CravenSpeed Shift Well Cover DIY

To close out the interior refresh on the trackcar, I installed a CravenSpeed Shift Well Cover this week. Besides protecting the shifter from accidental damage — it just looks cool. If you’ve installed an adjustable short shifter, the biggest advantage is ease of access to the adjustment lock. Installation is very simple and should be completed in about 30 minutes. Torx drivers and a trim pry tool are the only specialty tools required. Since the electrical connections to the charger port and the mirror/heated seats switch have to be removed, disconnect the battery before you start.

  • Remove the shift knob. (For the stock knob it just pulls off.  Just make sure you don’t fly into the roof when it comes off.)
  • Gently pry around the shift boot retaining ring to free it from the console and invert the boot.
  • Cut the zip-tie to release the boot and pull it free of the shift lever.  You won’t be using it or the retaining ring again.
  • Remove the torx screws and pull the trim away from the radio console.
  • Gently pry on the mirror/heated seat switch panel. (Six metal retaining clips have to be disengaged. Two on either side and one on each end.) Be careful as you pull it away from the console as the clips may fall out.
  • Note the color and location of each wire connector and disconnect all of them.
  • Now remove the four screws holding down the console.  Two are under the cup holders and two are under the switch panel you just removed.
  • Pull up slightly on the console and unplug the socket charger.
  • Pull the console up along the pillars and off.
  • Position the Shift Well Cover as shown in the photo below with the circle to the lower right when the console is upside down and secure with the screws and washers provided.
  • If you have an adjustable shifter, remove the adjustment collar.
  • Place the spring over the shifter so it rests on top of the center pivot.
  • Place the rubber grommet inside of the dust cover and slide it over the lever so it rests on the spring. (It can be installed with either the textured or smooth side up.)
  • Reinstall the console by sliding it over the pillars and shifter, connect the charger connections, and reinstall the four screws.
  • Reconnect the switch panel electrical connections and press back into place.
  • Reinstall the adjustment collar on adjustable shifters.
  • Reinstall the shift knob and reconnect the battery.

Official CravenSpeed instructions are here.


MINI Aftermarket Steering Wheel & QR Install DIY

This project turned into much more of an adventure than was originally planned. The basic idea was simple enough: Install an aftermarket steering wheel and ditch the airbag on the trackcar. I knew the wheel I wanted because I used to have it on my E30. Just find the right hub; get the spacing right — no problem, right? Not so fast. If you are thinking about installing an aftermarket steering wheel, there are a few things you need to consider before you start:

  1. Do you really want to do this? Check local regulations and consult your shop manual before attempting to remove the airbag. If your car is still your daily driver, you may want to think twice about removing the airbag.
  2. Size and position? A smaller wheel can improve steering response, but may block your view of critical gauges. Since the Gen 1 MINI steering column only adjusts up and down, you can use the opportunity of a new hub to choose where to position your aftermarket wheel relative to the driver.
  3. Fixed or removable? A quick release can make it much easier to get out of competition seats, but most add 1-2 inches to the distance from the hub. Just having a smaller wheel (even if fixed) may make it easier to get in and out.
  4. Do you want to retain horn function and turn-signal cancel? The horn wiring and the tab that cancels the turn-signal are both part of the slip-ring. If you can do without both of these functions, the installation is considerably easier, but if you want to retain them, modifications are necessary. (Just keep in mind this is a $150 part if you screw it up or want to go back to stock.)
  5. Do you want to keep the airbag light off? Although our test car no longer has any airbags, we have retained the 3-point seatbelts and pre-tensioners since we can’t use 6-point harnesses in our state on the street. (No trailer. Yet…). So we still have the airbag module in the car so it will fire-off the pre-tensioners in an impact.

We’ve covered steering wheel removal and slip-ring replacement in previous posts, so we won’t repeat the steps to remove the airbag, steering wheel, and slip-ring here. But do make sure you allow at least 15 minutes between disconnecting the battery and disconnecting the airbag so you don’t have to make an unnecessary trip to the dealer to reset the airbag light. Allow yourself a couple of hours to complete the project.

