first saw it. There was surface rust, then there was hidden rust, and basically the bakkie had no floor left from all the corrosion," he explains.
Why take on a vehicle, particularly a 1970s bakkie project, you might be wondering? Govender said he was in the market for a fun and exciting project car, but he knew it had to be a bakkie, so the usual suspects were sought out and looked at.
"Typically, I went looking for a Nissan 1400 or Volkswagen Caddy to restore and modify, to use both as a daily driver and as a track car for the odd trip to Kyalami. That was the plan. I did a Google search one day and typed in the words “Mini Bakkie” and was surprised to see the MINI pick-up in my results. I had no idea this car even existed. The more I researched it, the more I knew had to have it. It wouldn't be my first MINI, as I owned a Clubman when I finished school, so this cemented the dream of having a very unique MINI," he notes.
Govender downplays the fact that his undertaking to restore and modify his MINI has been an arduous process, but you must realise that he performed his Google search more than 10 years ago, and since then it's been a decade long journey.
A decade in the making
"As much as I loved driving around in my MINI pick-up truck as a classic vehicle, it's the traditional classic car problems that started driving me crazy. After a year and a half with the original engine, I started the modifications. I went for the Toyota 20-valve Black-Top engine using a subframe from Tommy at The MINI Workshop. I wanted the classic car look and feel and soul, but the drive had to remain like a classic MINI, so there's no power steering upgrades, no power-assisted brakes, nothing of that sort. I just wanted some reliability and more grunt considering I wanted to use it as my daily drive," he expounds.
Govender says that since making the switch to the Toyota powerplant and upgrading all the necessary components to ensure everything takes a licking and keeps on ticking, he just "starts and drives".
With around 102kW and 169Nm on the wheels, Govender says it's a little firecracker. This is, of course, the fantastic, intrinsic nature of lightweight vehicles. "The engine hits the red line at 8200rpm and inside the bakkie, I can tell you that it sounds like a superbike. It's the four 45mm throttles that suck in air ferociously. Anything past 5000rpm is quite an experience in this thing but I'm not done yet because I'm yet to add the nitrous oxide injection kit. The engine was built with nitrous in mind," he adds.
Engine and drivetrain maintenance isn't a challenge for him as he is the "mad scientist" who rebuilt the Toyota engine and fitted it to the MINI in the first place, however, he didn't want to take on the task of getting the body in shape, so he sent it to professionals to get things like rust and leaks sorted out.
"Finding a company that would undertake the panel beating task proved the most challenging. I took it to several panel shops and no one wanted to take on the job as the rust had really eaten into the vehicle at this point. I remember the shock of one of the local panel shops quoting me over R100 000 to get the body right again," Govender explains.
He says that eventually, he found a shop that was willing to work on the project with him once they had sandblasted the body and knew what they were actually working with under the old paint. "I'll never forget the call from Strini at Sai’s Mini’s that day. He said he doesn’t know if my car will come back in a bucket since the rust was so bad!" Govender exclaims.
It took the body shop a year to get the car sorted. It then took me another year to put everything back together...
Worth every cent (and tear)
Like most classic or modified vehicles, the joy of driving and the experience of ownership often supersedes the nightmares and headaches. This is exactly the case for Govender who says that his decade-long MINI restoration and upgrade project has taught him a lot more than he anticipated learning when it comes to cars.
It's not the fastest or most powerful vehicle on the road, but the feeling he gets when driving makes all the emotional (and financial) pain worth it in the end.
"Every time I drive it I know that at some point during the day, someone will start a conversation. In parking lots, random people pull me over to ask about the car. Even when I had the car running mechanically perfect, but the bodywork was still falling apart, people just couldn't stop asking about it or the story behind it," he says.
Once the national lockdown in South Africa is lifted, Govender plans on taking a trip to Mpumalanga with his father: "There's nothing that beats putting this car into fifth gear, cruising at 3200rpm doing 120km/h. The best part is I still have another 5000rpm on tap, which really makes this car so characterful and exciting to experience," he adds.
Govender will tackle the interior of his MINI Pick-Up later this year, to ensure it's as eye-catching on the inside as it is on the outside. He'll also add the front grille and a cover for the load bay. "After I've completed this project, I am considering another project, maybe a Ford F100. I would also like to build a Beetle, but a very unique one that hasn't really been built before," he says.
They say that once the car bug has bitten, it's very difficult to stop the infection. That's certainly the case with Nuren Govender, who took 10 years to realise his dream of driving a unique vehicle. He offers a parting shot for fellow enthusiasts who are considering taking on a classic or modified vehicle project:
"Don't worry about the naysayers and just stick with what you envision. Try and learn as much as you can so that you can do the jobs yourself or at least be able to understand what is being done so that you don't get ripped off. Your classic car doesn't have to blend in, it's a conversation starter, it's an emotional attachment to a mechanical beast. So if you don't like any of that and just want transport, with a service plan, then don't buy a classic car."
You can follow Nuren Govender on Facebook for more insights on what it's like to live with a MINI Pick-up Truck as a daily driver.