Last month, we showed the straightforward installation of Brembo brakes. The other part of trackworthiness is suspension. KW Suspension was founded in 1991, and began sponsoring professional racing in 1997. In 1999, it entered the European Touring Car Championship with Acuras and has since become a series sponsor, rather than fielding its own team. KW's North American presence began in 1998 when HPA Motorsports began importing it. KW Suspensions North America was formed 2 years later as a joint venture between HPA and KW Automotive GmbH. KW Suspension was the first company to contact european car and actually have suspension in stock that included a damper, so that's what we chose.
KW's product line includes springs, dampers, matched spring/damper sets and coilovers. KW's adjustable-height coilovers come in two flavors, with fixed and adjustable damping. Variant 1 dampers, with fixed damping, are manufactured by AL-KO. Variant 2 dampers are infinitely adjustable in rebound and are manufactured by Koni. All systems are tuned to KW's own engineering specifications.
Only Variant 1 coilovers were available in September of last year. The ride and handling with KW's fixed damping settings are both excellent, which goes well with our preference for "install it and forget about it" suspension in street cars. Our MINI Cooper S is a pre-production car, built at the end of 2001. Thus, its suspension is like that of MINI Coopers built before Mar. 1, 2002. The difference is in the way the front anti-roll bar end link mounts to the strut. Later Coopers and all production Cooper S's attach the end link to its own bracket on the strut body. On this car, the end link attaches to the lower spring seat, so we used suspension intended for an early-style Cooper. Ride height is adjustable for 30- to 60mm lowering.
When disassembling any stock struts, use of a spring compressor is recommended. We don't know if these springs were to production spec, but we found that spring tension was released before the top nut came off the shaft. Of course, the coilovers can be assembled without a compressor due to the adjustable lower perch.
KW included a can of "PSK," essentially a clear coat spray to help retard corrosion of the damper bodies in harsh climates. We tried using it and later found the coating made adjusting the ride height much more difficult. We ended up using WD40 to lubricate the threads and soften the coating. Certainly in any dry climate, it's a step we wouldn't bother with. Putting together all the rumors we've heard, we believe our Cooper S was jumped in filming a remake of "The Italian Job," starring Charlize Theron, which would explain why the original dampers were completely boogered. When we removed them, one of the original front struts was so stiff we couldn't move it by hand at all, and one moved almost freely. Because of that, we can't really comment on any improvements, but we're pleased with the performance of the KW suspension so far.
The tires on european car's MINI are the same Michelin X Rally tires you saw on the Peugeots as they dominated WRC tarmac competition. They had won 13 of the previous 13 WRC tarmac events when we put them on our car, and have won again in Italy since. Michelin states that, including the four on this car, there are only 19 of them in this size in the United States. Their tall sidewall is necessary for the 18-in. wheels to look right, but the 65cm overall diameter is 1.3-in. greater than that of the MINI's stock 205/45-17 tire. That raises the effective gearing by 5.5%, hurting acceleration, and leads to severe rubbing, especially in the rear.
These are pure competition tires, made to survive 100-mph ditch hooks in cars with straight-cut gears that will make your ears bleed. They aren't DOT-legal, R-compound tires, and you don't want them on your street car. We drove them to Las Vegas and back, and they were really bad for going straight. The tread pattern has the loudest, most consistent whine of any tire we've experienced. The ride is stiff, and they hydroplane easily in the rain. As we expected, the steering is very responsive and the grip seems to be high. And they looked cool as hell sitting on carpet at the SEMA show. If we had a budget to make this a real rally car, they would be perfect.
White wheels were the other essential ingredient in the rally look. Please don't ask The Tire Rack for these wheels for your MINI in white, because it doesn't have them. Specialized Ceramic & Powder Coating, in Huntington Beach, Calif., stripped the original silver paint and powder-coated our wheels. We had to choose the color over the phone and went with the whitest white. The MINI's roof is actually a little bit creamy, but a little brake dust keeps anyone from noticing the difference. We haven't yet gotten all the ducks lined up to change wheels and tires again and make this car work, but we have a set of 12.2-lb Velox PG-5S forged 7x17-in. wheels and super-sticky BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KD tires lined up for next month.
Complete List of Modifications
Normally, we tell readers about our project car build-ups one step at a time, slowly revealing an upgrade path that was ideally planned well in advance but takes time to bring to fruition. This car was built all at once. Rather than keep everything a secret, we're showing you all the modifications done to date. We have some additions planned and a few changes to what's listed below, but this is where the car stands now:
Rear anti-roll bar
Brembo North America
313x28mm front and cross-drilled rear rotors
Motul USA Inc.
RBF600 Factory Line brake fluid
WHEELS AND TIRES
g-Force T/A KD 205/40-17 tires
H&R Special Springs
5mm wheel spacers and long lug bolts
Specialized Ceramic & Powder Coating
Michelin 20/65-18 X TL N43 Rally tires
The Tire Rack
Speed Star Racing GT1 7.5x18-in. wheels
PG-5s 7x17-in. wheels
Mounting and balancing
Supersprint exhaust system
Spark plug wires
Dual gauge kit
Odyssey Dry Cell Batteries
PC680 lightweight battery
Schroth ProfiIII asm harnesses
Bolt-in Autopower rollcage
MOMO Automotive Accessories Inc.
Aluminum Sport shift knob
Cobra Sportline seats
FF200 and FF1000 driving lamps
Hood stripe kit