Parts needed:

  • Hub adapter
  • Quick Release (Optional)
  • Steering Wheel
  • Two 3.9-Ohm 1/4 watt resistors
  • Three Washers (7/8 x 1 3/8 in 14 GA bearings)

Hub face-off

We bought three hubs which are widely available and advertised to fit the MINI steering spindle. The photo shows them left to right from Sparco, NRG, and MOMO. It turns out the Sparco one we got which is listed as fitting ‘MINI after 2001’ is actually for the classic Mini BEFORE 2001 (part number 015002038), not BMW MINI which is Sparco part number 01502183CA. So that left the MOMO and NRG hubs as contenders.

The MOMO hub is designed to place a flat wheel in the stock position. It also does not fit inside of the slip-ring eliminating the use of the horn button and turn-signal cancel function without some serious fabrication. If you want to position the steering wheel 1-2 inches closer to the driver, then use a QR. It is often advertised as being collapsible, but that’s not the case in this application. It also needs a 1/4 inch washer with a smaller outer diameter than the NRG hub.

Our goal is to have a quick release wheel in the stock position with a functioning horn and turn-signal cancel function so we opted for the NGR low profile hub and quick release (QR). The NRG hub, however, will not fit the slip-ring out of the box — both require modification to work together.

Let’s start with the easy part and fit the upper receiver of the Quick Release to the steering wheel. Compare the connections on the back of the horn button to the wires leading from the upper receiver and modify the connectors as needed. Bolt the upper receiver using the six hex bolts with the release catch facing up, but do not over-tighten. Connect the horn wires from the upper receiver and press it into the steering wheel. Set the wheel aside and turn your attention to the slip-ring.

The slip-ring has a tab that fits into a slot at the bottom of the stock steering wheel at the six-o’clock position. This positions the tab at the center of the slip-ring correctly to perform the turn-signal cancel function. This position places the horn and airbag wiring connector at about the two-o’clock position which more or less lines up with the slot in the NRG hub. The connector and plastic protrusion on the slip-ring are in the way so we’ll remove them.

There are two connectors on the front of the slip-ring. The wires on the left go to the airbag and are no longer needed. Cut them off flush to the face of the slip-ring.  On the right are the connections for the horn, multi-functional steering wheel controls, and cruise control. (Our wheel didn’t have cruise or MF switches.) We need to trim the connector flush to the slip-ring face, while retaining the two connector leads for the horn. (See photo.)

Once we removed all of the protrusion, we checked the quick release lower receiver horn wires and made plug-in connectors to match. We then soldered these wires to the slip-ring and cover everything in electrical tape.

Place the wires through the slot in the hub and line up the hub and slip-ring in the correct positions and you will see where you need to modify the hub to secure the slip-ring tab. Use a Dremel to cut down the tab by half and to create a slot in the hub and that will prevent the slip-ring from repositioning once the two are installed.

Now take a look at the slot in front of the hub and notice the sharp edge. Grind the edge down to provide relief to the wires and make sure they don’t cut through the insulation over time. Paint and then cover the edge of the slot with electrical tape for good measure and you are almost ready to install the hub.

Before you install the hub, place two resistors into the airbag connector formerly plugged into the slip-ring and zip-tie it back out of the way.


Now it’s time to put it all together:

  • Plug the white horn connector back into the slip-ring and re-install the slip-ring on the column.
  • Route the horn wires through the slot and install the hub adapter in the correct position. (Check the horn wires for binding.)
  • Place the washers around the spindle, then install the hub. Tighten the bolt to 33 ft-lb. of torque. (We tried to put the hub on first and then the washers but the hub was binding against the slip-ring cover — see second photo below.)
  • Connect the horn wires and line up the lower receiver with the hub. Install the six hex bolts and do not over tighten.
  • Install the steering wheel, reconnect the battery and test the horn and turn-signal cancel.
  • Turn the key from position 1 to position 2 to ensure the airbag light turns off.

If everything works, take the wheel off and reinstall the trim.


