Cars

2021 DBA Mini Remastered Oselli Edition Review: Classic Style, Total Riot

My first car was a Mini, a 1968 Australian-built Mini Deluxe. Its previous owner(s) had added chrome wide wheels, a rorty sports muffler, and a Saas wood-rimmed three-spoke steering wheel, all of which delivered plenty of street cred in the high school parking lot. But the 2021 DBA Mini Remastered Oselli Edition (phew!) is a Mini beyond anything 16-year-old me could have imagined.

My Mini packed 38 hp and 52 lb-ft of torque, courtesy of the 998cc version of the BMC A-series four-banger under the hood. The DBA Oselli Edition punches out 125 hp at 6,200 rpm and 113 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm from a 1,450cc, near-race version of the venerable A-series (an engine introduced in 1951 in the Austin A30 that stayed in production until the last of the original, pre-BMW-era Minis rolled off the line in 2000).

My Mini took about 20 seconds to struggle to 60 mph and had a top speed of 75 mph, though I swear on a downhill stretch with a tail wind, I once saw the speedo needle flickering around the 80-mph mark. The DBA Oselli Edition sprints to 60 in 7.8 seconds and tops 100 mph. By how much is not certain, as the vintage replica Smiths speedo, with its authentic old-school graphics, only reads to 95 mph.

My Mini cost me about 600 bucks. The DBA Oselli Edition will lighten your wallet by more than $140,000. Yep, you read that right. This pint-sized pocket rocket will cost you more than three times as much as the bonkers, limited edition, 301-hp, 165-mph 2021 Mini John Cooper Works GP. And that’s before you start ticking any of the options boxes.

Who Is DBA? And What Is the Mini Remastered Oselli Edition?

DBA stands for David Brown Automotive, which was founded in 2013 and launched its first car, the $740,000-plus Speedback GT, in 2014. Basically a Jaguar XKR chassis and mechanicals wrapped in hand-shaped aluminum panels, the Speedback GT looks like a larger, sleeker riff on an Aston Martin DB5. Interestingly, though, company founder David Brown—a genial Yorkshireman and serial entrepreneur whose business interests range from brewing beer to manufacturing construction equipment—is not related to the British industrialist of the same name who owned Aston Martin from 1947 to 1972.

DBA’s second car, the Mini Remastered, was launched in 2017. As its name suggests, this is a remastered version of the Alec Issigonis-designed Mini that made its debut in 1959 and was produced with only minor changes for the next 41 years. The Mini Remastered combines original 1,275cc Mini powertrains—completely rebuilt and refurbished—with a brand-new body shell from British Motor Heritage, which now owns the original tooling. The interior features lashings of sumptuous leather, knurled aluminum switchgear, and even a modern infotainment system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen.

Prices start at an eye-watering $100,000 or so, plus tax. Even so, DBA says four examples have already been shipped to the U.S.

Announced in 2019, the Oselli Edition was created to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the original Mini, though the global pandemic got in the way of the party, delaying the car’s launch. Only 60 will be built, all available in either Old English White or Carbon Grey with graphics and stripes—hand painted, not decals—in Competition Red, Royal Blue, or Heritage Green. Oselli? It’s a British classic car sales, service, restoration, and performance engineering shop that traces its roots back to a race car tuning operation founded in 1962 by two BMC engineers who thought a vaguely Italian-sounding name was cool.

Oselli engineered and developed the 1,450cc A-series engine that’s at the heart of the Mini Remastered Oselli Edition. It’s been bored to what must be the outer limits of an A-series block—the siamesed exhaust ports on the middle two cylinders were a notorious head-gasket hotspot even on my Mini—and fitted with two 1.5-inch SU carburetors, headers and big-bore exhaust, and a more aggressive camshaft, all Mini go-fast hardware I could only dream about more than 40 years ago.

Other mechanical changes include a five-speed transmission that resides in the same space in the sump as the original four-speed, a limited-slip differential, AP Racing front disc brakes, and Bilstein shocks. Whereas the regular Mini Remastered rolls on 12-inch alloy wheels, the Oselli Edition gets 13-inchers. Tires are Yokohama A539s, 175/50R-13s all round. The 9-gallon gas tank is on the left-hand side of the trunk, just like in my Mini, though this car has the optional 5.5-gallon second tank on the right side, as well.

