This installment of Maxed-Out MINI is being published on www.europeancarweb.com because it involves lengthy explanations of installations of parts already reviewed or mentioned previously in print. In short, we're using the greater space available on the web to enable the tech guy to be long-winded. Much of it expands upon Part 3, but much is also new.
MOMO Aluminum Sport Shift Knob
As mentioned in Part 3, replacing the complex stock shift knob with a smooth, elegant MOMO Aluminum Sport knob was the only modification without compromise, a 100-percent improvement in every way over stock. It was also easy.
Odyssey Dry Cell Batteries PC680
The densest component in any automobile is usually the battery. Even the MINI's stock battery, at a modest 31 lb., was portly, and we saw some opportunity. Besides just replacing the factory unit with the 15.4-lb Odyssey PC 680 dry cell battery, we could save weight with a single-silencer, straight-through exhaust system. Since we ran out of time to build one before the SEMA show, we installed Supersprint's system. Details of its installation are included below, and dyno testing on european car's other MINI project will follow in the August, 2003 issue. Knowing our dream exhaust wouldn't get built would have saved a lot of work, but here's what we did.
Odyssey Dry Cell Batteries' parent company, Hawker Energy, is a supplier to at least one DTM team, so we figured it would be a great addition to the MINI. The basic battery technology that may be familiar to some readers from the Optima line split in two directions early in its industrialization; the spiral-wound configuration is one and flat-plate is the other. Hawker Energy is a leading producer of the latter, having marketed it mainly for use in aircraft, but recently it created Odyssey as a branch to service the consumer and vehicle markets.
The PC 680 is a small tank of electrons and won't sustain a significant current drain for very long. If your car has an electrical system of questionable integrity, wire in a disconnect switch or plan on jump-starting the battery regularly. The latter will, after enough cycles, still compromise the performance of the battery as with any other battery, so it should be avoided. Larger models are available and are recommended for applications where cars with battery-draining alarms or other equipment will be parked for days or weeks. Also, be conservative if you live in an area with actual weather in the winter.
Approximately 22 lb was saved by changing to a PC 680 battery. It does involve some compromises for a street car, making it sort of a "cheater" mod but is well worth it for a competition car where rules allow.
Cobra Sportline GT Seats
The benefits and wonderfulness of Cobra's Sportline GT seats were written about in Part 3, here summarized with the statement that they are at once the best and worst modification. They are the first competition seats that have ever been comfortable for me. Installing the seats became something of a fabrication project, though, even starting with commercially available brackets and sliders. See the captions for details of the work that had to be done.
When mounting something as important as seats, don't go to the "magic bolt box" for hardware. Use only high-grade stuff, bought from a reliable supplier.
Mini Mania Bolt-in Rollcage
A rally car doesn't merely have a cage in it; it is a cage. We thought we might want to remove the cage at some point, and we also didn't have a tube bender in our shop. A pre-built, bolt-in cage seemed like a convenient alternative, so we tried using Mini Mania's cage. Manufactured by Autopower, it was designed for a solid-roofed car and wouldn't have cleared the factory sunroof and headliner.
First off, don't be 6 ft 4 in. like I am. Second, get your vocabulary warmed up and clear the area of stray children. Then, strip the interior. Remove the seats, belts, side airbags, any attaching hardware, rear carpet, side panels, C-pillar trim, headliner, front sill panels and the e-brake surround. Needless to say, disconnect the battery before going near any airbag. This process is not for the inexperienced nor faint of heart. The MINI can be a tricky little customer, and you'll want to buy a set of Torx sockets.