CravenSpeed Short Shifter DIY

I finally got around to installing the CravenSpeed Adjustable Short Shifter and Shift Knob in the MINI this weekend. It’s not a hard DIY project if you have a lift so you can drop the exhaust — which I don’t. This post offers some tips if you’re thinking about taking on this project armed only with jack-stands. CravenSpeed has a thorough set of instructions, read it thoroughly before you begin. Here are some tips if trying it the hard way:

  • You don’t have to drop the exhaust (but it does make the job easier). You will have to drop the center support to get the heat shield out of the way.  There’s an extra screw all the way at the front of the tunnel that needs to be removed. You can’t see it from below the shifter.
  • You won’t be able to completely remove the shifter with the exhaust in the way, so don’t try. This also means you won’t easily be able to install the aluminum bushings either, but in my 2006 model car they didn’t need replacement.
  • Since you won’t be reinstalling the bottom cover, don’t bother to try to remove it without breaking the tabs, just break them all and save your fingernails. (I didn’t want to leave it open so I made a soft cover out of duct tape and flexible heat shielding.)
  • If you are having trouble getting the cable to release from the lower ball joint, try using a set of small vice-grips instead of a wrench as shown in the instructions. Pull down at a diagonal, it will just pop off. If you are using a lot of pressure, then you’re doing it wrong.
  • The most frustrating part is trying to pry all three tabs of the white retainer at the same time. Just be patient and pull up with even pressure.

Having an adjustable shifter is a nice feature, but not the main reason I installed it.  The CravenSpeed shifter also angles back a little bit toward the knob. This slight bend places the knob about an inch closer to the driver, reducing the reach for fifth gear. The other thing we did at the same time was swap out the stock shift knob. I always loved the look, but it was freezing cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  The CravenSpeed Knob is made from Delrin so it stays cool in the summer and won’t freeze your hand in the winter. If you want to use this knob with the Gen 1 short shifter, you need to also request a special adapter when your order it.

SEMA Show 2016

retro-1It’s been about a month since the SEMA show in Las Vegas which started just after Halloween this year. With the US election and Thanksgiving holiday in the rearview mirror, this seemed like a good time to reflect on the state of the aftermarket industry. For those not familiar with it, SEMA is the Specialty Equipment Market Association, an industry trade association for the automotive aftermarket industry. In the US, this is nearly a $40b industry and over 165,000 participants descend on Las Vegas annually to attend the fourth largest trade show in the world. We go every couple of years to take the pulse of the industry and meet with almost all our suppliers in one place. And to see the cars.

State of the Market: SEMA estimates the US automotive aftermarket to be $39.2b in 2016. The market has shown steady growth for six years straight, different-1growing at a rate of 8% last year. This is the first year the total has exceeded pre-recession levels. The Racing segment is one of the smallest niche at about $1.57b, which is a little smaller than Off-Road ($1.82b) and about the same size as Restoration ($1.53) and Street Rod & Custom ($1.47b). The fundamental shift in the market has been in the Accessory and Appearance Product Segment which was about half of the market before the recession. It peaked at about $24b in 2007 and has just now returned to 2001 levels at just under $15b in 2016. The change is especially true in the Light Truck segment, but has had an effect across all segments including Compact Performance (including most of the MINI aftermarket.)

different-4In 2007, new car/truck buyers were spending $1500 to $2000 accessorizing their new purchase. Last year it was about a third of that. There are a couple of trends at play here. One is the higher degree of customization available during the purchase process and the second is a change in buyer behavior. Buyers in most segments are more focused on utility than style. In the MINI new car market, this is reflected in more buyers purchasing cars off the lot with fewer optional features and fewer customers ordering on line. That results in dealerships needing to carry more cars in inventory and taking less risks when ordering cars. (Some call this the Camry effect which ultimately results in a used car market flooded with beige colored cars that no one wants.)

The good news for us is that we’ve shifted more into the Racing niche interesting-4segment over the past year. That niche is perhaps less dynamic, but also less cyclical. It consists of three product segments: Performance (48%); Wheels, Tires & Suspension (34%); and Accessory & Appearance (18%). The first two have had steady growth for 15 years. The last has grown steadily since floundering between 2007 and 2011.

