A hand-built Mini with a six-figure pricetag is clearly aimed at the wealthiest nostalgics. But for anyone who grew up with the BMC, Leyland, Austin or Rover versions of the original car a huge amount will be immediately familiar. In my case that includes memories triggered by the legend ‘Oselli’ written on the side of this one. I used to regularly visit the famous A-Series tuner’s workshop in Oxford back in the mid-‘90s when looking to go-faster an MG Metro. I don’t remember ever buying anything – Oselli’s prices for sizeable power hikes were well outside my budget – but the company was happy to let me dream over its displays of tuning parts.
Pretty much all of which seem to have been applied to DBA’s demonstrator for its limited-to-60 Oselli Edition. Like the existing Mini Remastered the new car’s cabin has been given the biggest transformation, but when I first meet it at Bicester Heritage I’m keenest to look under the bonnet and relive my youthful tuning fantasies. There I find a pair of SU carbs sits against the rear bulkhead and an Oselli branded rocker cover sits atop what is now a heavily reworked 1,450cc A-Series. That’s reckoned to make 125hp, a figure that would have been at the outer edge of A-Series potential 25 years ago. Even by Mini standards the engine compartment is well stuffed, with an oil cooler mirroring the side-mounted radiator and a sizeable pump for the air conditioning sitting beneath the alternator.
Changes which summarize the DBA Remastered’s radically shifted priorities. It looks superficially like an original Mini, but it really isn’t. Every part is either new or substantially reworked. The de-seamed shell has been a relatively common mod for upmarket Minis since the ‘sixties, but doing it properly requires new structural reinforcement behind the now-hidden joins. The quality of paint finish and the tightness of panel gaps are far removed from those of any original car as it left Cowley or Longbridge, and those dinky little arch extensions are properly bonded metal rather than screwed in plastic ones. The new lights won’t be to everyone’s tastes, nor the modern antenna at the rear, but they do feel like part of a deliberate whole rather than aftermarket stick-ons. And the twin fuel tanks are a nice retro touch, holding up to 55 litres of petrol combined.
The transformation is more radical inside. The last pre-BMW Mini I spent any time in was a 1979 Super with brown vinyl trim and a central speedo, and apart from the steeply angled steering wheel and pedal placement I’m struggling to find any familiar points of reference in the DBA version. There’s a touchscreen interface in the dash, two new central airvents and leather and Alcantara trim on pretty much every surface. Even the familiar looking speedometer turns out to be different, having been rebuilt with a digital odometer and new electronic internals that send its needle sweeping around and resetting every time the car is started.
While most of this is common to the existing Mini Remastered, the Oselli pack brings a more motorsporty colour scheme and – in the demonstator – an optional two-seat configuration that combines chunky front buckets with a rear half cage. It also comes with the non-standard fitment of Jack Aitken, Formula 2 regular and reserve driver for the Williams F1 team – he drove last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain after George Russell was called to sub for Lewis Hamilton. Aitken is here as a brand ambassador and sometime test driver, having owned a classic Mini as his first car. My first instinct is to treat this as PR fluff as he is only 25 years old, but we’re soon chatting in sufficient detail to persuade me. His current daily is an E30 3-Series that is also older than he is.
With rainclouds massing on the horizon I opt for a stint on Bicester Heritage’s dinky little track before heading onto local roads. Much of the Oselli Edition is immediately and unsurprisingly familiar: the low-down snuffle of the carb-fed engine, the whine of the sump-dwelling gearbox and the ultra-direct steering’s ability to deliver kart-keen front-end responses. The rack has gained low speed electric assistance which it doesn’t really need, but this fades out above 15mph so doesn’t significantly alter the driving experience.
But plenty is different, too. It takes less than a lap to confirm the DBA Mini is the quickest A-Series powered car I’ve ever driven, with that list including a tuned rally-spec Cooper S. Taller gearing and a five-speed ‘box confuse my long-dormant sense of when to change up, especially as the engine is making enough sound and fury at 4000rpm to make it seem like it’s giving its all. But keeping the faith to the 6200rpm where peak power arrives confirms the Oselli Edition feels considerably quicker than its official 7.8-second 0-62mph time suggests. The gearshift lacks the precision I remember from original four-speed Minis and Metros, but the miniature track can easily be dispatched entirely in second and third.
Mini tyre options haven’t come on a great deal in the last couple of decades, the Oselli Edition rides on A539 Yokohamas very similar to the ones that were the go-to choice for faster versions in the ‘90s – there isn’t exactly an abundance of choice when it comes to 13 inch rubber – and these give decent grip and a gentle transition to slip. But the DBA’s combination of a widened track and a limited slip differential gives it an edgy, rear-endy sensation when pushed – as if even a slight easing of the throttle will produce big oversteer – one more reminiscent of a 205 GTI than standard Mini of this vintage. Experimentation with the accelerator proves it doesn’t actually do this – even Aitken doesn’t turn it too lairy when he gives a couple of demo laps. But harder loads do produce another noise I remember from tweaked Minis – the sound of tyres rubbing arches. One welcome difference is the brakes, with AP components and four-pot front calipers standing up to harder use without complaint. Even those original Minis with front discs used to suffer from serious fade after a couple of big stops.
Rain has started falling by the time Aitken and I head out for a road loop, but the Oselli Edition feels better suited to the real world than the likely edge case of hard track use. The engine is grumbly and unenthusiastic low down, frequently bogging below 2000rpm, but it’s no hardship to keep it in the broad zone where it’s happiest, and it is more than potent enough to make respectable progress and safely dispatch slower-moving traffic. The handling balance also feels more neutral at road speeds, and the firmed-up suspension hasn’t put a noticeable edge on the car’s ride quality, which is firm without becoming harsh. This is one of those cars that can feel quick and exciting without transgressing a speed limit, and cruising gives a chance to enjoy the plushness of the cabin and unlikeliness of that touchscreen interface. But even after 90 minutes my hand still went to the missing door winder every time I wanted to open a window; power operation in a Mini just feels odd.
Returning to Bicester Heritage gives the chance to bring up the question of money. It’s a short discussion, the answer being “POA”, although David Brown acknowledges the Oselli Edition will carry a chunky supplement over the £93,000 (including VAT) that his company charges for the basic Mini Remastered. That six-figure cost will doubtless kick off a heated debate in the comments, especially given the many alternatives – some Mini shaped – available for considerably less. Yet DBA says that the existing Mini Remastered is selling well and expects the wealthy collectors who make up most of its clientele to be equally keen on this more focused version.
SPECIFICATION | DBA MINI REMASTERED OSELLI EDITION
Engine: 1,450cc, four-cylinder
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 125@6200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 113@5600 rpm
Top speed: TBC (and driver dependent!)
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