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General Tech Letters

Aug 20, 2002

MINI Cooper S
I am reading as much as I can to educate my purchase of a MINI Cooper this spring or summer (or fall or winter). Is your article in the January 2003 issue purely from the technical/preformance standpoint? Your recommendation is to buy a "stripped down" Cooper S, with as few amenities as possible. I prefer the look of the Cooper to the Cooper S, which I find very butch, and while I like to go faster than my 1992 VW Cabriolet. I don't drive fast, don't track my car and rarely speed much over 65. I love the handling and braking capabilities of the Cooper. I like some of the factory packaging of onboard computer, factory alarm, front fog lights, DSC, sport seats and completely agree with the assessment of the the Harmon Kardon sound system. I would probably install an electric rag top in lieu of the glass top. (Is your position that the glass top is too heavy?) Also, I don't care for the current steering wheel and I like your thought on the wheels and tires. The only appeal of the Cooper S, other than the power, is the novel six-speed transmission. So I guess my question is, are you writing from the standpoint of strictly performance and not personal comfort? And do you mean to add some of those creature comforts from the aftermarket? I am just hoping to get a point of view on the car relating to other cars it compares to in both forms the S and the standard Cooper.
Matt Armbruster
via the Internet

The cars that make me happiest are almost always the lightest, because they have the best acceleration, braking and cornering limits for any given combination of engine output, brakes, suspension and tire. They are also the most nimble dance partners. You don't have to go much over 65 to be going very, very fast on some roads. The advice was offered so that an enthusiast seeking to maximize the MINI's performance would start with the lightest possible car. As a bonus, resisting options would leave some cash for upgrades. If I could get a new MINI with a level of luxury approximating the old Mini, but modern levels of fit, finish and climate control, that's probably how I'd order it. But I admit to being a little strange that way.

The glass top assembly weighs 56 lb. That can be enough to notice in acceleration, and furthermore is in the worst possible place if the tires are to be used effectively, i.e., for maximum braking, acceleration and cornering. The frame is fairly strong, but when it is removed, there is a noticeable loss of chassis rigidity. I'm not familiar with the market for such things, but it would be far easier and much neater to install a sliding fabric roof in the same hole the factory made for its sunroof, and the modification would be reversible. I would not expect cutting a solid roof apart to give as good results, and the loss of chassis stiffness (which affects ride as well as handling) would be greater. Longer experience with the Harmon Kardon sound system has led me to wish it had a "clear" setting that just played a CD as it was recorded without software filters. Having seen the stock rear 6x9-in. speakers has also convinced me that they are another area of the car on which costs were cut heavily. --Dan Barnes

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MINI Chip
I recently read Dan Barnes' article on MINI Cooper S tuning hints (12/02 issue). I had one question regarding point 2 on page 68. I'm unsure what is meant by "chip." Is it a reprogrammed ECM or an add-on "black box" for the car's computer? Also, where do you get these chips? Thanks.
Chris Brown
via the Internet

The product we referred to is a reprogrammed ECU for the Cooper S. Most tuners we have spoken with indicate that stock software closes the throttle slightly at higher engine speeds. A MINI product planner admitted that factory output could have been anywhere from 160 to 185 bhp, and that the low number that is the official rating was chosen primarily for fuel economy reasons. Mini Madness was the first to contact us with a reprogrammed ECU. AutoThority also has one and Dinan continues to develop its MINI program, including software.

AutoThority
(703) 323-0919
www.autothority.com

Dinan
(650) 962-9401
www.dinanbmw.com

Mini Madness
(866) 410-5809
(503) 466-6463
www.mini-madness.com

Turner Motorsport
(800) 280-6966
www.turnermotorsport.com
Turner Motorsport has announced a supercharger pulley and software package that it states makes 196 to 208 hp, depending on intercooler temperature. european car hasn't tried it yet, but our experience with Turner Motorsport has been top notch.

