Charlie Borg is king of the racing Minis, and thinks the best thing he ever did was ditch the A-series engine.
Regular readers will be familiar with the name Charlie Borg, and images of his brightly-coloured Mini dominating most rounds of the Mini Racing series. Few would be unaware that the car is powered by a Honda motor, so it is fitting that we take a closer look in this issue.
Charlie started out with his first Mini at only 12 years old, when his dad acquired a wrecked one for him, and bought another Mini shell for $50 and a workshop manual. Charlie re-shelled the Mini and used it as a paddock bomb.
“That’s how I learned to drive properly”, he reveals. “I started to drive around the farm, paddock bashin’. I wrote a few off, hit a few trees, but I learned how to handle a car in a skid and that sort of thing.”
At 15 he bought another Mini that he turned into a shorty, which he still owns. He also still has a Mk1 Cooper S that he bought when he was 21, and another racecar that he bought from Victoria on eBay last year.
Not surprisingly, Charlie knows his way around a Mini intimately. “I know every nut, bolt, screw and washer in them”, he says.
He bought his race Mini back in 1995, and is only the car’s third owner, as he explains. “It started out as a Cooper, but the first bloke that had it changed the front and log-booked it as a Clubman GT. Then Col Foreshaw bought it, and he ran it as a Clubman GT for about ten years, then I bought it off him. I prefer the round-nose, so I borrowed a front off Vic Della Valle and I made a mould from that and then made my own fibreglass front.”
At that time the Mini still had an A-series engine, though bored and stroked to 1480cc with Triumph 135mm oversize pistons.
“The first time I raced it at Eastern Creek in ’95 was a memorable event. I thought I was going good, then about four or five of the really quick cars went past me so fast they nearly spun me around, and I thought ‘what I am doing here?”
But Charlie’s paddock driving days paid off, with his Mini quickly proving itself, as he recalls. “In 1996 I won my first race at Eastern Creek in the rain, and I won three races that weekend – and it was my sixth-ever race meeting. I came top iron-head Mini and second outright in the Mini series in ’96, first iron head and second outright again in ’97 and ’98.”
He then bought Santino DiCarlo’s championship-winning crossflow Mini, and transferred the engine and brakes to his own. However, although very quick, the crossflow was plagued with problems.
“I developed the crossflow that much that I was getting 120hp at the wheels. But it was a hand-grenade and kept braking. In 18 months it didn’t finish one race meeting. The last time I raced it, at Eastern Creek, it broke the shaft for the roller rockers. I thought, ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough’.”
Charlie decided the A-series had seen its day and after reading about what else was being done in the UK decided to go for a Honda engine. “I thought if the Pommies can do it, then I can do it, which I did, but there were a lot of headaches.”
He bought a front cut 1989 Honda Integra from a wrecker’s in Queensland, shipped it home and spent two weeks over Christmas fitting it to the Mini. “I didn’t change the engine at all. Just took it out of the Integra and dropped it in the Mini. I spent a lot of time making it so it was easy to get in and out. For the first two years the only thing I ever did to it was change the oil.”
“It’s getting around 140 bhp at the wheels, but the torque is unbelievable. I can rev it to 8,500 revs all day long, no problem. A Mini engine, you couldn’t do that. You’d wait for it to explode. I blew up that many Mini engines over the years.”
Charlie said about the only thing that has gone wrong with the Honda was one time when a bolt inside the timing cover came loose, fell down into the lower pulley and broke the timing belt, which in turn bent a couple of valves. “I’m lucky I was on the infield and not doing a lot of revs”, he admits.
There was also an electrical gremlin earlier this year, which turned out to be a wire that had rubbed through and shorted out. “Sometimes you just have to wait for the wire to burn before you can find it”, he agrees.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 23 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>39</plumshop> <plumshop>40</plumshop>