The Mini6000 Expedition - More Details...

Last Friday I declared our goal of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Mini by driving one up the world’s highest volcano.  Now, given that’s probably not something you hear every day, I guess I have some explaining to do. 

So where exactly is the world’s highest volcano?  Well, it goes by the name of ‘Ojos del Salado’, it’s 6,893m (22,615ft) high, and it’s located in the driest desert on Earth – The Atacama, where it straddles the border between Chile and Argentina.  It’s the second highest mountain on the planet outside the Himalayas and frankly, it’s a bit of a beast.

We’ll be looking to make our ascent from the Chilean side, where a series of 4x4 tracks lead from the valley to the north of the mountain – situated a mere 4,500m above sea level – up to ‘refuge Tejos’ at 5,825m.  Given our goal is to break 6,000m we’ll be pushing on beyond here though, taking to the volcanic slopes in our bid for glory.  Sounds improbable in a Mini?  Yes, until you consider the fact that the world altitude record for vehicles has been set on this very mountain, a highly modified, supercharged Suzuki SJ having reached 6,688m on the slopes of Ojos.  But we’re never going to be able to follow in the balloon-tyretracks of a purpose-built rock scrambler like that in a humble Mini, right?  Quite probably, but we don’t have to if we’re to break 6,000m, because the previous world altitude record was set here using a standard Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.  So, our goal is to modify our Mini to the point where it can go where a standard Jeep can – much more achievable, in other words.

To this end, I’ve been doing lots of research into how we can turn our humble 1974 Mini into a badass off-roader.  The main challenges are the altitude – with the air at 6,000m being less than half as dense as that at sea level – and the conditions under the tyres.

For the altitude, obviously a standard one litre A-series engine won’t cut it – even Kermit, with its four-litre V8 was grumpy enough when we took it much over 4,000m in the Andes - so we’ll be looking for more power to cope with the thinner air, while also maximising torque for the slow-speed off-road work.  We have various options for the engine build – do we go for a supercharger installation, a turbo, or a higher CC NA build?  How do we ensure we can keep the motor cool when it’s working hard at slow speeds in the thin air?  What cam will give us the torque-filled power curve which best suits what we’re doing?  And should we be looking at running a carb, or fuel injection, and how can we ensure we’re always running an optimum fuel/air mixture as the air gets thinner?  I’ve already done a lot of research into these questions, and will be revealing the answers I’ve arrived at as the build progresses.

But having an engine which runs happily at over 6,000m is nothing if the track conditions mean we can’t actually get there.  So, we’ll be making a few changes to our humble steed to give it the best chance possible on the mountainside.  Obviously, raised suspension is the order of the day, along with suitable rubber to get the power down.  A limited slip diff would be a good addition to aid traction on lose ground, and we’ll be considering fitting a shorter first gear and final drive, so we can get the clutch fully engaged at slow speed, and hence not end up burning it out by having to slip it continuously.  A winch from an ATV will be a must, as will underbody protection.  And finally, we’ll be giving it the full Colin Chapman by putting a lot of focus into weight saving, because the Mini’s secret weapon in its quest for 6,000m glory is its light weight.  And when you’re working hard in the thin air, every kilo counts.

Speaking of kilos, it’s not just the Mini which needs to be ready for the challenge – altitude is a great leveller of people too.  If we find ourselves having to manhandle the Mini through rough terrain, or drag a winch cable higher up the mountain, we’re going to have to make sure we’re up to it.  Because of this, I’ve already started getting into shape for the expedition, through a diet of running and rock climbing aimed to result in a combination of strength and fitness which will give me the best chance up on the hill.  Fortunately, I've been keen on climbing and mountaineering since before I got into road tripping, so I have a reasonable understanding of the challenges of high mountains, and from reading the weather and understanding high-altitude medicine, to setting up rock anchors and belays, I’m pretty familiar with these environments, but even so, it's not a challenge to be underestimated.

As well as the car build, we’ll be documenting some of the fitness and mountaineering preparations on here too – yes, this certainly isn’t your average road trip blog!  And in case you're wondering, yes, of course we'll be having a beer when we reach our highpoint - this is a Pub2Pub Adventure, after all...

So that’s an introduction into the automotive and human considerations for the project – stay tuned because in a few days’ time, we’ll be unveiling to the car we’re prepping for the challenge…

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)