One of the weakest links in the MINI suspension design is the front strut mounting point. The strut towers take a beating and the sheet metal can easily deform, especially with stock strut mounts. You get a little better protection with adjustable camber plates and their thick, flat mounting plate design. But to really make it robust you need to add reinforcement. That’s where the Strut Tower Defenders for Gen 1 MINIs come in. Unlike similar products on the market, these maintain their half-inch thickness throughout and the ingenious mounting system works with stock mount bolts and many aftermarket adjustable camber plates like Eibach or SPC as seen in the photos below. Too often we see reinforcement plates where the bolts don’t show any threads past the nuts, or even worse, the threads end half way through the nut. (We always like to have three threads showing.) The adapter bolt design takes care of that problem.
Time Required: Installation takes about 10 minutes and is very easy.
1/2 in. Socket
9/16 in. Deep Socket
7/8 in. Socket (22 mm worked for us)
Start on either side and remove the three nuts using 1/2 in. socket.
Place one of the small washers on each of the three exposed posts.
Thread a bolt adapter on to each of the three posts and tighten hand-tight.
Torque each bolt adapter with a 9/16 in. deep socket to 25 ft-lb of torque
Notice that the two plates are differently shaped and match the curved shape of the sheet metal. Line them up so the logo is closest to the windshield.
Starting with the post that is closest to where the hood release cable passes through the cowl, gently pull up on the cable and work the plate on to the post about a quarter of an inch.
Line the plate up with the remaining two posts and press straight down.
Place one of the large washers around each of the bolt adapters.
Notice the large nuts have a flat and concave side. Thread them on to the bolt adapters flat-side down.
Torque large nuts with a 7/8 in. socket (or 22 mm socket) to 25 ft-lb of torque.
Repeat on other side.
Note: You may notice that your towers are already deformed as you see them flattening out as you tighten. Flattening out again is a good thing, but if you notice a lot of deformity, you may want to have your alignment checked once you finish both sides.
MINI has an amazingly complex antenna system called the diversity antenna. It includes a signal amplifier; logic board to select from two antenna arrays; and pounds of wiring. What makes it amazing is that it sucks. It’s another example of unnecessary complexity that keeps creeping into automotive design. In this post we aren’t ready to pitch it entirely but we will eliminate the aerial and the base (saving 4 oz at the highest point in the car and eliminating a major source of drag). We’ll make the CravenSpeed Shark Fin Antenna designed for the 2002-2004 antenna base work with a 2006 (larger) base.
[If you’re wondering about installing the Shark Fin on a 2002-2004 R53 MINI: It’s super easy — zero wrenches on the difficulty scale. Basically steps 1 & 2 below, attach the wire to the base, and attach the Shark Fin to the car. 3-5 minutes tops.]
Proceed only if you’re comfortable with Soldering and using a cutting wheel. (Interesting that so many of my projects involve cutting wheels….) Tools & Materials Required:
22mm Socket & driver
Optional: Silicon sealant, grommet, and expanding foam
Time Required: 45-60 Minutes
I found a quote about the antenna system online attributed to a book called “MINI Complete” that states:
The Aerial Diversity Unit has coaxial inputs from the roof aerial and the rear screen aerial amplifier unit. The unit also has the output coaxial to the radio headset and a radio on wire. The switching action of the diversity unit is configured to ensure that no noise is heard through the radio (diversity crackle). The unit constantly scans the aerial inputs for the best signal, which is then fed to the radio headset via the coaxial cable. The diversity function is only operational in the FM mode, when AM stations are being received the diversity function is deactivated.
Let’s see if we can keep the functionality, but fit it into a sleeker form factor. Since the CravenSpeed Shark Fin was designed for the earlier (smaller) base, we’ll just eliminate the base entirely. Remember there is no warranty if using the shark fin in this way and a new base will set you back $50-$150 if you aren’t satisfied. Make sure you get a good seal or you will get water leaks. We’re using three strategies to leak-proof: Adhesive tape; a grommet; and expanding foam. Water will always find a path if it’s available so there’s no guaranty what we are describing will work for you. Proceed at your own risk.