This is the kind of job that will be more than twice as fast with a second person helping. It is also guaranteed to help when there's a second brain thinking about all the little problems. Before doing any drilling, mock up the cage with all sleeves in place, as little binding as possible and as centered as possible. Test the door closing with the side bars in place. One of the forward feet had to be moved about an inch. from where it initially "wanted" to be. I had to remove about an inch from the header tube that went across the top of the windshield to make everything work. Look around the feet both inside and outside the body for wires and hydraulic lines--drilling through a brake line is a classic mistake. Work clean, using your shop vacuum regularly to keep a handle on chips. Cut the shipping plastic from the joint areas, but leave the rest on both to protect the car from the cage and the cage's paint from the car.
Miscellaneous Under-car Stuff
We don't have any photos of the following procedures, because the MINI was too small for the Autolifters lift in the Primedia Tech Center. That piece of equipment works well with a Suburban, but the arms on the lift were too long to fit within the MINI's wheelbase and still meet the jacking points along the sills. I used jack stands instead, which requires some creativity because BMW didn't include a rear jacking point on the subframe, as they did with rear-drive cars. I was able to very carefully lift one rear damper bottom end enough to get that side on a jack stand. Not recommended practice, but more cost-effective than paying a dealer, which one must presume is what BMW had in mind.
Supersprint Exhaust System
Start exhaust work by donning Mechanix Gloves, or whatever similar form of protection you prefer. Sheetmetal and tubing has sharp edges, and it is easy to cut oneself. Use lubricant on the exhaust hangers. I like P-80 Thix ("Tool of the Month," July 2003), because it won't attack the rubber like WD-40 will. Snap-On makes an exhaust hanger plier tool, but I did well enough with Channelock pliers in this case.
The stock MINI exhaust system is a single piece from the cat back and must be cut to install the Supersprint system, which has a slip-fit sleeve between the center pipe and the rear system. The rear system also includes an adapter sleeve to go from the stock 2 1/4-in. center pipe to the 2 1/2-in. diameter of the Supersprint system. Supersprint also has its own center pipe that is 2 1/2 in. in diameter.
To determine the point to cut the stock system, I measured the overall length of the Supersprint system, subtracting the 3-in. overlap of the adapter sleeve with the stock center pipe and the 1 1/2-in. I wanted the new exhaust tips to extend past where the stock pipes ended, I arrived at a cutting point 39 in. from the tips. I found it easier to drop the whole exhaust system, separating it at the cat, than to try to cut the pipe in close proximity to the body. Off the car, it takes about 10 sec. with a Sawzall to do the job.
I had to chamfer the cut edge of the center pipe to get it to be friendly with the adapter sleeve, and in the end I banged it on the ground in order to drive the sleeve into position. Deburr all parts of the new exhaust system as necessary to get easy sliding fits and for safety. It is by far easiest to fit and assemble all the pieces on the ground, then lift the whole mess into position on the car, using a floor jack to support its weight.
Once everything is in place, begin tightening fasteners from the catalytic converter back. At first, the exhaust tips wanted to point upward and contact the rear fascia, but a lift with a floor jack at the split point ahead of the silencers corrected this perfectly. Everything fit perfectly and there were no exhaust leaks, with no need for welding tacks. It's a little bit loud when the interior is missing from the back of the car, but sounds great when you want to be sporty.
Mini Madness Rear Anti-roll Bar
As stated in Part 3 in the magazine, installing the Mini Madness rear anti-roll bar was a pain but well worth it. Thanks to its adjustability, we were able to test the handling at the track and dial it in, obtaining very impressive test numbers. I couldn't find a way to install the bar without dropping the rear crossmember from the body, because the bar is mounted to its upper side.
To begin, put the car up on jack stands or a lift. Next, remove all the anti-roll bar attachments; brackets and end links on both sides. Remove the lower shock mounting bolts to allow the trailing arms to move up and down freely, and remove one of the rear shock assemblies from the car.
Position a floor jack to support the crossmember, then loosen and remove the four 16mm-head bolts holding the crossmember to the body while taking care that the crossmember is fully supported. Remove the nut holding the exhaust heat shielding to the underside of the body, and separate the battery cable clip from the stud on the floor above the heat shielding. At that point, there is enough space to withdraw the bar toward the side from which the shock was removed. Insert the new bar with the correct orientation.
