Ron Cherry: Monte, the Mini racing maniac from Nevada County (VIDEO)
Special to The Union
With only a 1275 cc displacement (77.8 CID) four-banger engine and riding on 10-inch wheels, the boxy little Mini Cooper wouldn’t seem like a competitive race car.
Yet, with its low center of gravity, stiff suspension and light weight, this sporty little sedan racked up some impressive wins against far more powerful makes, such as Porsche, Mercedes and Volvo. In fact, it placed overall first place in the 1964 and 1965 Monte Carlo Rally, and then 1st, 2nd and 3rd in 1966.
However, don’t look for Minis to be listed as winner for 1966 in the record books. In one of the most controversial racing decisions of all time, after doing an eight-hour tech inspection, the judges disqualified the Minis for using the wrong headlight bulb!
A Citroen that had finished a distant 5th “won.” Minis had their revenge when one again finished first in 1967, with the correct headlight bulbs.
It’s little wonder that when veteran vintage sports car racer Don Racine moved to California and found his Porsche insurance had skyrocketed in cost, he chose to go to a ’67 Mini Cooper S. He bought it in the mid-’70s as a daily driver and rebuilt it in 1983 as a race car.
He modeled it after the one that had won the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally. He went through all the running gear and suspension. He bored the cylinders .040-inch over, then polished and ported (enlarged) the intake and exhaust ports on the head for better flow, changing to larger valves for maximum increase.
While keeping with twin SU cards, he used bigger ones for more air-fuel mix in the combustion chambers. This work boosted horsepower from 78 to 108 at the rear wheels.
Although he lightened the aluminum flywheel for quicker revving, he kept the original four-speed gearbox.
The Mini’s suspension was very unusual since it did not ride on metal springs or air bags. Although the stock one was a more complex Hydrolastic “wet” suspension, Don changed to a dry one, like that used at Monte Carlo.
It consisted of a rubber “donut” with a hole about 5-inches in diameter on the frame with a rubber cone fitting into it on the body from the top. Although stiffer, with the only “spring” coming from the elasticity of the rubber, it gave far less body lean when cornering and was much better for racing.
After putting on a bright red paint job, factory racing wheel flares and the number 177 on the side, just like the Mini Cooper that won the 1967 Monte Carlo Rally, Don took it racing.
After several years, he moved on to other race cars. In 2000, son Dennis took over the running and care of “Monte,” as Dennis referred to the Mini Cooper.
“Monte’s my full responsibility,” he said, a job he is well equipped to do.
Dennis has worked on cars almost his whole life. He even has a picture of himself when he was 3 years old, helping his dad change the tire on a 356 Porsche race car.
“To say it’s in my blood, is an understatement,” he said.
Minis are his passion, which is no surprise since his dad owns Mini Mania in Nevada City and Dennis has a web design company that works out of the building. He owns a woody Mini Cooper that his dad originally bought when Dennis was only 4 years old.
But Monte is still only driven on the track.
“It’s not street legal,” Dennis said. “Nor would you want to drive it on the street. It’s geared very tall and would burn up the clutch in a day. It’s fine on the track, where you’re almost never under 35-40 MPH.”
And Monte is well set for the track, with an interior roll bar and a Cobra racing seat. Wide Hoosier 165/70/10 mounted on 5 1/2-inch factory mags and adjustable Gaz shocks make it handle even better.
“It has a lot of history and a lot of heritage,” Dennis said. “A representation of what the car was back in the day. It keeps up what Mini was famous for: the rally. Plus this car has its own 30-year history.”
Dennis has not only raced Monte at NorCal tracks like Sonoma Raceway, Thunderhill and Laguna Seco, but places like Pittsburgh International, Mid-Ohio Sportscar Course and Hallett Motor Racing Circuit, Oklahoma.
Like Dennis said, racing is in his blood, as are Minis. That bloodline is well proven, since he, his dad, his sister and even his brother-in-law all have Minis they race. You might say they are all Mini maniacs.
Ron Cherry’s latest book, “It’s Bad Business,” the second in the Morg Mahoney detective series, is available on Kindle at Amazon. For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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