Remove the aerial from the stock base.
Attach the wire to the antenna mount and test fit the Shark Fin over the base. Even if it doesn’t fit over the base, turn on your radio and make sure it works before proceeding.
If it fits, congratulations you have the older style (smaller) mount and you’re halfway done. Use tape to mark out where you want it to be; put adhesive on the bottom of the base without removing the tab; attach wire to antenna mount; test fit again; if all is good-to-go, then expose rest of the adhesive and press firmly in place. You’re done.
If it didn’t fit over your base in step 2, then keep reading.
In the photos below, I removed the extra tab on the bottom, but it isn’t necessary if you’re removing the stock mount completely. Turn the Shark Fin over and attach the adhesive keeping the red 3M side down.
Before you remove the stock mount, put down some tape and mark the center-line of the vehicle. This will make it easier to line up later.
Work your way to the underside of the base. Gently separate the roof liner from the roof until you can get your hand on the base nut. Use a 22mm socket to work it loose.
Follow the wires back to a junction panel and unplug them. The smaller wire simply unplugs. The coaxial wire has an unnecessarily complex plug, so go ahead and break the pink pins and save time. You’ll tape it back together later.
Pull the antenna base free of the car. (Now is a good time to clean the roof that was under the old base with a clay-bar.) The bottom of the base is attached with four impossibly small Torx screws. Unscrew them if you have the appropriate sized Torx bit. Since this base is getting junked, we just drilled them out.
Separate the halves and you will see a small logic board and enough room for a small Sat-radio antenna. That must have been the reason for the redesign — to make room for a second antenna. [If you have an aftermarket sat radio tuner like XMDirect, you could probably squeeze a small Terk antenna into the Shark Fin before you seal it up.]
Use a Dremel cutting wheel and free the logic board. Since cutting is easier than splicing coaxial cable, you’ll save time this way.
Solder a small piece of wire there to have a lead to make the connection to the Shark Fin where the old antenna base made contact with the board.
Cover the backside of the logic board in electrical tape.
Drop the wire through the hole in the roof and test-fit the Shark Fin. Use the tape with the center-line as a reference. Step back and look down the roof to make sure it is straight. Tape all around the Shark Fin, then remove it again.
Place a grommet in the hole in the roof and seal it with silicone sealant.
Drop the wire from the Shark Fin through the opening in the roof and connect it to your logic board using the nut and screw provided with the Shark Fin.
Reconnect the plugs (using tape to secure the one you broke) and plug them back into the junction panel.
Tuck the logic board between the headliner and the roof, circuit side down so you don’t make contact with the roof.
Position the Shark Fin roughly where you want it but do not attach it just yet. Turn on radio and check that everything works as expected.
If radio works fine, proceed to the next step. If not, retrace your steps and troubleshoot.
Fill the underside of the Shark Fin about 50% full with low expanding foam sealant. Wait for it to expand until it is almost level with the bottom.
Remove the red film to expose the adhesive and position it where you marked it earlier. Hold it in place with tape and weigh it down until the foam dries.
Check under the roof to see that a little foam is expanding through the opening in the roof.
Reattach roof liner and ensure hatch seal keeps it in place.
When foam has dried, remove tape.
Put a band of silicon sealant (black or white) around the base to prevent water leaks if you want an additional level of protection.
You may remember this video from my last track weekend.
Well, we decided it was finally time to put some competition seats in the GeorgeCo MINI. Since this was our first time trying to put this combination of parts together, we thought we’d document the progress to save you some of our headaches. Safety is a very personal thing: We aren’t recommending a course of action for you, just documenting our thought process so you can decide for yourself.
If you’re like most track junkies, your disease will follow the same five-stage \progression: You take your street car to the track. You get better brakes and tires. You start to trackify your car. At some point, you cross a line and it becomes a track-car you can drive on the street. Then it becomes a dedicated track-car and you have to trailer it to the track. We’re at stage 4 with this car. Still street legal and we don’t want to completely gut the interior so we want to keep the front airbags and 3-point belts for the street, yet have fixed-back seats and six-point harnesses for the track (yes, and a HANS.) So this stage presents a couple of challenges with the MINI: How to anchor the 3-point belt? And how best to position the seat?
