Elf v. Gremlins: the Elf won

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Brian Smart’s 1986 MkIII Riley Elf was bought from Ebay in May of 2005, for $4000, having been advertised as being in good condition with no visible welding. Since then, it has cost a further $26,000…

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The Red Riley has a bit of aggression in its stance, but still looks like a nice harmless Elf.

The Red Riley has a bit of aggression in its stance, but still looks like a nice harmless Elf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most intriguing feature of the car is the extra radiator grilles and apertures which were needed to allow air through the offset Honda radiator. Originally, the upper grilles were to be in polished aluminium, but Brian never thought it looked quite right, and in the end he painted the grilles body colour. This was the perfect solution – they look almost like part of the original design, but add a subtle performance twist to the visual appeal of the car.

 

Other then the fat arches and Minilites, the only stand-out items are the super-rare all-red USA tail light lenses.

Other than the fat arches and Minilites, the only stand-out items are the super-rare all-red USA tail light lenses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way past, the Riley definitely doesn’t sound right. No gearbox whine and no cheery A-series rasp.

On the way past, the Riley definitely doesn’t sound right. No gearbox whine and no cheery A-series rasp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Riley is also a bit more rapid than most Elves, which are normally placid creatures.

This Riley is also a bit more rapid than most Elves, which are normally placid creatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Brian wrote  a very comprehensive and cohesive set of questionnaire replies, and as Miniresto doesn’t have to adhere to the usual rules of magazine publishing, here’s his story in his own words.

“In 2005, after initially purchasing the Elf, I replaced the radiator, water pump, starter, headlights and tires, and pumped up the hydrolastic to get the car in drivable condition.

The reason the welding wasn’t visible was because it was buried under body filler. The paint was very worn, and looked to have been put on with a spray can, with primer showing through in spots. It is my belief that the car was rescued from a scrapyard at some point. It’s had the front wings replaced, and the front panel appears to have been made up from scrap flat steel, with the grill openings hacked out with an axe. The doors appear to be Mini doors, rather than the proper Elf ones, and have been modded to fit. Since doing the body work and paint, I’ve found a reasonably good set of Elf doors, which will get put on when I have the time, and I’ll probably replace the front panel at some point to make it fit better.

Originally, I just wanted a car that I could drive and have fun with. The VTEC idea came after I’d driven the Elf as it was for 2 or 3 years. I remember talking to BJ of Minitec (www.superfastminis.com) at Mini Meet East in 2007 about doing the conversion, but at that time the option of doing the D-series motor in the standard length front end was not yet available. I considered doing a full steel flip front end but decided to wait. By the time I was ready to start, Mini Tec had done a D-Series VTEC in a standard Mini without stretching the front wings, and I was sold on the project. I told them that what I wanted was a good running and solid car that I could drive with confidence on the US interstate highways. I wasn’t interested in a high-strung high-maintenance fire-breathing monster. So far I’ve put thousands of miles on the car, and other than a couple of minor teething issues, I’ve been extremely pleased with how it turned out. I haven’t felt the need to put the car on a trailer to take it to shows, and it’s been driven to all the events it’s attended so far.

Less than a week after picking up the car in February after the engine conversion, I drove it 400 miles to Orlando, Florida for the FLAME Spring Thing. It ran well, but the speedometer stopped working after about 150 miles. Then while driving back home after the weekend, the speedo started working again, but at fast forward speed, staying stuck all the way around. So I was never really sure how fast I was going, although I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with traffic. Once I got home, I ordered the new gauges and started working on the new dash. I like to know how fast I’m going when I buzz past the Mustangs and BMWs.

I drove the Elf 375 miles to Townsend, Tennessee to CMU Mini 50 Party in the Smokies. After putting about 2000 miles on the car after the VTEC conversion, the Elf ran flawlessly for the 9 hour trip over the mountains, but on the second day of the meet, the clutch failed on the Dragon’s Tail in Tennessee and I had to have the car dolly-towed to Georgia to have the clutch replaced. The Honda clutch plate had lost one of the springs.

The only other problem has been a slightly overheated wallet on several occasions during the project.

As auto mechanics go, I’m a pretty good carpenter. I’ve torn engines apart and got them running again out of necessity and lack of funds, and I can handle most mechanical and electrical maintenance, but I’d rather let the pros handle the big stuff (when I can afford them).

