Mini Cooper S There aren't many cars that can maneuver down stairwells and jump through subways. Perhaps it was just a stunt, but the scene from the '03 remake of the Italian Job is still regarded as one of the most thrilling car chase films in the last ten years (You should see the original! - Ed). With an all-star cast, the movie became a blockbuster.
For car enthusiasts, the star was the Mini Cooper S. Only a year after the tiny hatchback was introduced to North America, the film featured three Minis escaping downtown Hollywood. The dramatic scene gained the attention of millions, intrigued by the performance and charming looks of the new Cooper S. In fact, it was enough inspiration for Nelson Nieves from New Jersey to hurry down to his local dealership.
"I really enjoyed the movie and told my wife Charise I wanted a new car. It was my first European car and I definitely enjoyed the supercharged engine. It was all pretty exciting," he began.
Having previously owned a modified '97 Toyota Tercel, we have to be grateful the Italian Job inspired Nelson to go Euro. His newfound love also put him in touch with the Eurowerx car club, which had 50 modified Euros among its members. The club offered advice and Nelson's '04 Cooper S evolved into the jaw-dropper it is today.
"I knew what I wanted when I bought the car," he explained. "But it was hard to get the parts I wanted. Not many companies were making parts so it took a lot of research."
With high demand for the new Mini, Nelson waited four months until it arrived. Before taking delivery, he'd stockpiled parts in his living room, including a strut bar, cold-air intake, plug wires and a set of wheels, all of which were installed right away. But things slowly changed after trying four sets of wheels.
The final set of 18x7" OZ Racing Superlegerras were delivered to Nelson in a matte black finish. Once he visited local powdercoater Bonehead Performance, the rest was history.
The color of the wheels gave the Mini an unmistakable charisma. "Bonehead had a display of 60 different colors. The owner looked at me like I was crazy when I picked Canary yellow, but I thought it would be perfect for the look of the car," he smiled.
To accent the wheels, Nelson matched the mirrors in the same color. Then the influx of carbon arrived. "I like going fast. I figured if I made the car lighter, it would perform better. I've got a heavy foot on the highway," he joked.
Most of the carbon parts took three months to obtain. But eventually, the Cooper S had a carbon hood, hatch and fenders. More carbon accessories would continue the theme, including the roof spoiler, side skirt diffusers, door cups and B-pillar covers. A more aggressive front spoiler and rear diffuser were also sourced from Hamann in Germany.
After a show-stopping makeover, handling and performance were next. Since Nelson wasn't interested in coilovers, he saved a few bucks purchasing Eibach springs and sways bars with Alta Performance end-links, which provided tighter handling.
When it came to brakes, Nelson wasn't going to take any chances. "I had a bad experience going to a show in Florida where I almost wrecked doing 145mph. A lady cut me off, my brakes faded and I lost control of the car," he recalled.
Larger 12.2" drilled and slotted rotors found their way to all four corners with meaty four-piston WiIwood calipers in the front and single-piston rears. This granted Nelson plenty of stopping power along with stickier Falken Ziex-512 tires.
The Mini madness continued under the hood, where Philadelphia Mini-tuner Helix 13 shared its expertise. Equipped with a factory supercharged 1.6L motor, Helix 13 added its smaller supercharger pulley to increase boost from 10psi to 18psi. With the addition of GIAC software, 380cc injectors, a Borla exhaust, header and an Alta Performance intake, Nelson told us power is in the region of 210hp, although more is possible with his Cry02 intercooler sprayer.
Maintaining the race theme, Nelson removed the heavy heated seats in favor of lightweight Sparco Sprint buckets. The rear seat was also eliminated to accommodate a full-size spare, Auto Power rollcage and a rear strut bar, both of which were chromed and color-matched.
To make long road trips more enjoyable, Nelson upgraded the audio with Pioneer and Kicker components up front. Local audio shop Sound Automotive fabricated a small sub enclosure using an 8" Kicker L7 for the trunk.
Despite working between 50-60 hours a week, raising a daughter and enduring a "wife screaming in my ears," Nelson has successfully created his own star from one of his favorite films.
Engine: 1.6 liter supercharged inline-four with Helix 13 19% pulley, JCW injectors, GIAC software, Forge Motorsport intercooler, header tank and power steering tank, OBX header, Borla cat-back exhaust, Alta Performance cold-air intake and catch-can, Cry02 kit
Drivetrain: six-speed manual with Helix 13 short shift kit
Brakes: Wilwood 12.19'' drilled and slotted front rotors with four-piston calipers, single-piston rears, stainless lines
Suspension: Eibach Pro-Kit springs and sway bars, Auto Power rollcage, Cobalt rear upper tie bar, Alta Performance front-end links
Exterior: Hamann front spoiler and rear diffuser, VIS carbon hood, fenders and hatch, Carbon Creations side skirt diffusers, carbon B-pillar covers, door cups and roof spoiler, smoked tail lights
Interior: Sparco Sprint 5 seats, leather e-brake boot and shift knob, carbon trim, Auto Meter gauges, deleted rear seats
Audio/Visual: Pioneer LCD head unit, 6.5'' components, Kicker three-way 6x9'' speakers, amps and 8'' L7 sub
Thanks: wife Charise and family, Team Eurowerx, Eric at Helix 13, Sound Automotive, Bonehead Performance, Rico's Autobody, Myers 2 Speed Shop, Marty GW