MINI has a pre-tensioner built into the belt receptacle. In the event of an impact, the belt tightens around the pelvic bone, pulling any slack out before your upper torso flies forward into the belt. This helps you not submarine under the belt. The slight twist in your upper torso with only one shoulder restrained also helps keeps your hips planted in the seat. The mounting point for the pre-tensioner is built into the stock MINI seat, not the slider, so if you want to reuse the slider, you have to find another way to anchor the belt. We chose to use the Sparco MINI Seat Base and a standard sized Sparco Evo Seat. Eventually we want the seat on a slider, but for now, it allows us to finish the installation and see how everything else fits. GeorgeCo is not too tall (5’8″) and has pretty short legs. Positioning the seat as far forward as possible without the slider is actually about the ideal position (and since the sliders hadn’t yet arrived) we went ahead and mounted the driver’s seat in a fixed position to see what that’s like to live with for a while. By sliding the seat as far to the center as possible, we were able to get the door to close without removing the door card. It does take some getting used to in order to get out of the car without looking like a complete idiot. The passenger seat was a whole other kettle of fish.
On the passenger side, we went with the larger EVO II US seat. The “US” means “large”, but the differences aren’t really that great. It just isn’t tapered to the waist so there’s may an extra inch to an inch and a half of hip-room. The shoulder width is the same and that’s the challenge: getting the seat low enough to get helmet clearance, but not have the shoulder wing contact the door-card with the door closed. The first challenge was just getting the base to line up. Not surprising, but the center tunnel is not symmetrical. There was enough room to clear the bolt for the pre-tensioner on the driver’s side, but not on the passenger side. We ended up going to a very slim bolt head design and persuaded the mounting point (ie, hammered) to move to the right just enough to get it to clear. When you use a slide with side mounted seats, there are three components to the seating support system: the side mounts (sort of “L” shaped brackets”; the slider (“U” shaped); and the base. Seat and all three components from the same manufacturer so you’d think everything would line up out of the box. But you would be wrong. Out of the box, the slider sets the rails about 13.5 inches apart. When the brackets are attached to the seats, the mounting point to the sliders are about 14.5 inches apart. So if you have four components they can go together, what, 24 different ways? The piece that ties the sliders together to form the “U” is made of very soft metal. It finally occurred to us to just bend it and make the “U” wider. Problem solved (2 hours later…) So the passenger seat is in, on a functional slider, and in the same reclining position as the driver’s seat, but it sits about 3/4 of an inch taller because of the slider. The shoulder wings (barely) clear the door card even when fully slid back.
Here’s the passenger side with the stock seat removed. The first thing to notice (besides that we vacuumed the carpet) are the connectors. There are 5 of them, but really only two that matter. The five are for the side airbag; seat occupancy weight sensor; seat belt; pre-tensioner; and seat heater. Seat heater won’t be reinstalled on this side (but we are doing it on the driver side because we’re getting old). The seat belt and pre-tensioner will be reinstalled with the new seat base. The airbag we can bypass with a 3.9 Ohm resistor (MINI used to sell the part to do this.) So it’s the weight sensor that we have to worry about. (This is the part that recently was the subject of a recall on 2005-2006 MINIs.) It’s a non-servicable part that’s buried deep within the seat cushion, but without it you’ll get a SRS fault. Since this one wasn’t working anyway, we decided to rip it out of the seat (it failed in the “on” position so the passenger airbag is always on, just like in the 2002-2004 cars so no worries there.) We just put it between the shell and the padding in the new seat, plugged it back into the wiring harness and good-to-go, no SRS fault. We test fitted the brackets and sliders before we figure out to bend the connecting bar as mentioned above. We’re still not sure what’s the best (least worst?) order to install the components, but in the end we ended up putting the base and the slider in the car, then attaching the brackets to the seat before attaching the brackets to the sliders. Here you can see how tight it is between the pre-tensioner and the center tunnel.