Instead of classic English charm, the Oselli Edition’s interior is race car chic, though still with a faintly ’60s vibe. There’s Alcantara on the deeply dished three-spoke steering wheel, and on the hip-hugging Sabelt seats. The standard interior seats four; our car has the optional two-seat setup, which means there’s a half roll cage behind the seats with Sabelt four-point racing harnesses strung from it. The Oselli Edition’s not exactly Spartan, though. It has the regular car’s power windows, Pioneer infotainment system, and air conditioning. Air conditioning! A hot summer’s day in my Mini meant both front windows rolled down and the two rear side windows popped open, the throbby baritone from the exhaust filling the cabin.

Issigonis’ Mini was a groundbreaking design. It pioneered the transverse-mounted engine and front-wheel-drive layout that’s used in most modern mainstream automobiles so that most of the car’s tiny footprint could be used to accommodate four passengers and their luggage. And it is tiny, just 120.3 inches long, 57.9 inches wide, and 52.4 inches tall, and with an 80.1-inch wheelbase. Today’s two-door Mini is gigantic by comparison—32 inches longer, almost a foot wider, 3.5 inches taller, and with an 18-inch-longer wheelbase.

I fold myself in through the door and, once settled, marvel again at how well this tiny car accommodates my 6-foot-2 frame. The steering column has been dropped so it feels less like you’re steering a bus—my car had aftermarket column supports that did the same thing—but the shifter sprouts out the floor in the same way, and the pedals are still tightly bunched in the footwell. I sold my Mini in 1977 and have only driven one other original version in the four decades since, but the muscle memory comes flooding back in the first few miles.

The race-face A-series needs to be kept spinning—spend too long lurking below 2,000 rpm, and it will start to gag and sputter like high-performance engines used to in the days before fuel-injection and engine management computers. But punch the gas pedal, hear the SUs gurgle, and the little engine lights up, spinning happily to 6,200 rpm. The shifter’s throw is long and the gate wide—it doesn’t quite have the mechanical feel I remember—but you always find the gear you want, when you want it. Those tightly grouped pedals mean heel-and-toe downshifts are a cinch.

The Oselli Edition might only have 125 hp, but it feels quick—indeed, its claimed 0-60-mph time is only 2.8 seconds slower than that of the Mini John Cooper Works GP, a car with nearly two and a half times the horsepower and a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s physics: The Oselli Edition weighs just 1,631 pounds, 40 percent less than its modern counterpart.

Low mass doesn’t just help longitudinal acceleration: The Oselli Edition’s steering, which has electronic power assist up to 15 mph, is as kart-darty as I remember, the car responding the instant you pull the wheel off center. But there’s more roll than I recall. My Mini had BMC’s innovative Hydrolastic suspension, with rubber springs all around and a hydraulic fluid damper system connecting the front and rear wheels on each side of the car. The Hydrolastic setup reduced fore-aft pitch and improved the ride while still allowing the car to have high roll stiffness. By contrast, the Oselli Edition leans noticeably in corners, though the body motions are beautifully controlled by the Bilstein shocks.

My Mini would snap and spin like a top if I dared lift off the gas on corner entry. The Oselli Edition initially feels much more tail happy, but, paradoxically, it also feels more controllable. Its greater rate of roll means you’re more aware of the weight transfer occurring during transients, and so you’re more easily able to modulate liftoff oversteer to get the little car rotated and into corners. You’ll get power understeer if you’re too ambitious with the throttle, the front tires scrabbling for grip. But once those tires hook up, the limited-slip diff means the little Mini will go exactly where the front wheels are pointed.

It’s a boisterous little thing on the track and great fun on the road, where its small size, high agility, and low mass mean you always have much more real estate to play with than drivers in regular cars. Sure, there are modern hot hatches that are faster, with more power and more grip, but few deliver the grin-inducing driver engagement the Oselli Edition does at speeds that won’t get you locked up.

The Oselli Edition really is a Mini Remastered, a car that distills the original Mini’s giant-killing spirit. They say you can’t buy memories. But as I climbed out from this thoughtfully upgraded and beautifully built little car, I was, just for a moment, a 16-year-old-kid once again.


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