We've all dreamed of stuffing a big-block in a car it has no business in. Little car, big engine, sounds fun! Ken Hebert Jr. made it happen in a MINI Cooper Clubman. Even more impressive, the car wins races! Read on to learn more about this wacky automotive endeavor inside.
“Everybody assumes that the car is a handful to drive,” explains Ken Hebert Jr. “They think it’s shorter and smaller than it actually is. Truth is, the wheelbase of the Clubman is more or less identical to a Fox body Mustang. When I tell them that, they stand back and look at the car, and that’s when they realize there’s very little overhang on the front and the rear. Then I’ll mention that the motor’s in the same place as the car parked beside me, but when you open the hood you can’t see the back half of the carburetor because it’s under the windshield.”
Hailing from Ontario, Canada, when Hebert isn’t managing the day to day operations of Kenny’s Performance Plus Auto Repair in Tecumseh, Ontario, he can often be found behind the wheel of some fairly unlikely drag racing machines.
“I grew up around cars, circle tracks, and drag strips,” he says. “I'm told I was street racing at around five years old in the back seat of my dad’s 1963 409 Biscayne. I started out in the backseat, slid up the vinyl, and ended up in the rear window package tray! My first trip down an actual drag strip was at 10 years old in my dad's (Ken Hebert Sr.) brand new 12-second 1969 Z/28 Camaro. I was hooked. I built up a few street cars over my teen years and my first real drag car was a 1981 Cutlass – I put a tunnel ram on it three months after I bought it, in 1982. I eventually turned it in to an 11-second Pro Street car.”
His next step up the totem pole would be NHRA Division 3 Super Gas racing as well as Division 3 bracket racing. “For a number of years we ran a Super Gas-style Chevy Monza,” Hebert tells us. “That was our first chassis car, and in its last iteration it was a clone of Warren Johnson's 200 mph car, so it had the GM Performance livery and logos on it, but it said Kenny’s Performance instead. I actually called RJ Race Cars and got the paint code for the blue so I could make sure it was correct. That car hangs on the wall in my living room now – I cut it from one end to the other and mounted up a slice of it, tires and all.”
Over the years Hebert became a fixture in mid-west Super Gas and Super Comp series competition as well as the IHRA’s Quick Rod class, taking home several national titles in the latter. And somewhere along the way, he picked up a penchant for building oddball drag cars.
“The car previous to one we currently campaign was a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle with a 555-cube Dart block in it,” he tells us. “That car was extremely popular because it was different, and it left the line like a Super Stocker – doing huge wheelies. It was built with the chassis from the Monza, but it had a 100% stock body – not even a hood scoop. With that cab-forward design the windshield is really far up front in the car, so the entire carburetor was under the dashboard. But we designed the car so we could access the areas that would need to be serviced regularly, and it was actually easy to work on because of that. The windshield could be removed by four Dzus fasteners, and the rear fenders came off the car with four bolts. And the car was easier to get in and out of as a Beetle than it was as a Monza!”
The Beetle’s appearance might have been an amusing sight amongst the typical sea of Camaros and Mustangs, but when Hebert sent the car down the track, it quickly became clear that this thing was no joke. “With a 555ci Dart big block Chevy, this was a very competitive low 9 second bracket car,” he notes. But after roughly 5,000 passes between the Monza and the Beetle bodies, Hebert decided it was time to build something new.
“I actually tried to roll the Beetle over backwards and get the twenty grand at the Byron wheelie contest,” he recalls. “We were unsuccessful – we got the car to go all four wheels off the ground, but we couldn’t get it to flip over backwards!”
Turns out that was a blessing in disguise, as Kenny would end up selling the car as a roller for $30,000 on RacingJunk a few years later. “It’s in Texas now, and I hear the guy who bought it is planning on bringing it back to the track this year.”
He says initially had his sights set on a Fiat for his next Frankenstein project. “I thought about stretching a 500 somewhere behind the door before the back wheel. The idea was to elongate the wheelbase without losing the look of the car. But I talked to my body guy and it was going to cost too much to stretch the car, it just wasn’t economical. But my brother in law had a Mini Cooper Clubman and it happened to come through the shop. I started looking at it and I realized the wheelbase was really close to a Fox-body Mustang, so I thought that might actually work. I mocked it up in Photoshop and I liked the way it looked, so we went from there.”
He tracked down a wrecked Clubman through Craigslist and quickly got to work building a formidable drag car out of it. “It worked out perfectly – we can actually fit a 16x33 tire under this car right now.”
As it currently sits on a 10.5, Hebert tells us the car is a deadly consistent bracket racer. Under the hood of this Gibbs Fabrication Services-built tube chassis pocket rocket is a 565ci Dart Big M cast iron block that makes about 950 horsepower by way of a Dart forged crankshaft, JE pistons, Dart Pro 1 aluminum heads, and a Dart Dominator single 4BBL intake manifold. “This car is incredibly maintenance-free,” he says. “I’ve changed the oil on this new Dart motor four times and we have 220 runs on it. The valve covers have been off maybe three times. The thing’s bulletproof.”
Adding to the Mini’s charm is the fact that many of the factory-installed features are still functional today. “I’m all about the crowd,” Kenny says. “After every burnout at the starting line, I pop the back barn doors open, which are activated electronically from the driver’s seat, and we back up from the burnout with the power windows down and the back doors open to clear the smoke out of the car. I’m all about the Barnum and Bailey show.”
Looking down the road, Hebert says that the Mini may gain a sibling. “People want to see the car go faster. We’re considering building a 632 for the car and running it in Outlaw 632. But that’s quite a commitment to step up, so we’re also considering building a second car – an evil twin – to compete in that class.”
Either way, chances are that whatever Hebert shows up with at the track in the future will turn some heads. “I love different, obviously,” he adds. “And I want to put on a good show.”