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Mini Musings
Having just read your review of the New Mini (ec 09/01), I cringed reading your nostalgic waxings about how great the old Mini was. What a load! I just have to throw a rock in this pond. I bought a new Austin Cooper "S" in Spring 1966 from Towne & Countree Auto Sales in Highland, Ind. Thirty-four years later, including 33 years in the auto industry, I can state unequivocally that never has there been a more trouble-prone automobile made by man. What a POS!

From its crummy seating to its massive torque steer, to its rocking-horse ride (caused by the ill-conceived Hydrolastic suspension), multiple seized fuel pumps, broken gear teeth, quickly faded paint and tires worn out in 10k miles, it was a constant source of pain. Long after the rush of screaming from stoplight to stoplight in downtown Chicago traffic had faded, the reality of it not starting in the rain (rain, hell, it wouldn't start in high humidity), premature rust, juddering brakes (an entire chunk of the left front disk simply fell out) and the memory of it shedding its harmonic balancer straight into the radiator remains vivid.

Equipped with a small Weber (can't remember the number), a hot cam (installed after first gear broke), a set of headers, Minilite wheels and Dunlop rain-compound competition tires, certain Mini-buff dummies drooled over it--I knew it was time to sell. In Spring 1967 I found some nut on the North Shore dumb enough to buy the POS, while I opted for a new '67 Series 1 E-Type. Expecting the worst from the Jaguar, it turned out to be one of the best cars I've ever owned.

The only good thing I can remember about the Mini was the ease at which I could remove my girlfriend Ann's bra after she'd experienced a few hot laps running around downtown Chicago in the thing. Those same 34 years on, she says it's the one thing she remembers most about me...ah, Hell, maybe it was worth something after all!
Gerald G. Mc George
via the Internet

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What's in a Name?
What do European carmakers mean when they say "4-Loch" and/or "5-Loch?"
Joy
via the Internet

The German word "loch" translates directly as "hole." Thus, your example means ""4-hole" or "5-hole." You didn't provide any context, but our minds instantly think about wheel bolt patterns when we hear that.

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Web Search
Aloha from Hawaii! I'm writing regarding the Nick-Sander featured in Dan Barnes' "Tool of the Month" column in June 2001. None of the local auto parts retailers here in Hawaii carry the Nick-Sander fiberglass tool. Could you please refer me to an address or website where I could order this product?
Pierre Bonnet
Honolulu, Hawaii

The contact information you seek is the following:

Nicsand, Inc.
250 Sheldon Road
Berea, OH 44017
(440) 816-1333
Fax: (440) 816-1256
www.nicsand.com

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Safety First
I have been reading ec since 1995 and have found the magazine to be a valuable resource for maintaining and upgrading my '95 Golf and '92 Corrado SLC. So I come to this task with unease. I must say your article, "Tech Procedure: Porsche" (December 2000) may be somewhat misleading. In it, Technical Editor James Sly stated: "Plasma cutters are easier and safer...." Yes, they are easier to use, but "safer?"

I teach Metal Arts at The Columbus College of Art and Design (in Columbus, Ohio) so I do come at this from a point of knowledge. Plasma cutters vaporize metal, throwing large quantities of particulate matter into the air. This matter is of course metal, steel, aluminum, etc. Those micro particles can be inhaled and cause serious and rapid damage to the nose, throat and lungs before entering the bloodstream of the operator and anyone else who happens to be in the area of the cutter. Heavy metals, anyone? Plasma cutters can be used safely with proper ventilation and with the proper respirator.

I do think your readers are entitled to this safety information. I hope you will make some sort of effort to get the word out, even though I think the damage has been done with this erroneous information.
Richard Eisen
Columbus, Ohio

We always make safety a priority when working on our cars. Many affects of the materials we handle don't make themselves evident as quickly as, say, a car falling on someone who neglected to use jackstands. Unfortunately, some consequences can be inflicted not only on the negligent user but on his or her future progeny.

With some materials, being able to smell them at all means a person has already been exposed to many times the safe amount. Sadly, many people who make their living performing these tasks do not take the time to become informed regarding the risks and proper methods of protecting themselves, and thus serve as poor examples to those of us who do our own work. Thank you for the reminder to always read instruction manuals, especially the parts pertaining to safety.

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