Cobra Seats is a British company that makes some of the finest furniture in which any driver or passenger has ever had the pleasure of parking his or her tush. So it's only natural that the managing director would run some kind of tricked-out demo car as a daily driver. For Mark Dunsford, it's this eye-popping, super-spec'd R56 Cooper S.
Dunsford is many things: family man, entrepreneur, and the third generation of his family to create car seats. But above all, he's a total gearhead with a genuine passion for BMW in general—and Minis in particular. Which is why he chose this extrovert little number to showcase his company's wares.
"It all started on a trip to our American distributor," Dunsford said. "I tried a track-prepped R53 there and was blown away by the handling, grin factor, and ability. I genuinely had no idea at the time that Minis were so good. When I got back to the U.K., I vowed to get one." He did. That project become Cobra's track car.
What brought Dunsford to this particular 2006 example was simply a case of right color, right wheels, right time. "I wasn't impressed by the R56 when I first saw it," he said. "I felt it lacked some of the design purity of the earlier car. But when this one came up locally on eBay, in great condition and with a set of 17-inch BBS rims, it looked the part. I found it hard to resist." So, for a few hundred less than 7,000 of Her Majesty's British pounds, this custard-colored cruiser was on its way back to Cobra's HQ, for what would be an impressive set of enhancements, centered (unsurprisingly) around a handcrafted Cobra interior.
As Dunsford's design team started preliminary sketches, things were already hotting up mechanically. Having done many favors for industry friends over the years, word soon spread that the R56 was to get a makeover, and choice parts started arriving from the great and the good of the tuning scene.
Engine mods began with the stylish and sonorous addition of a full Scorpion exhaust system, sensibly featuring a 100-cell sports cat to keep things legal. On the other side of the breathing equation, a Pipercross performance panel filter restores the balance.
Cobra has a long history of working with Forge Motorsport, so it's also not surprising to find many of that tuner's products under the hood—from the uprated intercooler, dump valve, and coolant tank to the hoses and strut braces. Each one not only adds a welcome aesthetic improvement but also future-proofs the powerplant for what was to come. Specifically, a P-Torque re-map to achieve an impressive 250 hp at the flywheel, which makes the drive to work interesting.
As Pirelli once sagely noted, power is nothing without control. So Dunsford and his team sensibly uprated the stoppers to cope with this newfound grunt. A sizable pair of 13-inch discs bitten by four-piston Brembo calipers now sits out front, with a set of John Cooper Works anchors out back. Forge brake lines complete this capable pairing, adding a little extra pedal feel into the bargain.
Wheels are always a tricky choice on a Mini, but Dunsford had a few well-connected friends to help. The car currently wears 8.5x18 Rotiform forged monobloc VCEs, but has also worn a set of Team Dynamics Imola rims in the past. In both cases, Yokohama Paradas (215/35) have been used. Keeping the wheels pointing the right way falls to the useful combination of Powerflex bushes throughout, KW Variant 1 coilovers, and a trick set of alignment figures aimed at making the mighty Mini unbeatable on the tight, twisty roads in Cobra's neck of the woods.
Like all good projects, this one has evolved, including three rear spoiler changes. It's now at a point where Dunsford is finally happy. Probably. The aero kit is basically a JCW original, with the GP rear diffuser and Orranje rear spoiler adding some visual punch. The addition of 2013 LED daytime running lights and black roof enhance the car's aggressive appearance. Likewise, the tinted glass and rear lamps. While the car was at the body shop, Dunsford got them to waft a little black over the intake, fuel cap, mirror caps, and door handles as well.
For many people, that would have been a great place to stop. But since Dunsford was creating a rolling catalogue to highlight his company's skills, this was only the beginning. Coming from Cobra, it was inevitable that the interior received the most attention of all. Two custom Misano 30th Anniversary seats were made up, sporting a combination of fine leather and Dinamica fabrics. The rear seats were recovered to match. "This was, understandably, our favorite part of the build," Dunsford said. "We stripped the interior down to a shell and started over. Not everyone realizes that we also offer a bespoke design and trimming service. What better way to demonstrate?" This meant the dash, doors, headlining, plus the A-, B-, and C-pillar trims had to come out to receive the Dinamica fabric. Then it was the turn of the steering wheel, gearshift, and parking brake gaiters before a set of leather-bound, custom-cut, hand-stitched Cobra mats hit the deck.
At retail prices, enough has been spent in here to fund a reasonable project all by itself, but the result is a cabin that feels more Crewe than Cowley. The final flourish was a full Vibe audio install, complete with flush-mounted amplifier and subwoofer in the trunk, for those times when the Scorpion exhaust's music isn't appropriate.
"I'm so grateful to everyone who has helped us with this car," Dunsford said. "I wanted to build something that reflected what we do at Cobra, something that was the best it could be, and using the best parts and brands available. Thanks to some very generous people who have helped with their products and time; I think we've done it."
It wasn't only Dunsford who was impressed. Lending the car to a good friend—multiple BTCC champ Matt Neal—for the Team Dynamics stand at the Essen show brought home how easy on the eye the package can be. "We had to laugh about it," Dunsford said. "The Mini was in a hall surrounded by several million pounds' worth of the latest Lamborghinis. And yet the crowd was three-deep around the R56. I think Minis do that. Everyone loves them."