The team with their record-setting Mini, from left; Garry Orton, Teena Larsen, Maurice Larsen, Anita Hulme, Bryan Hartley, Shane Nicholson, Nelson Hartley, Graham Wilson, Aaron Hartley and Mike Wilson. Photo:

Nelson mini is world’s fastest


After breaking two land speed records and roaring across Bonneville faster than you can say ‘1964 Mini Cooper S’, the predominantly Nelsonian racing team are returning home with salt fever.

The team of eight, co-founded by Nelson race car mechanic Garry Orton, spent last week racing a classic 52-year-old Mini Cooper S across the salt flats at the Bonneville Speed Week in Utah.

The week brings thousands of car enthusiasts together around one common goal: to go as fast as possible and the endless salt flats provide the perfect setting to set new records.

And that’s just what the kiwi team did, reaching a top speed of 166mph and breaking two world land speed records.

Driver Nelson Hartley prepares to break the second land speed record.
Driver Nelson Hartley prepares to break the second land speed record.

The first record was set during tuning runs in the I/BGALT class, where the mini smashed the 133.896mph (215.485kph) record, speeding down the track at 144.033mph (231.799kph).

The team then switched classes to I/BFALT – a change from petrol to methanol, and on a tuning run for methanol broke the 140.458mph (226.045kph) class record with a speed of 158.039mph (254.339kph).

They were unable to back this up due to a hose fault on their next run.

Once the problem was solved they went out again and qualified at 153.710mph (247.372kph), and backed it up the next morning for a record result of 156.006mph (251.067kph).

Team member Mike Wilson says that, despite being a bunch of low-key kiwi blokes, the team were ecstatic when they set the new records.

“I remember after the first one, Aaron, who’s the token American in the team, jumped out of his pick-up truck, put his arms in the air and shouted the speed to the world, but there were only a couple of us who understood why he was doing it, everyone was very excited.”

On the third record attempt, in the I/BFCC class, the car once again blitzed the qualifying run, reaching an incredible 166.046mph (267.225kph).

But after a week of racing, an engine part failed on the second run, the car lost oil pressure early on and only reached 144mph before having to pull off the track.

“It’s disappointing not to get the third record,” says Mike. “But we did get it up to 166mph which is, as far as we know, the fastest a mini with an original motor has ever gone.”

Mike says the shock on people’s faces when they see a 35 horsepower engine put out 370-400 horsepower is priceless.

“Everyone comes up and asks about the mini, you don’t really see them here so they all want to know how fast we’re going and when we say ‘166mph’ they just stop dead, they have nothing to say, their jaws drop and then they say ‘I was expecting something like 120mph at the most’.”

With a bit of Burt Munroe kiwi ingenuity, the team have managed to take an old mini and transform it into a speed machine.

“The motor was designed in the 1950s, we’ve changed it by using a BMW motorcycle engine head but even that is 30 years old, none of it is designed for this, but the combination of parts and the brilliance of the engineers on the team has lead to these huge record margins,” says Mike.

Mike says the team might get back to Bonneville in 2018 with something a bit different, but that’s all under wraps.

“When we first went in 2012 the idea was that we were ticking something off the bucket list, but everyone in Bonneville said, ‘nah, you’re gonna get salt fever, you’re going to want to go back’, and they were right.”