August saw Project 64 reach its successful conclusion with a modified Mini Cooper S breaking of the land speed record for a sub 1000cc class at the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. The victory was achieved by a small team of New Zealanders, who have worked on turning the 1964 Mini Cooper 970 S into a vehicle capable of becoming the fastest classic car in its class. With a qualifying run of 142mph, and a subsequent speed of 151mph, an official world record of 146.6mph was used as an average, despite the team making an unofficial third mile run of 158.045mph that could not be tested as the Mini refused to start.
Project 64 was led by Garry Orton, Guy Griffith, Chris Jones, Mike Wilson, Garry Grant, Bryan Hartley, and driver Nelson Hartley. The quest to turn a 1964 Mini Cooper S into a world beater on American soil began in the New Zealand city of Nelson over a year ago, and progressed through the raising of $100,000 from sponsors that included the World of Wearable Art, the local Classic Car Museum, Talley’s, and Maersk Shipping, who handled transportation of the Mini to the United States.
In terms of the car itself, the main challenge became to modify the Mini Cooper S body, while still remaining compliant with sub 1000cc rules for the speed trials. To this end, the Project 64 team focused on retaining a standard engine block for the car, while adding a supercharged overhead cam engine to raise the vehicle to 300 bhp. With the Mini Cooper S’s body already optimised to make the most of the car’s aerodynamic frames, the 1964 970 S type was able to perform at high speeds without experiencing significant damage.
Road to Bonneville
The road to Bonneville started, rather, with the shipping of the Mini Cooper S from New Zealand to Los Angeles. From there it was driven to the salt flats of Bonneville for Rookie Orientation and initial stages. The contest demands that qualifying and test runs are followed by official verification under test conditions. Having completed a 146mph qualifying run, the team were then able to pass through further verification trials to reach the 146.6mph required to assume the record. While the car was unable to officially break 150mph due to breaking down before a final verification run, its achievement in combining rapid acceleration with shutting down after 4.8km markers to retain momentum, achieved the original goal of Project 64.
Interest in the New Zealanders’ efforts has come in from all of the world, with the Project 64 Facebook page and Twitter account receiving thousands of queries and messages of support. Part of this appeal has derived from the still iconic status that the Mini Cooper S holds for car enthusiasts, and for its powerful associations with The Italian Job, and the car’s ability to pull off impressive stunts. Future plans for Project 64, which originally included putting the test car into a local Nelson museum, may now involve having another run at improving their record in Bonneville in 2013. Book and documentary records of the Project 64 adventure are also planned. The car itself is still in the United States, though, as the next ship back carrying it isn’t leaving until December.
Rob James is currently working with Cooper Mini in an exciting project involving research into the latest in automotive technology and innovation. Rob is also a copywriter, car enthusiast and a regular blogger within the motor industry.