Like a Mini-Cooper S, only better: Paul Hardiman finds out what Swiftune’s Mini Madgwick is all about
As the Mini Remastered drew gasps with its £100k price tag, a long-time Mini specialist quietly released the first of its new-build improved Minis. It’s not deseamed, has no air-con or touchscreen ’nav, and looks like an old-school Mini because it is. But it doesn’t have a standard engine. Inspired by the FIA-spec competition mounts that Swiftune builds and races (since 1965!), the idea was to provide a brand-new car superior to a Cooper S – but at less than a Cooper S price. It’s called the Madgwick after the famous corner at Goodwood, where its builders’ engines have claimed many successes.
This car, created from a standard 1965 saloon, isn’t radically modified past Cooper S spec, but drive it and you find that it’s more than the sum of its parts, thanks to all the subtle tweaks that Swiftune has learnt over five decades. Sitting in the pitlane at Goodwood, circuit regular Nick Swift assures me that the speedo on this first Madgwick is pretty accurate and, two-up (I’m near 11st and he’s a bit more), it pulls a consistent indicated 108mph at 6300rpm at the end of Lavant Straight before having to brake for Woodcote – all without wringing its neck. Let’s call that a genuine 105, lap after lap. It’s no animal but works very efficiently, providing its power in a nicely linear fashion to and past 6000rpm, although with more urge from 3500/4000. Peak power is at 5500, so there’s no point redlining it in every gear.
‘That’s the point of it,’ says Swift. ‘Trying 80% gets you 90-95% of its performance.’ It is stable on the brakes and handles beautifully – it understeers a little coming out of Madgwick at full chat, and an experimental lift in the middle of Lavant Corner reveals a chassis that will gently drift the tail without tucking in the nose too abruptly, snapping or spinning. Fordwater is flat in top, of course, and if you have the cojones you can leave it there for St Mary’s and drift through, though I’m using third, ready for the next corner. It’s utterly faithful and gives you plenty of time to react.
As a Mk1 Escort owner and racer who generally hates front-drivers, I’d happily live with this one, and would love to stay out all afternoon because it remains completely unflustered, with temperature steady in the middle of the gauge and oil pressure refusing to budge from 75psi after several foot-to-the-boards laps. Even the road-legal tyres – 165/70 Dunlop SP Sport R7s – don’t go off in spite of the car’s neutral handling, which encourages you to chuck, slide and scrabble. It will drift a bit but doesn’t move around as much as it would on Dunlop Racers.
It’s a great little package but the engine is the heart of the plot, and building race-winning engines is what Swiftune is famous for. This is a 1275 (OK, 1293 then…) running a 10.2:1 compression ratio, so it can tolerate 95-octane unleaded without the hassle of additives. Crank is standard 1275, but crack-tested and measured, and then reground and stroke corrected – from the factory the strokes can vary by as much as 10 thou’ – and a steel ‘retro’ flywheel plus Cooper S blue clutch kit added. Similarly, the standard 1275 con-rods were crack-tested, equalised for length then balanced, and the bottom end put together with ARP bolts and forged Omega pistons.
If the motor is the heart, then the camshaft is its brain, determining the characteristics of an engine: where it makes power, how hard it pulls, how cleanly it idles and the transitions between all three, along with other detail considerations such as fuel consumption and whether the car will pass an MoT – and it’s here where most of the developments in A-series turning have been made in the past two decades. Using Swiftune’s popular SW5 cam, prodding the valves open via 1.5:1 forged rockers, this engine makes 98bhp against a standard 1275 ‘S’s (alleged) 76. The SW5 is one of Swiftune’s biggest sellers – but there’s a big difference in delivery between old and new technology.
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‘In the old days of Special Tuning,’ says Swift, ‘cam profiles were limited to what you could draw on a board using curves and straight lines, and by what you could actually produce. It would be “we need this base circle, this much lift, this much duration”, and then they would join the curves with straight lines.’ That resulted in such classics as the ‘731’ cam, once as universal in tuned Minis as a 285 in a Pinto, and the fiercer ‘649’ that was basically too lumpy for street use. Both had their limitations and compromises. With the SW5 and twin 1½in H4 SUs the engine idles as standard, and you’re hardly aware you have a performance cam fitted.