MINI at SEMA: We were hoping we’d catch the new Countryman at SEMA, but MINI USA waited until the LA Auto Show to unveil it. They brought instead a JCW Clubman, Cooper Convertible, and Cooper S Hatchback. The most interesting thing about MINI was where it wasn’t, namely, anywhere else in the show. Once a favorite of the tuning crowd, the new, larger MINIs have gone mainstream. No longer is it seen as a platform to advertise other products.

mini-9 mini-4 mini-3 mini-1

The current generation of cars are quite capable. They outperform the earlier models in almost every dimension except one: fun. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad in MINI land. I especially liked the Union Jack convertible roof. The interiors are very nice – approaching Audi nice – but they are not enthusiast cars, they’re just cars. The funny thing about MINI’s current design language is that it doesn’t seem to work on the smaller cars. The taillights across the models are oddly proportioned, as if making them bigger would make the cars seem smaller. Compare the Clubman to the standard hatchback. The proportions of the larger Clubman seem to work better with the larger platform. The longer nose, the higher waistline, they all seem to work on the Clubman.

mini-7 mini-6 mini-5 mini-2

More than a Trade Show: SEMA’s roots go back to the Southern California Hot Rod scene 50 years ago and there was much of that still on display. Most people think of the street racing scene when they think about the show today, but there’s much more to see. I’ve selected some of my favorite photos and shared them below.

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There are always some interesting racecars and quality builds at the show each year. The public may be fascinated with reality TV builders, but I’m more interested in unique cars and personalities. It was interesting to compare the Singer Design Porsches to Magnus Walker’s builds. The new NSX racecar is beautiful and the Turner M6 is much larger in person.

interesting-10 Singer interesting-8 Singer interesting-9 Singer interesting-11 Singer interesting-14 interesting-15 interesting-17 interesting-16 interesting-3 interesting-2interesting-19 Michael Shank Racing Team interesting-18 interesting-23 interesting-13 interesting-12 interesting-5 interesting-6 interesting-22 interesting-20 interesting-25

There were also plenty of unbalanced wings; incorrectly mounted splitters; and slammed “racecars” with zero suspension travel. Rust and Steam-Punk were major themes. Not so much for product offerings as much as displays to draw you in. I appreciate the patina on a non-restored classic, but now you can’t tell what’s real and what’s affected. I do appreciate an inappropriately large motor applied to just about anything though. Some of the builds made no sense to me. I’m not sure what they’re intended to convey: The art of the possible or just to get your attention. This could be from the maker of a wrap, to top-heavy lifted vehicles just waiting to be pushed over.

retro-11 retro-10 retro-9 retro-8 retro-7 retro-6 retro-5 retro-4 retro-3  different-12 different-11 different-10 different-9 different-8 different-7 different-6 different-5 different-1

I also thought Continental Tire had an interesting way of demonstrating the grip and wear performance of their tires. By giving drifting demonstration rides. Although from where I was standing, it looked as if some of the backseat passengers were trying to get out….

Adding OEM Fog Lights to R53 MINI

We recently posted a couple of DIY articles about foglights. One was about using the stock MINI fog light openings as brake duct openings, and the other was about adding Hella fog lights using the Alta Rally Light bar. In this post, we’ll fit a pair of stock MINI fog lights to the bumper of a car that didn’t come with them from the factory.  Like all of the other advice on this website, use at your own risk.  The processes described worked for us, your mileage may vary. No wagering. [If you would like to see how to add the OEM MINI driving lights that mount to the upper grille, check out this write-up from Pelican Parts.]
 Difficulty: 2-wrenches-150x30
Time Required: 2 Hours
Parts & Materials Needed:
  • OE style fog lights (get the Hella OE version which are less expensive than MINI) and hardware (see drawing).
  • A two light wiring kit with relay and a round switch (like this one or similar).
  • Two sockets for fog lights (61132360041)
  • Some shrink tubing and zipties (always zipties.)
  • Soldering iron and electrical spade connectors
  • Add-a-circuit and fuse.