Assembly is the reverse of disassembly, but there are some things to note. Use a good light to ensure that the crossmember is positioned as it originally was. "Pry-holes" are provided to assist in locating it. Use synthetic polyurethane bushing grease liberally on the anti-roll bar body mounts. Be sure to use disposable gloves for this step, because the grease is the stickiest substance in the world, and hardest of any automotive goo to remove from one's hands. Wipe excess off the bar after it is centered. If you can find official torque specifications, use them. We couldn't, so we just did everything "good 'n' tight." Finally, check the alignment after the job is done.
Mini Mania Skid Plate
The Mini Mania skid plate is simple and easily installed, but a couple of experienced rallyists criticized it on several fronts. First off, being made of 1/8-in. thick steel, it is as heavy as if it were made of 3/8-in. thick aluminum, while most rallyists use 1/4-in. thick aluminum. Second, the several holes that are required to allow cooling air to enter the rear of the engine bay (MINI included an electric fan to get enough air where it needs to go) also provide edges to catch on rocks and berms, allowing them to further abuse the skid plate's mounting, rather than simply being skidded over. Even without that flaw, the rally heads argued, the mounting system was exactly backward. The Mini Mania skid plate is fastened solidly with four machine screws to the engine cradle at its rear edge. At the front edge, it is slotted, allowing it to slide into place between two layers of the front fascia assembly, where it is held only to the polyurethane of the bumper cover. At the sides, it is held to a metal bracket with lightweight, twist-lock fasteners. Even replacing all the fasteners, save the rear button-head screws, with stronger, higher-grade fasteners is not enough. The parts of the car that the skidplate is mounted to cannot survive the abuse that a real skidplate takes.
The system arrived at after considerable trial and error on the part of the rallyists is the opposite of the Mini Mania skid plate's system, if less convenient to install. A real rally skidplate is bolted to something solid at its leading edge, and the rear mounting points are slotted. When the skid plate is bashed and takes a shorter (or longer) path between its front and rear mountings, the result does not force the mounting points on the car to move. The Mini Mania skid plate, by providing hold points for the rocks, tree branches, or whatever else a rally car may slide over, and at the same time providing insecure mounting of its forward edge, is asking to be bent downward into the road, where it will catch and wrap itself under the car.
We put the skid plate on for the SEMA show, when we had a tarmac rally look, but took it off soon after. Its considerable weight could only reduce performance, and nobody could see it without the MINI being parked on a mirror.
As mentioned in Part 3, the MINI's complex power sunroof was replaced with polycarbonate sheet, netting dramatic weight savings. Time has shown this first attempt at such a modification to have some shortcomings, so we'll either figure out how to make it work or put the stock sunroof back in before telling how we did it.
The Hella Rally 1000 and 200 lights were another item that, like the white-powdercoated 7.5x18-in. SSR GT1 wheels and rally tires, worked awesome on carpet but not in real life. Not that there's any problem with the lights themselves. Rather, the clever and elegant light bar mounting solution I came up with failed to account for the hood's swing forward as it opens, so the hood can't be opened with the lightbar in place. Hella tells us it may someday have a kit to mount the Rally 200 lights directly to the hood, so the new plan is to wait for that and see what it looks like while making progress on other project cars.
And there's a green and white six-ball waiting to become a shift knob. Of course.
Supersprint exhaust system and auxiliary gauges
The Eastwood Company
Spot weld cutters
Harbor Freight Tools
Air body saw
Schroth ProfiII asm harnesses
Rear anti-roll bar
Bolt-in Autopower rollcage
MOMO Automotive Accessories Inc.
Aluminum Sport shift knob
Red spark plug wires
Odyssey Dry Cell Batteries
PC680 Lightweight battery
Cobra Sportline seats