This car was shot at a Classic Minis United event in Tennessee, much of which is attractive although sweaty in summer.

This car was shot at a Classic Minis United event in Tennessee, much of which is attractive although sweaty in summer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brian enjoys throwing the Elf around amusing corners on the Tail of the Dragon, a favourite local place for falling off motorbikes.

Brian enjoys throwing the Elf around amusing corners on the Tail of the Dragon, a favourite local place for falling off motorbikes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Between August 2008 and February 2009, the Elf was at Mini Tec in Royston, Georgia, for the VTEC conversion.

Mini Tec did all of this:

Exterior bodywork and paint; Removed the stock engine and subframe; Fitted Mini Tec MTD subframe and coilover spring suspension; Converted to left hand drive; Fitted D16Z6 SOHC Honda VTEC and 5-speed transmission; Installed Honda shifter and built custom shift linkage; Installed hybrid Honda/Mini axles; Fitted Mini disc brake hubs and Mini Tec/Outlaw Superbrake disc brakes; Modified original hydrolastic rear subframe to accept blue road coil springs, Hi-Los, and G-Max gas shocks; Installed exhaust system; Modified front panel to allow additional air intake, and built custom upper grilles; installed air conditioning unit; Modified Miata seat frames to fit original mounting points.

I did this:

Repaired and dyed tan leather Miata MX5 seats to match tartan red interior; Installed seats; Built custom wooden dash; Installed and wired all electronic instruments and senders; Built custom twin-tank Elf bootboard; Installed front wind side marker lights and high-mount brake light; Installed ICE in custom rear under-seat dash; Installed 12 volt power outlet for GPS.

 

Brian’s first car was a 1964 Chevy Malibu that he bought from a friend for $325 when he was 15 years old. Since then…

1971 Plymouth Cricket (known in the UK as a Hillman Avenger)1973 Ford Pinto Squire Wagon (with the wood grain vinyl on the sides); 1973 Plymouth Duster; 1969 Dodge Coronet; 1977 Plymouth Volare Wagon; 1974 Ford Pinto Wagon (yes, I’ve had two); 1950 Studebaker R-5 Pickup Truck (never ran); 1976 Dodge Pickup Truck; 1973 Honda Accord; 1969 Toyota Corolla Wagon (Rescued from the scrap for 45 dollars, ran like a top after replacing a $1.50 core plug); 1985 Oldsmobile Omega; 1971 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale Convertible (with a 455ci V-8); 1979 Datsun Pickup truck; 1966 Chevy Biscayne; 1985 Chevy S-10 Blazer 4×4; 1974 Ford Maverick Grabber (with a 302ci V8); 1985 Ford Bronco 4×4 (I took this one to Iceland when I was assigned there 1989-1991); 1963 Chevy Pickup Truck; 1985 Subaru XT ; 1993 Mitsubishi Mighty Max Pickup (I lowered and customized this one); Also several motorcycles – 1979 Honda XL250; 1997 Suzuki Avenger 800; 1998 Suzuki Intruder 1500 (Fully customized to look like a Harley bagger); 2001 American Ironhorse Tejas hardtail chopper.

Current cars – 1995 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 (I love this truck!); 2008 Toyota Prius Hybrid (My wife’s car); 1959 Austin Healey Sprite (we call them Bugeyes over here) non-running project

Cars yet to come – Austin A30 convertible like the yellow one at the Heritage Centre in Gaydon; Riley 1100 and 1.5; Mini round-nose Estate; 1953 Studebaker Starliner Hardtop.

 

The badge gives the game away: VTEC refers to variable valve geometry undreamt of by the Mini’s engine designers.

The badge gives the game away: VTEC refers to variable valve geometry undreamt of by the Mini’s engine designers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Indicator repeaters aren’t standard on Elves, but they fit with the fat arches and they’re a good idea anyway.

Indicator repeaters aren’t standard on Elves, but they fit with the fat arches and they’re a good idea anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indicator repeaters aren’t standard on Elves, but they fit with the fat arches and they’re a good idea anyway.

