Corbeau A4 Seats in MINI

Looking for a supportive seat for autocross or HPDE, but still use your car as a daily driver? The Corbeau A4 might be a good option to consider. Available in cloth or leather, it has the option of a 5/6 point sub hole in the lower cushion that even works with optional seat heaters.

The A4 is narrower in the shoulders than many competitor seats so it fits in small spaces like the MINI without rubbing on the door panel. Keep in mind that if you still have carpet in your car, you’ll need to phish the power leads to the center console before you install the seats. Just zip tie them to the existing wire loom.

The base includes sliders and a mounting point for the stock 3-point belt receptacle. The challenge for MINIs after 2005 is the passenger occupancy sensor. You do have a couple of options however. If you skilled with NCSexpert, you may be able code it out in the ABG module. Just look for OC3_1 and OC3_2, and change to “nicht active”. If you want to keep the occupancy sensor, you can remove it from an OEM seat and place it below the cushion on your A4 seat, which is what we did.

In this car, we installed optional seat heaters in addition to the 5/6 point sub slot. Since this car came with OEM seat heaters, wiring was very simple. Start by removing the stock switch panel. Remove the OEM heater switches. Use a drummer tool to remove the lip and slightly increase the size of the hole. Fit the switches provided by Corbeau. now turn your attention to the stock wiring connector.

You’ll want to grab power and ground from this part of the wiring loom to take advantage of the stock fused power. Using the supplied power lead, trim off the in-line fuse and cut the black and red wires to about 12 inches. Connect the black wire to the brown ground wire in the loom. As you look at the stock connector, you’ll see a green/violet wire on one end, and a green/gray one on the other. The green/violet is the one going to the OEM seat so the one on the other end of the connector (color may be different) is the power lead from the loom. Verify it has power with key in position two and check with a volt-meter. Cut that wire close to the connector and attach to the red wire of the supplied lead. Now hide all of the wires within the center console. installation looks very OEM.

Restoring Old Leather Steering Wheel

If your leather steering wheel is looking tired — a little shiny, white grime in the grain — and just won’t clean up, it may be time to refresh the leather.  Colourlock makes a kit that is easy to use and very effective at bringing the leather back to near original condition. You’ll just need a stiff cleaning brush, some towels and masking tape in addition to the kit. Allow 30-60 minutes from start to finish.

Start by masking-off any plastic trim and clean with a brush. As you work your way around the steering wheel, look for deep scratches or other imperfections in the leather. If the steering wheel isn’t hasn’t been terribly neglected, a good cleaning maybe all you need.  It this case, it needed the full treatment.

The next step is to remove any remaining grease, oil or conditioners before refreshing the surface color.  Usually shiny leather is a sign of grease and oil build up from the years of grubby hands grasping the wheel. Wear gloves and use leather spirit to remove any remaining surface contaminates. This will leave the leather very dull looking. 

Lightly sand the leather to increase surface adhesion and reduce areas of shine. Take care to avoid the stitching. Carefully sand any rough spots, scratches or other surface imperfections. Clean again with leather spirit. At this point you may be thinking, “What have I done?” but carry on.

Start with areas of the heaviest sanding and apply the Colour Fresh according to the instructions. Use the sponge to apply with a dabbing motion. Apply in sections and use a heat gun or hair dryer when complete with each section. As soon as you see the dye change to a dull sheen, it’s dry to the touch. Apply two coats to the entire steering wheel. Areas of heavy damage or more sanding will likely need additional coats. 

Allow to dry overnight and apply a light coating of UV protectant. Let it soak in and then buff it to a dull sheen. Now stop eating in your car.

Junkyard Seats

Have you ever been tempted by a set of leather sport seats you find at the pick-yard? We decided to find out if it was possible to refinish them well enough to that you’d want to put them into your daily driver. Once you find a potential set of seats, be sure to check the foam for dampness and mold. If you have anything more extensive than surface mold, then you probably want to look elsewhere.

We found a set of leather sport seats from a 2008 335i. The surface leather was dirty and a bit moldy, but nothing too bad to consider. Most of the damage to the seats came once the car was junked and parts started to pile up in the interior. You also want to check the seat electronics to make sure everything works before spending a lot of time refinishing the leather.

