Sloane Street in Chelsea has one of the UK’s first acoustic traffic cameras. If your car’s exhaust emits more than 100 decibels as you pass it, you can expect a letter from the council and a £100 fine. Lamborghini drivers are among the worst offenders, apparently.
On one of Britain’s wealthiest shopping streets, the aim is to stop playboys showing off in their supercars. Yet I’m zipping along in near-silence and turning more well-coiffed heads than any Italian exotic. And my electrified classic Mini doesn’t trouble the acoustic camera because it has no exhaust.
Now, I’ve driven Lamborghinis through London (all in a day’s work, etc), but none caused a stir quite like the David Brown Mini eMastered. On the A4 in Knightsbridge, a lorry driver blocks oncoming traffic to express his admiration. In Mayfair, a pedestrian stops abruptly while crossing the road to take photos. And in Battersea, an elderly gent ambles over to tell me about the Cooper S he raced in the 1970s.
Familiar to millions
Such reactions are remarkable when you think how commonplace Minis once were. Indeed, with almost 5.4 million built between 1959 and 2000, this two-door saloon is still the best-selling British car of all time. I’m far from immune to Mini-mania, though. My first car was a rusty Mini 1000, swiftly followed by a Rover Cooper, so driving the eMastered is a real nostalgia trip.
Silverstone-based David Brown Automotive first launched its restomod Mini Remastered in 2017. This new version trades the traditional A-Series engine for a front-mounted electric motor: good for 98hp, 129lb ft of torque and 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds.
An 18.8kWh battery limits the Mini’s range to 110 miles, so you need to think carefully about venturing into the wilds beyond the M25. However, the small battery helps cut kerb weight to just 640kg – about the same as an original Mini and 100kg lighter than the petrol-powered Remastered. A full charge takes around three hours at a maximum 6.6kW.
At £150,000 including tax, there is no escaping the eMastered’s far-from-miniature price tag, but it offers truly bespoke luxury on a smaller scale. Each car is hand-built from a deseamed shell, with lustrous paint, modern LED lights and plenty of polished chrome. Inside, you’ll find knurled metal switches, air conditioning and a touchscreen media system.
Simon Cowell, who bought the first Mini eMastered, went for bronze with gold stripes – a nod to the Lotus Esprit in 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only. David Brown’s press demonstrator is outwardly more subtle, with a ‘Champagne Supernova’ body and ‘Tangerine Dream’ roof, plus classic Minilite alloy wheels. That said, its leather-lined interior is very orange indeed, with a unique airbrushed design across the dashboard.
Car launches rarely happen in central London, and there are good reasons for that; in my two hours with the Mini, I cover less than 20 miles. Thankfully, the eMastered feels tailor-made for the urban slog. Although you can’t drive it with one pedal like some EVs, the single-speed transmission (just slot the lever into drive or reverse) offers smooth, easy progress, while its diminutive size makes parking a doddle. You don’t need to worry about the ULEZ charge, either.
When you’re not stuck in traffic or chatting to curious tourists, the Mini is also irrepressibly fun to drive. The latest, BMW-built Mini promises ‘Maximum go-kart feel’, but this is the real deal. Steering response is instant, acceleration feels lively and the battery-boosting regen brakes are strong and progressive. The rising whine of the electric motor is oddly reminiscent of an A-Series, too.
Ducking down side streets and whizzing through width restrictors, I involuntarily find myself humming the chorus to The Self Preservation Society (watch the original version of The Italian Job, if you haven’t done so already). The David Brown Mini eMastered is impossible to justify in any rational way, but highly desirable all the same. Much like a Lamborghini, then.