In keeping with reporting on some very rare cars now and again on the blog, i thought we’d take a closer look at a special Mini. And we didn’t have to travel too far to find one. It’s amazing what you can find lurking in garages just around the corner…
This is a very special Downton Sport 40 – a car that is no stranger to featuring on magazine covers. It made its first appearance on the cover of Mini Magazine back in 1999 and almost 20 years later, it looks every bit as good as it did then.
Now owned by Alan McClelland from Bangor, County Down, just two minutes from our writerss house, we grabbed the opportunity to take it into the stunning courtyard belonging to Clandeboye Estate on the outskirts of the seaside town.
Clandeboye Estate is one of the few private Northern Ireland estates that remains in the ownership of its original family. Home to the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, the beautiful grounds encompass around 2,000 acres that include a courtyard and chapel which regularly provides the venue for wedding ceremonies. A huge thank you must go to the Estate for allowing a photoshoot of a car in their Courtyard for the first time.
So what’s so special about this Mini? First, a short history lesson…
The name ‘Downton’ became synonymous with performance road cars, and particularly Minis, during the 1950s and 1960s. It was back in 1947 that Downton Engineering Works was purchased by Daniel and Veronica Richmond. Under their ownership, the small, local garage started to attract new clientele for servicing and engineering services on more exotic machinery, including Bentleys, Bugattis and Rolls Royce.
The Richmonds’ involvement in motorsport helped to unearth new business prospects and during the 1950s, Downton started producing performance parts for everyday cars. There was particular success during the early 1960s for Minis running with modified Downton cylinder heads and other components, and this led to a consultancy contract with the British Motor Corporation (BMC).
Downton developed the ‘S’ version of the classic Mini Cooper engine and the company became highly regarded for producing high performance sports cars, so much so that even Enzo Ferrari purchased a Downton Mini!
Sadly, both Daniel and Veronica passed away during the 1970s which led to the company closing its doors but a new company was launched by Stuart and Paul Mickleburgh under the name of Downton in 1993. The company offered a range of performance parts and they built a number of limited edition cars during what were the final days of Rover Mini production.
In 1999, Stuart and Paul decided to celebrate Mini’s 40th anniversary by building five limited edition cars. These five cars became known as the Downton Sport 40 and the car belonging to Alan McClelland, which graces these pages, is the coveted number one.
Downton Sport 40: Number 1
Car number one was finished in ‘surf blue’, which is perfectly complemented by the barn doors in Clandeboye Estate’s Courtyard. It was fitted with Group 1 Downton arches and finishing exterior touches included Downton alloy mirrors, an alloy fuel cap as well as clear side indicators plus Downton Sport 40 graphics and badges.
Open the doors and you’re greeted with full black leather interior that have the Downton logo emblazoned on the front seats. A full-width wooden dashboard houses a variety of dials as well as a cassette player. Most importantly, the build number is shown on a plaque opposite the front passenger seat with those all important words, “Mini 40th Anniversary Edition Downton Sport 40 No.1”.
Alloy door handles and a Downton gearknob complete the interior refinements while the Downton logo can be found on the dials and in the centre of the steering wheel, constantly reminding the driver that they’re in something a little bit special. Not that a driver should need any visual reminders – what’s under the bonnet has been subjected to some Downton fine-tuning too…
Under the Bonnet
Powering this pocket rocket is a Rover Cooper twin-point injection engine that has been rebored to 1293cc. It has Omega pistons, a revised camshaft, a Stage 3 Downton cylinder head, not to mention uprated racing bearings and bolts. Even the engine has a special Downton plaque with an engine build number and the words, ‘This engine is fitted with special parts’.
Power output is estimated to be around 89bhp at the wheels and the gearbox has a revised 3.2:1 final drive. This replaced the 2.9:1 final drive, giving it better acceleration while still retaining decent economy.
Koni dampers help absorb the bumps on the roads, not that this car has seen much road use since it was built 18 years ago. Just 3,228 miles were on the clock at our photoshoot, and that’s unlikely to increase much higher as McClelland keeps it tucked up safely for most of the year.
“I take it for an odd run up the road to keep it moving but it’s kept under covers most of the time,” McClelland told Used Cars NI. “I remember seeing the car for the first time as part of Tom Turkington’s collection. He had a big collection of Minis in Ballywalter and this car always caught my eye but I never thought I’d own it. Then he decided to sell some of his cars so I grabbed the chance. That was around 2001.”
The Downton Sport 40 is the latest in a long line of Minis that McClelland has owned. His Mini passion started from a young age when his father bought him a Mini van as his first car.
“That was my first Mini but I’ll always remember the first Mini that I bought myself,” McClelland said. “It was a black and white 1968 Mk2 version – that was really special. I had another black and white Mini after that and have had a lot more since then. My father was a Mini Cooper fan so that’s probably where it all stems from.”
Interestingly, McClelland’s passion for Minis goes hand in hand with his passion for motorsport. He has never competed, although he once got through to the final 10 of a nationwide BBC Driver of the Year competition during the ’70s, and he has followed many forms of motorsport for more than 50 years.
“My first memory of a motorsport event was watching Paddy Hopkirk compete in an autotest at a Bangor seafront car park,” McClelland recalled. “I rode my bike to watch the event, so I must have been around 12 or 14 at the time.”
“The first rally I went to see was the Texaco Rally,” he added. “It was going through Tardree Forest and I knew the roads quite well around there so I went with a friend, John MacDonald, in my Morris 1100 to watch it.”
McClelland and his wife, Jane, still go to watch motorsport events. Alan sometimes marshals too but when not at an event, he can have a peek in his garage to satisfy that mini motorsport yearning…
“I just want to keep the car as good as I can while I own it,” McClelland said. “It won’t be doing many miles but it gives me a lot of pleasure. As I said, I never thought I’d own it but when the opportunity came to buy it, I wanted it and that was that!”