If the thought of a private-hire Prius doesn’t appeal, there is a more heart-warming way to travel around the capital. This charming original Mini is awaiting a public carriage licence from Transport for London (TfL), as the city’s first electric classic cab.
Nicknamed ‘Rosie’, the 1994 Mini has received a retro makeover – including leather bonnet straps, rally-style spotlamps and tiny 10-inch wheels – and is available for chauffeur-driven tours. Part of a seven-strong fleet of Minis operated by hire company Small Car Big City, it has also been converted to electric power.
In place of the traditional A-Series engine, Oxford-based EV conversion specialist Electrogenic has slotted in batteries and a Hyper 9 electric motor. Maximum power is up to 120hp, but has been reined in to just 45hp – similar to a standard Mini 1000 – to meet TfL licensing requirements.
To cope with the additional torque from the electric motor, Electrogenic has fitted the five-speed manual transmission from a Citroen C1 racing car. Yes, that’s right: an EV with a manual ‘box. However, as I discovered, there is so much torque that you rarely need to change gear.
Baby, you can drive my car
A brief stint on the back seat serves as a reminder of the Mini’s sheer packaging genius. Small Car Big City’s tours last anything from 90 minutes up to 10 hours, but most people would be perfectly comfortable. The roll-back panoramic sunroof fitted here helps, too.
Then it’s my turn to drive. My first and second cars were both Minis, so sliding behind the oddly-angled steering wheel feels oddly familiar. At least, it does until you slot second gear and glide away in eerie silence.
Although the Mini has a choice of ratios, second gear is all you need around town. Drive it thus and you don’t even need to use the clutch pedal. Acceleration isn’t Tesla-swift – 0-62mph takes around 12.5 seconds – but it feels responsive and quick off the mark. In crowded lunchtime streets around Hatton Garden, I had to be extra-alert: pedestrians can’t hear you coming.
Although it has some degree of regenerative braking to recharge the battery, the Mini can’t be driven with one pedal. Even so, it’s a supremely easy way to duck and dive through urban streets – and explore parts of London that an open-top tourist bus simply can’t reach. You’re always waved out of junctions with a smile, too. Everybody loves a classic Mini.
Blowing the doors off
Small Car Big City now hopes to convert half its Minis to Electrogenic EVs. “We realised London’s air needs something cleaner,” explains co-founder Tony Grant. Rosie isn’t available for self-drive hire yet, but can be booked for tours and corporate events. A cross-London treasure hunt themed around The Italian Job sounds particularly good fun.
Alternatively, if you prefer the rumble of internal combustion, the company also has a V8-engined Rover P5B. “We call that one ‘Big Car Big City,’” jokes Grant.