Classic Cars, Features, Uncategorized

First love: Shannon Pilon’s Mini adoration

Shannon Pilon’s mechanic life started with racing Minis, giving him the skills to create and maintain his own very special version.

You never forget your first car. In it we get our first taste of freedom; our first memorable road trip. It’s with this car we really learn how to drive, and for a few of us, have a first bingle or run-in with the law. For mechanics, it’s often the car where skills are learnt, honed and even perfected. This is no customer car: it’s our own money being poured into making it look better, run sweeter or go faster. It’s the reason why we wonder what happened to that first four-wheeled love, and wish we still owned it, no matter how badly (and expensively) it treated us. No such problem for 43-year-old Queenslander Shannon Pilon.

He still owns the same 1964 Mini he bought as a fresh-faced 17-year-old embarking on a mechanical career. He’s a tall chap, so the idea of Shannon pouring himself into this diminutive British icon doesn’t seem possible until seen with your own eyes. But then you remember they’ve been a team for over a quarter of a century, and the modifications performed on this Mini are a shiny showcase for Shannon’s obvious talents. His career began working on high performance vehicles with Mick Caruso. Shannon pit crewed for Mick’s son (V8 Supercars driver Michael Caruso) in his go karting days, “when it was with Mark Winterbottom, James Courtney and all those guys,” he says. As with all motor sport – from karts to everything above – finding ways to make them go quicker and handle better is imperative. His next move was to a Mercedes-Benz dealership, before eventually taking his skills to the mines.

Twenty years later he’s still there, working as a project manager. “I always thought I’d be a carpenter,” Shannon explains, “but I’d been helping out a Mini race driver, Lindsay Dive, working
on the cars, and he said ‘no way: you’re a mechanic,’ and that’s where my love for the cars started.” Passion for the craft came easy. “I understood it, I enjoyed it, and it’s given me the know-how on how things are put together, operate and work.”

As we’ve found speaking to most with a solid grounding in mechanics, the skills learnt translate into many other areas of life. “In my current role as project manager, knowing how things work and how you can change things are a huge help,” Shannon says. “I’m able to make things work better and safer.” The man’s attention to detail is showcased superbly with his Mini. The presentation and finish are quite incredible. The ’64 was originally a Deluxe 1100 model, but Shannon bought it as a Cooper replica with the famed 1275cc motor transplanted into the titchy engine bay.

“For its first build I stripped it down, sandblasted it, added the body kit and the engine was built by Specialist Components in the UK,” says Shannon. “It would rev to 9500rpm; there was lots of high-end power.” The UK specialist is highly regarded for classic Mini tuning, specialising in A-series twin cam conversions. Having fitted the modified UK engine and enjoying many years of service, Shannon discovered a scored block after planning to just re-do the head gasket. “I knew I needed another block, but you really can’t get 1275 A Plus blocks here (in Australia) as they’re very rare,” he says. “I ordered the crank from MED Engineering, and they said it’s best to just send the whole thing back to Specialist Components.”

Shannon was tempted to do the whole build himself, but ended up crating the engine over to the UK once more. “They
do all the machining to get the heads to fit because they drill the drill pattern,” he says. “I wasn’t phased, and didn’t care how long it took as I just wanted to get it right. It ended up being an 18-month job, but it finished very well.” The 1275cc A Plus is a thicker block and stronger in design, Shannon explains, helping longevity. With this build, an MED Engineering stroker crank takes it out to 1460cc. A BMW K1200 16v motorcycle head’s been fitted along with custom pistons and Specialist Components’ own billet cams and billet throttle bodies. Undo the leather bonnet straps, raise the lightweight hood and behind and above the shiny chrome grille sits the motorised masterpiece.

Polished perfection, and good for around 170hp at a more life-extending 7500rpm limit. A race-like dog box manual gearbox mated to the engine, and with limited slip differential and six-point roll-cage fitted this little Mini is properly track ready. It hauls up far better than those old 60s Minis too. Shannon’s ditched the drums for a rear disc brake conversion, and upgraded using six-piston alloy callipers. “The brakes wouldn’t fit behind anything smaller than 13-inch wheels,” Shannon says, “so I’ve got Superlites in that size.” The stance is helped with rear coilovers, but all this modifying comes at a cost. “It was one of those snowballing effects,” he explains. “I had to change the support mounts where the suspension sits, and once I’d done that the fuel tank wouldn’t fit.” Check the boot out and there’s a gorgeous race-type fuel tank setup.

The interior’s immaculate. Shannon’s replaced the old seats, swapped the 1964 sliding windows for winding ones and
the rear seats are gone to accommodate a sound system and the roll cage. The exterior body kit is a relic from another time. It’s by Zeemax – bought out of the UK – a favourite from the 1990s modifying boom years. “That was the kit to have back then,” Shannon says, “and the paint has been on for about 16 years.” It’s a BMW Mini colour, and somehow still looks fresh from the spray booth. Shannon says the Mini’s pretty basic and easy to work on. “Although you’ve got to strip everything just to change a starter motor or alternator – it’s engine out for nearly anything.”

And for those who’ve never worked on an old Mini, the engine and gearbox are one so the engine oil is also your gearbox oil. Shannon says he has a driveshaft modification to undertake, but otherwise he’s just going to enjoy the Mini. He’s happy to keep it naturally aspirated and resist a turbo or supercharger upgrade. But as a talented mechanic, he can’t help have a bit of a wandering eye. He spots a classic Ford Mustang across the car park as we chat. “Maybe a 1968 Mustang Fastback would be nice…”

Send this to a friend