M IS for Mini. And madness. And making things. You might have heard of Alan Sutton already - on YouTube he goes by the moniker Mad Geordie and is world-famous for creating outrageous one-off vehicles - especially ones based on classic Minis.
Mad Geordie videos following the design and build of these machines attract thousands - sometimes hundreds of thousands - of viewers.
The epicentre of this global phenomenon is a small shed in Albany, just north of Auckland. Why Mini? Sutton, a former fitter/turner, off-road racer and boat- and bike-builder, among many other things, admits it has a lot to do with nostalgia: "I've been a petrolhead since I was 16. Back then, in the UK, we rode motorbikes. When we got car licences we all drove Minis because they were cheap and they were like four-wheeled motorbikes. You put racing stripes on, some spacers and if you could afford them, Pirelli radials."
Sutton's current crop of five vehicles evolved out of a chopper-building business (he supplied four to the Crusty Demons for their first New Zealand show in 2009) and a desire to create a reverse trike, with two wheels at the front and one at the back. Oh, and he built the trike in the form of a tiny fighter plane: "The kind of thing young boys draw on their school books."
There's nothing from a Mini in the plane, but it did lead him back to his passion for the iconic city car once he decided to make a more sporting trike: something more driveable, with two seats and a wider stance.
That's when Sutton's Mini mania of 40 years ago returned. He was also still in a "trike phase", so he widened the body 200mm and married it to a motorcycle rear end. It's called the Furrari.
If a picture is emerging of a big kid with expertise and a dangerous amount of time on his hands, you're starting to get it. About the Furrari: "My wife wasn't really into the open cabin and I soon thought I'd like something we could drive every day. A ute is a bit more me."
A ute it was, then: with a chopped roof, a wheelbase extended by 450mm, a Nissan Skyline rear end and a 150kW Suzuki Hayabusa engine in the back. It looks and sounds outrageous.
Here's the thing: it's not really suitable for driving every day. "I started to use it, but it's so harsh and noisy on the road," says Sutton. "Everything's rigid. It revs to 14,000rpm and you have to drive it like a motorbike - go fast in first gear every time. Really, it's a racing car."
Sutton has had the little black box on track a few times. At Pukekohe - a track he had never driven until he took the ute there - he says he "got a big fright and was shaking".
The slight impracticality of his new toy, combined with the fact that he got a bit bored while the ute was stuck in a three-month certification process, meant he started another project: this time a retro-themed Mini V6 with a 1930s-inspired long bonnet and front guards.
The Mini V6 has an even lower roof than the ute but the body is standard width - although the bonnet's been stretched 1200mm. The front end is from a Jaguar XJ6. The engine and independent rear suspension are from a Holden Commodore V6. This one Sutton really loves, and uses regularly.
Of course, while the Mini V6 was waiting for certification, he got bored again and decided to make a Mini Mack truck with a Mazda Titan light commercial as the base. There was a slight pang of guilt over the Mini he found for the truck project, which was in fantastic condition. It seemed a shame to destroy it: "Then I decided I should just get over it and get to work."
The Mini Mack, complete with sleeper cab on the back, was built in four months. It tows a large trailer - Sutton has ambitions of using it as a base for a rocket-shaped camper unit.
Sutton stresses he is not wealthy. The ute has cost the most, but he still reckons it only owes him $24,000 - $5000 of that for the engine. "That's not a lot in hot rod terms but it's a lot to me," he says. The ute has been offered for sale at $18,000.
Sutton reckons he's done about all he can with Minis - apart from a "slimo", which would be narrowed, with three seats in line and a bike engine at the back. But he's got lots of other ideas - one involves turning a new Beetle cabriolet into a Packard homage.
In the bigger picture he's frustrated that he hasn't been able to capitalise more on his products. It's a passion (perhaps impulsion), but it'd be nice if there was some income to justify his time. Because, as he says: "I'm skint."
A bit of method has developed from the Mini madness. Inspired by his success on YouTube, Sutton's ambition is to produce a television show that charts the design and build of a new vehicle from scratch.
"There are people out there who would love to do something like this but don't know how. For the Mini Mack, I bought the Mazda truck for $500 but got $350 worth of scrap off it.
"I bought the Mini for $600 but wrecked it and made $1000, so I started out owning the thing. The real money comes when you get to paint and then paperwork and certification.
"There are lots of $100,000 hot rods out there. My stuff is $10,000 worth of bits and four months of graft. Nothing is wasted."
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