This Dainty British Sedan Hides a Honda VTEC Secret


They say it’s hard to top a debut smash-hit. In the case of the iconic Mini, well, they’re right. 

In 1961, British Motor Corporation massaged the teensy Mini into two upmarket variants—the Riley Elf and the Wolseley Hornet. The duo added a fresh face and a larger rump to the Mini shape, though both were ultimately overshadowed and vastly outsold by their progenitor.

This is one such Elf—a ’66 Mk II version. However, it isn’t some remnant of the back page in a history book. This Riley Elf has gone under the knife and now packs a busy Honda engine. It recently revved its way onto eBay, and could probably hold its own against some of the current Mini Cooper lineup. There’s certainly not much heft to tow along.


Befitting its Mini bones, the notchback Riley Elf sported the same engines as the storied Mini—a pair of BMC A-series four-cylinders. First came an 848cc engine, and then a larger 998cc motor. The bigger of the two summoned 38 horsepower, which permitted a top speed of just over 70 mph. Not exactly hair-raising levels of performance, even if the Elf only weighed a slight 1,450 pounds.

Today, this Elf’s A-series engine has been ditched for a much more youthful Honda B16A four-cylinder. That engine now mates to a new subframe, and spins a claimed 180 horsepower to the front-wheels through an Acura Integra five-speed manual gearbox. The conversion looks well done, and from a look inside the cabin, you wouldn’t immediately expect a VTEC screamer to live under the bonnet.


A new coil-over suspension finds its way to the front of the Elf, along with upgraded disc brakes, while new wheels and tires travel to all four corners. It’s always nice to have as much “stop” as you have “go.”

Looking to build your own? Providing you’ve got a donor car and a spare Honda engine, you can create your own VTEC-ified Mini, Elf, or Hornet in the region of $3,000. Not bad for a ‘60s sleeper.

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