Special Tools Needed:

  • Torx T-25 Socket
  • Wire crimping/stripping tool
  • Drill bit sized to match your switch.
Installation Instructions:
  1. Like any other electrical project, copy any stereo codes and disconnect the battery.
  2. Loosen the front lug bolts and put the car on jack stands (the front end at least).
  3. Remove the road-wheels.
  4. Remove the front bumper cover by removing the two Torx bolts on either side of the radiator, the two 8mm bolts within each wheel well, the three 10 mm bolts under the spoiler and the two screws that attach the bumper cover to the wheel well liner on the bottom.
  5. Twist out the corner marker lights and running lights. Unplug the front turn signals. Unplug the temperature sensor from the grille.
  6. The bumper cover is now free.
  7. Remove each of the fog light blanks.
  8. Working within each of the wheel wells, release the four forward screw rivets so you can get to the backside of the fog light mounts.
  9. Attach the fog lights to the support frame using the required hardware (see drawing).
  10. Starting at the grounding point inboard of each wheel well, route a ground wire back to the fog light. Secure the wire along the path from the fog light to the grounding point, and attach the wire to the grounding point.
  11. Cut the ground wire with enough slack that you can maneuver the light bulb holder in and out of the fog light.
  12. Attach the ground wire to one end of the fog light socket.
  13. Attach the relay and inline fuse to the cowl panel near the engine fuse box.
  14. Open the fuse box next to the ECU. Notice where the power lead from the battery attaches with in the rear under the 10mm nut. Attach the main power lead from the relay to this nut.
  15. Route the relay ground to the grounding point where you attached the left side fog light ground and secure the wire with zip ties.
  16. Route the fog light power leads to each light. Avoid pinching the wire or running it near anything that will run hot. If you cross potentially sharp edges, use some shrink tubing to add some reinforcement to the wire in that location. Secure the wire with zip ties to reduce movement.
  17. Once you are satisfied, cut the wire to length (leaving some slack to remove the light socket) and connect the wire to your fog light connector.
  18. Drill a small hole in the cowl near the relay and run the lead to the switch into the cowl cavity.
  19. Locate the large rubber grommet on the firewall next to the brake master cylinder. Use an awl or sharp screwdriver to punch a hole in the rubber.
  20. Attach the switch lead wire to a straightened coat hanger and it into the opening a few inches.
  21. Switch to inside of the vehicle and pull down on the knee bolster on either side of the steering column.  Pull down sharply, the panel will pivot down and then pull out.
  22. Locate where the coat hanger is coming through the grommet and start pulling the wire through.
  23. Run the wire along the backside of the knee bolster support frame all the way to the fuse panel and secure it in place with zip ties. Give yourself an extra 12 inches of wire or so, and cut it off.
  24. Look on the back side of the knee bolster and note the spot marked in the photo below to drill the hole for the switch and carefully drill the hole.
  25. On the firewall locate a 10m nut to use as a ground point. Run a ground wire from that point to the switch.
  26. Open the fuse panel and locate a 10amp fuse used for X. Use the add-a-fuse and run the wire to the switch.
  27. Connect the spade connectors to all three wires and attach to the switch (labeled “eject” because “fog” is boring).
  28. Replace the knee bolster by pressing it up and into place firmly.
  29. Reconnect the battery and then test your connections.
  30. Reconnect the battery, turn on the headlights, and test your new fog light switch.
  31. If everything is working, put the bumper cover back on and reconnect the wheel well liners and roadwheels.
  32. To aim your new fog lights (assuming your headlights are aimed correctly), park your car about 25 feet from a wall on level ground and measure the distance from the center of your fog lights to the ground.
  33. Transfer that height to the wall with masking tape and aim your fog lights so the center of the beam is 1.5 inches below your mark.  (See this reference article.)
  34. With the hood raised, you can look down past the turn signals and see the white adjuster screw from above.  You’ll need a fairly long screwdriver to reach it.

frontstructure foglightbreakout wiringkit img_3655grommetpowerdrillhere img_9554

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