To refresh the leather you’ll need the following: Colourlock Refresh Kit; a stiff brush; some clean towels; and a leather sanding pad.

Start by inspecting the seats to find the areas that need the most attention.  In our case it was the driver’s side bolsters. The center of the driver’s seat was damaged by a spill. Other than smoothing the area by sanding, there isn’t much we can do without some liquid leather.

Clean the seats thoroughly and wipe dry. Carefully sand any heavily damaged areas, taking care to avoid stitching. Apply the leather fresh by dabbing with the included sponge. Work one small area at a time. Use a heat gun or hair dryer to set the dye. Let dry over-night and apply the UV protectant. 

Vibra-Technics Motor Mount

After destroying two upper motor mounts and two exhaust flex joints in successive track weekends, I decided to try a more robust motor mount to see if I could reduce some engine movement. Vibra Technics makes two versions of this mount for Gen 1 MINI and this is the track (harder) version.

My first thought when it arrived was that it belonged in a museum. It was beautiful.

Installation is actually fairly simple. Get the car up on jack stands in the front. Remove the right road wheel and fender liner. Support the engine from below with a jack to relieve pressure on the mount. Remove the grounding strap from the mount carrier and the vapor return line which is in the way. Loosen but do not remove the nut at the top of the mount. Remove the four bolts holding the mount support to the top of the engine. Remove the nut at the top of the mount and carefully remove the upper mount support. Remove the stock Torx bolt from the bottom of the mount. Remove the side bolt and the stock mount should pull free. Installation is the reverse of removal.

I also replaced the lower dog-bone mount earlier with a semi-solid mount from Torque Solutions.

So what was the net result? I accomplished my first goal, completing over 200 track miles without breaking anything. An interesting side effect was to lower lap time by almost a second. To be fair, I made two changes to the car for this weekend: I replaced the motor mounts and I ADDED 50 lbs to the rear end of the car. I think the combination of better balance and less wheel hop gave me higher apex speeds. Here’s a lap.

How is it on the street? It’s probably not a combination you want to use on your daily driver. NVH is definitely increased. Depending on your RPM, the vibration through the steering wheel could make your fingers go numb. On the track, or any time you are constantly working through the revs, I can’t say I noticed. But cruising at steady speed — brutal.

Since the upper mount can be changed in about 30 minutes once you figure it out, I swapped back to a new OEM top mount and left the lower mount. That does have some increased NVH over stock, but it’s a good compromise. And next time I have a track weekend, I’ll drop the Vibra-Technics back in before heading out.

New Exhaust Header and Wrap for R53 MINI

Toward the end of my last track session for 2018 I noticed a significant change in exhaust tone. I thought the larger second position OEM cat had finally failed, but it turns out it was the first smaller cat ahead of it. If you see a break like this, you should also check your motor mounts. Chances are one or more of your mounts is broken or weak, causing excessive movement of the engine. This additional rocking of the engine finds the weakest point in the exhaust and causes either the flex joint or this joint to fail.

This turns out to also be the most common cause of emissions test failures for this car. The joint fails causing a leak and then the second O2 sensor throws a code. If you’re looking at a used car to buy, check out the area circled in red below:

It can be repaired, but if you’re going to go to the trouble to pull off the manifold to weld it, you might want to consider buying a new one so you don’t have to repair it again in a couple of years when something else breaks. The stock part number is 18407566102 and it costs about $1100 to replace with OEM parts. Alternatively, you could go with an aftermarket OE style manifold which costs about half.

A third possibility is to go with a performance header and supply your own cat if you want to keep it road legal. That’s the route we’re trying. We got a Megan Racing Header along with a MagnaFlow 49-state catalytic converter and had it fabricated to match the cat-delete pipe.


MINI placed the electric power steering pump and steering rack very close to the header. If the pump ever over-heats it turns itself off. If this happens on the track (which it has to me) it can be very unsettling as the steering instantly becomes VERY heavy. So before installing the header, I decided to wrap it with DEI header wrap. This video shows how to do it.