The top styling idea on this car was to blend the extra grilles into the background by painting them body colour. Subtle and effective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THANKS TO my lovely wife, Janet for supporting my crazy ideas and always encouraging me to never grow up. She loves my Elf, she says it’s cute, but she might change her opinion if I ever let her behind the wheel. Also to the guys at Mini Tec; Norman, BJ, Cary, Tom, John, AJ, and Moses the guard dog (Moses didn’t really help, but he always greeted me when I went to visit)

 

The grille attached to the bonnet remains a very effective tool for removing chunks of scalp, but makes engine access easier once you’ve stopped the bleeding.
The original grille attached to the bonnet remains a very effective tool for removing chunks of scalp, but makes engine access easier once you’ve stopped the bleeding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The need for the additional grilles can be seen here: the new rad is vertical and over to the right and needs more airflow than the Riley side grilles allow.

The need for the additional grilles can be seen here: the new rad is vertical and over to the right and needs more airflow than the Riley side grilles allow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minitec want to make sure we all know who supplied the conversion kit. Fair enough, they put a lot of effort into getting it right.

Minitec want to make sure we all know who supplied the conversion kit. Fair enough, they put a lot of effort into getting it right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The air intake system has been the subject of some fettling since the major work was completed.
The air intake system has been the subject of some fettling since the major work was completed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Engine installation is neat and tidy. It took a bit of doing on the design side to get this engine inside a Mini engine bay, though.
Engine installation is neat and tidy. It took a bit of doing on the design side to get this engine inside a Mini engine bay, though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROFILE – BRIAN SMART

I was in the US Air Force for 23 years, and I retired in 2003. I spent the first 16 years as an Electronic Calibration Technician, then the last 7 years as a Combat Videographer. I now spend most of my time attending college classes and I have several degrees, including one in Digital Graphic Design, and I’m working on a degree in Studio Art now. I do some freelance photography and graphic design consulting.

Pets? 3 cats, Bastet, ZZ, and Shadow; a Red Bone Coon Hound named Rosie, and 16 Guinea Fowl

Children? 2 beautiful daughters, both with lucky husbands, and a grandson, Braelen

Favourite food? Pizza

Music of the moment? I’ve got Tao Nguyen, Kaki King, Nyaz, Dengue Fever, Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and Bellowhead on the iPhone at the moment

Favourite drink? Decent beer, which means none of that horrible American mass-produced stuff. Give me a nice IPA or ESB, organic or microbrew

Does your Mini have a name? Kreacher (it’s an Elf, isn’t it?)

Favourite Mini suppliers? GB Cars, Minimal Motoring, 7 Enterprises, Mini Mania, Mini Spares, Huddersfield, MiniBitz

Clubs? British Car club of Charleston, Elf/Hornet Register, Classic Minis United, Minis Unlimited, National Beard Registry

 

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The seats look in excellent shape, although they were repaired and re-dyed before being fitted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The driver’s seat had a coupler of holes worn in it, so Brian patched it with glue and spare pieces of hide.

W32 The driver’s seat had a couple of holes worn in it, so Brian patched it with glue and spare pieces of hide.

W33 The repair didn’t look too convincing at first, but once he’d re-dyed the leather seat red, the repair almost disappeared. Loads of money saved, and Mazda seats are very good.

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The repair didn’t look too convincing at first, but after Brian re-dyed the whole seat the damage virtually vanished.

 

 

 

 

 

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The final results on the seats are impressive. Mos of us would be happy to have seats this nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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With stain and varnish, the finish looks good. Proper oil-based shiny varnish can still be found at ship’s chandlers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The dashboard was created from scratch, using the Riley design but adapted for more instruments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finished dashboard looks well tasty. There’s no need to mess about with expensive veneer – you can get a nice finish with stained plywood.

 

 

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Hydrolastic suspension has now been replaced with coiulover shocks, giving plenty of tuning options.

 

 

 

 

 

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Custom shock tower can be seen on the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The alternative to Brian’s original wings is Minitec’s flip-up front, which makes life much easier and gives excellent access: hopefully with the Hoinda motor it won’t often be needed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brian is now working on a trailer like this one, using the remains of a scrap Riley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is the clutch that broke and stranded the car. It’s not recorded how much abuse it took before breaking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AS OF 2013, the latest on Brian’s Elf is not a great deal going on with the car, although he’s finally got round to making some minor improvements to the fuel system. It’s always been a bit problematic getting the twin tanks to function well with the Honda fuel injection.

