Tuesday, 16 June 2020

All about the Hamlin Special - once the Fastest Mini in the World

An overwhelming amount of information has come to me about the Mini Special of Frank Hamlin (not Hamblin), which I wrote about last week (click here). I understand that Hamlin passed away in 2016 but he was involved in racing Minis for most of his life, still being New Zealand's Mini racing champion at the age of 74. Also: the car survives and is currently being restored.

Ken Douglas sent a great number of photographs of the car being raced, crashed and even being built back in 1965-'66. The tuning company that was also on the car's front wings was named Hamlin Charles Ltd. after Hamlin's team-up with Murray Charles in 1965. Ken also knew the car's current owner is Neil Whiting who is working on its restoration.

Another unbelievably detailed source of information was - once again - Graeme Farr, who even owned the Mini Special at one stage and sent over a first-hand story, mostly from talking to Frank himself about the car. Graeme wrote: "Frank called the car a Lowline Mini and it was built for an allcomers saloon class in 1966. But publisher Robin Curtis who bought the car off him and converted it to a road car called it a Minisprint and had a badge made that is still with the car."

He continues in great detail: "It was built out of a blue 1959 lightweight Mini but had parts from a wrecked Cooper 'S' which Frank bought. A panelshop chap called Jack Paterson (who was my neighbour in the '80s) did the alloy bonnet and doors and his employee Neil Hawker and polytech tutor John Oldfield did the roof lowering and John did the front guards with Neil finishing them."

"The car had the Cooper 'S' engine with a initially a AEG163 head ground by a chap called Bob Austin but I think to Frank's design. A new head was fitted later and also ground by Bob but this head was down 7-8hp than the original but Frank got this back when he further modified the head. The car had 105hp at the wheels on the rolling road dyno that Hamlin and Charles had. It had a 45DCOE Weber with a cold air box behind the alloy sheet dashboard which fed from the passengers side headlamp cowl. The cam was an Australian John Harvey cam which was a back to front BMC Sprint cam - with a exhaust duration longer than the inlet - which is like a modern race cam. Franks made his own big bore exhaust much like a BMC Competitions one."

"The car had a 16 row oil cooler and a crossflow radiator out of a Standard Vanguard 6. It had a straight cut box with a Jack Knight pawl LSD and was high geared to match the slippery shape. It ran a 3.7 at all tracks except the faster Pukekohe in Auckland where it ran a 3.4 ratio. It was timed at an amazing 132 mph in a flying 1/4 mile sprint with 8400-8500 on a 3.4 diff at the Main Drain Road sprint near Palmerston North. It was reported in a UK magazine as the 'Fastest Mini in the World'."

"The car had 5.5" Minilite wheels and a rear anti-roll bar and no seat belts and no roll-over bar. It had front negative camber by re-drilling the inner mounts on the bottom arms. Frank used a standard Mini seat and steering wheel. The car was painted a General Motors grey colour by the local GM agents Manthel Motors in exchange for work on a Holden used for the Benson and Hedges sponsored annual long distance production race which Frank drove with local racer David Slater."

"Frank raced it with considerable success in the 1966 season. The big crash at the Wigram airfield races was caused by an outer CV breaking on a high speed left-hander before the main straight. The car oversteered and hit a barrier and flew 30 feet into the air before coming down upside down and spinning 360 degrees on the roof - hence the damage. One report had Jim Clark pulling Frank out of the back window and telling him off for not wearing a seatbelt. Frank said petrol was dripping when he was upside down."

"The car was repaired but the regulations changed after 1966 when Group 2 was introduced which required a standard body. Frank sold the car to Robert Stewart in Christchurch who raced it briefly before converting it to a standard shell which became famous as the PDL Mini. Robert kept the EU7304 number plate, possibly because it was off the original Cooper 'S' that Frank has used."

"Robert put an 1100cc engine into the Lowline car and used the number plates off the standard donor body. He sold the car to well known journalist and publisher Robin Curtis who used it as a road car and daily driver for a number of years. Robin later painted it purple and fitted a 1275 engine and brakes off a Morris 1100. The car had a quilted headlining when Robin gave me a ride in it in the late 1970s. It was well used inside and out and still grey and silver at that stage."

"Robin sold the car to local Mini racer and mechanic Peter Zivcovic mainly for the modified 1275 it had which Peter used in his race Mini. The shell then ended up with Neil Whiting who sold it to me around 1985 - and then bought it back in the mid-1990s. Neil still has the car and is restoring it at present."

"An interesting aside is when the Wellington makers of iconic Mini movie Goodbye Pork Pie asked Robin Curtis who might be a good Mini driver to do the stunts for the film - he said he didn't know but had just sold his Minisprint to a local Mini racer and passed on Peter's details. They employed Peter who did a superb job on the film and has continued in the movie industry ever since. So the little Minisprint had a role in the success of the Pork Pie movie as well!"

Thanks very much to everyone who sent information about this very special New Zealand Mini Special, especially Ken and Graeme. Keep it coming!

Hamlin's 'Lowline Mini' under construction. It used steel guards with an alloy 
bonnet and alloy panels on the steel door frames
Picture Ken Douglas 

The crash at the Wigram airfield races was caused by an outer CV breaking on a high speed left-hander before the main straight. The car oversteered and hit a barrier and flew 30 feet into the air before coming down upside down and spinning 360 degrees on the roof
Picture Ken Douglas

More pictures after the crash. It was reported that Jim Clark pulled Frank out of the back window and telling him off for not wearing a seatbelt. Frank said petrol was dripping when he was upside down
Picture Ken Douglas

The car was repaired after the crash and raced once again succesfully
Picture Ken Douglas

'78' Clearly was Frank Hamlin's racing number. This was World's Fastest Mini at the time
Picture Ken Douglas

Frank Hamlin's second 'Mini Sprint' built many years later and now owned by Marvin Turton
Picture Ken Douglas

Graeme Farr: "I owned it for a while. It sat inside a bedroom in my house which amused passers by. Photo here of us lifting it in through the sliding doors"
Picture Graeme Farr

Painted purple at one stage and fitted with an 1100 engine it was not quite the Fastest Mini in the World it had been before
Picture Graeme Farr

Neil Whiting currently owns the car and has nearly finished the restoration by this time
Picture Graeme Farr

The late Frank Hamlin seen here with another of his racing Minis - still champion at 74 years
Picture Ken Douglas

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