In the end, it turned out pretty well. We need to see if the seats are low enough with helmets and we still need to install the 6 point harnesses, but it looks promising. The 3 point belt is not ideal. The outside goes through the seat slot so it sits very low on the hip. The inside goes over the seat edge. But since the hip bone is still above the top edge of the seat it will still function correctly, just crush the seat edge in the event of a crash. But that will be the least of our worries at that point.
We managed to get the first five pre-production diverters completed this weekend. Three went out to our beta testers; one is on the test-mule; and the other one we just don’t talk about. The photo at the top of the post is the one on the GeorgeCo MINI. Here are the three beta units before two were painted.
I actually like it in bare aluminum. With all of the hammer and machining marks, it has a rat-rod feel to it, but it also really looks great when painted.
Once we get some feedback on how they perform, we’ll be ready to go into production.
Here are the instructions that shipped with the diverters along with larger photos:
Intercooler Diverter Installation Instructions
Installation of this kit has been assessed as very easy, but should be performed by individuals familiar with the MINI engine.
8mm wrench or deep socket
Torx T-30 socket
Time Required: 15 minutes (or less.)
15% Reduction Pulley
Cold Air Intake
Remove the four Torx bolts as shown in photo to remove the stock diverter.
Place the two washers as shown in the photo.
Install new diverter using the stock Torx bolts and tighten hand tight.
Remove the two 8mm nuts and two screws to remove the stock hood diverter. (See below for advanced options.)
Reinstall the two 8mm nuts and tighten hand tight (do not over-tighten or you will break the hood scoop.) Do not reinstall the stock hood diverter, but do replace the two screws to hold the stock hood-liner in place.
Close but do not latch the hood.
Check fit of hood scoop to diverter by carefully running a finger along the inside edge of the scoop.
If there are no clearance problems, fully latch the hood.
If the diverter contacts the hood scoop, carefully bend the diverter or cut the trim to clear the inside edge of the scoop.
These optional steps require use of a Dremel cutting wheel and modifying the stock hood diverter. Eye protection required. Proceed at your own risk.
Dremel cutting wheel
File or grinding wheel
Time Required: 45-60 minutes.
Thermo-Tec Adhesive Backed Heat Barrier, 19×12 in.
Black spray paint (optional)
Follow instructions above through step 4.
Trim a piece of Thermo-Tech Heat Barrier to cover the exposed under-side of your hood, cutting it to overlap the hood-liner by 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch all around.
Use a Dremel cutting wheel or similar tool to separate the first 2 1/4 inches of the hood diverter from the main panel to better channels the air through the scoop to the diverter. (It also allows you to install a grille between the panel and the scoop to keep debris off of your intercooler.)
Use the scoop to trace the shape of the grille to be cut on a piece of cardboard. Cut the grille from a piece of Gutter Guard (or other wire mesh) approximately 1/8 inch larger than the size you traced and trim to fit. Use black spray paint to retard rust.
Sandwich the grille between the scoop and panel by reattaching the panel with the two 8 mm nuts. Do not over tighten or you will break the scoop.
Replace the two screws to hold the stock hood-liner in place.
Use chalk to mark the last inch of the diverter trim on each side where it will touch the hood panel.
Close but do not latch the hood and look through the scoop with a flashlight to see if the panel is touching the ends of the diverter.
Open hood and check for chalk marks on the hood panel. It may be necessary to trim the panel or bend the end of the diverter and/or cut the trim to avoid contacting the hood panel.
Catching up on some missed posts. Had another fun weekend instructing on the extended Jefferson Circuit. Here’s a lap for those who aren’t familiar with it.
And if you’re planning to drive it for the first time, here’s a couple of narrated laps.
I was testing out a new camera we sell in the store, the WaspCam, so I pointed it back at me to see how much movement I have with the stock seats in the MINI. Here it is in time-lapse mode for better affect.