Back to Brian: “I’ve had some better sealing filler necks put on the tanks to help eliminate fuel slop from the necks, and working some bugs out of the fuel return system. Carbs are so much simpler!

I’ve also had the modified Honda intake manifold reworked to eliminate issues with leakage associated with the silicone couplers on the runners, and reworked a stock Honda Civic throttle cable to take some hesitation out of the throttle response due to slack in the cable. Makes a big difference.

I finished my BFA in Graphic Design in January so I’m finally getting some time to start working on the plans for my trailer, which is being built from the remains of a scrap Riley parts donor. I installed a custom made receiver hitch on the car for a start. I’ve posted photos on flickr.”

 

Intake mods: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briansmart/sets/72157632265423873/

Tank mods: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briansmart/sets/72157632425205356/

Trailer hitch: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briansmart/sets/72157632485076366/with/8365466791/

Trailer progress: http://www.flickr.com/photos/briansmart/sets/72157615082352703/

 

Brian Smart is now a freelance graphic artist and runs Smart Graphic Media  – check out his portfolio at smartgraphicmedia.com

 

 

TECH SPEC

Engine: Honda D16Z6 1600cc Vtec. Multipoint fuel injection, custom cold air intake with high flow air filter. Honda intake manifold, shortened and fitted with silicone elbows to clear bulkhead. Aluminum Honda radiator with electric fan and chrome catch can. Thermostatically controlled electric fan. Cast iron Honda exhaust manifold, slightly modified to clear front panel, steel exhaust system with rear side exit and effective silencer. Standard engine spec is 125bhp, 106lbs ft.

Gearbox: Honda 5 Speed, 4.25:1 standard Honda diff. Tilton clutch pedal with 5/8” clutch master cylinder and inner-wing-mounted reservoir. Honda gear lever with custom linkage to transmission.

Brakes: braided steel lines throughout. Wilwood aluminum racing pedals with 3/4” rear brake master cylinder, 7/10” front brake master cylinder and Tilton reservoirs mounted on the inner wing. Front, Mini Tec/Outlaw disc brakes. 4-piston alloy callipers, 9.5″ vented rotors, high performance pads. Rear, Superfin drums with twin leading shoes and uprated linings.

Suspension: Steering converted to left hand drive. Front, Minitec MTD front subframe with adjustable lower arms, coilover shocks. Rear, original hydrolastic subframe, fitted with blue road coil springs and G-Max gas shocks.

Wheels & Tyres: 6J x 13 Australian Superlite alloys with one-off Riley center badges. Tyres, Yokohama A539 175/50-13

Exterior: 1968 Riley Elf bodyshell. Sportpack style fiberglass arches. Extra front panel openings for increased air flow, with custom made aluminum grilles painted body colour. Blood Red paint with Whitehall Beige roof, two-pack base and clearcoat. Wipac Quadoptic H-4 left hand drive headlights with sidelights. New old stock Austin 1100 red lens export tail lights. Austin America amber lens front indicator lights. Front wing side marker lamps. High-mount brake light. Desmo boomerang wing mirrors, from Ebay. Right rear wing opened for extra fuel tank filler to HDPE Plastic right hand fuel tank, from Paul Gulson in Australia.

Interior: Mazda Miata MX5 tan leather seats dyed to match the Tartan red interior. Securon 3-point front belts, no rear belts. Hand-built wooden dash with Auto Meter 160mph electronic speedometer, 8000rpm electronic tach, electric fuel and water temp, mechanical oil pressure gauge. 14 inch Mountney leather wheel with one-off Riley centre badge. Ex-Japanese import Mini air conditioning unit under dash feeding into stock fresh air vents. Hand built custom boot board to fit with the twin fuel tanks, trimmed with a modified Elf boot board carpet kit from Newton Commercial. Music, Sony head unit with USB and iPod connector and two 5-1/4” Kenwood speakers mounted in custom rear dash under rear seat, two Pioneer deck speakers on rear parcel shelf.

Prizes won: before the VTEC conversion, 3rd Place in the Classic Mini class at the BCCC 21st Annual British Car Day 2005, 2nd Place in the Riley/Wolseley class at FLAME Spring Thing 2008. After the VTEC conversion, 1st Place in the Riley/Wolseley class at FLAME Spring Thing 2009, 1st Place in the Non A-Series Mini class at CMU Mini 50 Party in the Smokies.