‘Now we can design in much more detail, with gentler ramp angles so the follower stays on the cam,’ adds Swift. ‘We now run high lift and short duration, unlike the old days which was long duration and low lift. The SW5 is about a 260º duration cam, with 0.43in of lift – in the old days they’d be lucky to get 0.40in – but a race cam might have a 310º duration.’ The SW5 is most useful up to 5500rpm, which, as Swift points out, most of us stay under 90% of the time.
Filling in the gaps left in the profiles drawn by hand makes for a more flexible engine that’s easier to drive, and, with 1:5 ratio rockers and an L3 head, an SW5-equipped 1380 makes over 100bhp – but remains very torquey.
The latest iteration of the SW5, the 07 was developed by Kent Cams using Lotus Engineering’s valvetrain computer software and is made by Kent on a CNC grinder. Thirty and even 20 years ago it was thought that the A-series engine, now almost 70 years old, had reached the limit of its tunability, but improving technology continues to winkle out just a hair more efficiency from the old pushrod ’four. There’s life in the old dog yet…
This build started with an SW10, which wakes up at about 3000rpm, makes real power from 5000 and is advertised to produce 125bhp at 7000rpm and 108lb ft at 5500rpm in a Weber 45-equipped 1380. Swiftune’s most extreme grind is the SW23 – that’s an out-and-out race cam for Formula Juniors and Appendix K Minis that doesn’t come on song until 4000rpm, but in a 1380 will give 140bhp at 7500rpm, though max torque doesn’t arrive later, on a fairly flat curve, until 6000rpm.
On this car the suspension is fairly standard, but with a little negative camber on the front thanks to negative (longer) lower arms: ‘If you use adjustable track control arms you have to use Rose joints, which are just too harsh on the road,’ says Nick. The steering is the standard ratio, and on this car even the column is in the standard place, and not lowered. Since the FIA racer is the model, the Madgwick uses the same Cooper S brakes – and they work just fine, hauling the car back from more than 100mph repeatedly with no dramas.
Inside, it’s more or less stock Cooper. This car was originally fitted with a pair of Recaro buckets, but has since been changed to a pair of Newton Commercial recliners inspired by Cooper S buckets. These look more period – though as each Madgwick will be a bespoke car built to order, customers can have what they like.
Ah yes, built to order… and the price of all this, bearing in mind that, in effect, it’s an all-new car? About £35,000 all in, including the base car – which is a little more than half what a concours original Cooper S would cost. And one of those is almost too precious to use.
1965 Swiftune Mini Madgwick
Engine 1293cc four-cylinder, OHV, twin SU carburettors
Power 98bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 93lb ft @ 4000rpm
Transmission Four-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Steering Rack and pinion
Suspension Front: upper wishbones, lower control arms, rubber cones, telescopic dampers. Rear: trailing arms, rubber cones, telescopic dampers
Brakes Front: discs. Rear: drums
Performance Top speed 119mph (theoretically, at 6500rpm)
A highly personalised Mini
This Mini Madgwick was built for a demanding owner
Swiftune, based near Ashford in Kent, has been building and racing Minis for more than half a century. Glyn Swift started the company in 1965 and son Nick took over in 1995, leaving dad to concentrate on what he liked best – creating great cars. Swiftune engines have powered just about every winning Mini at Goodwood, taking the top three places in the all-Mini race in 2009 and the top four in 2015, and Nick himself has won there three times driving his own cars. Glyn built this car for historic racer Mike Waller, and had started the construction of the next two Mini Madgwicks, but passed away only days before we photographed it at Goodwood.
‘Glyn, Nick and I had been talking for a while about doing something because Cooper S prices were getting so ridiculous,’ says Waller (above, on left). ‘It’s very close to what Nick and I intended, and all the bits that wear out are new. It’s more of a road car than a track day car, but it’s really quite quick.
‘As originally built it wasn’t tractable enough, so we changed the cam for the SW5 and it’s just right – we’ve done long trips and if you’re being really lazy you don’t even have to change gear. I’ve now put the same cam in my 1275 A-series-engined Lotus Seven S1. ‘I’ve put twin tanks in the Mini and that gives a range of around 300 miles. I’d be surprised if it does less than 35mpg. My wife loves it, and I just have to persuade her to let me have it now and again.’
Words: Paul Hardiman // Photography: Jayson Fong