What Lurks Within

I recently made a couple of mods that have really changed the character of the MINI. The latest mod you can barely see lurking behind the rotor in the picture below. I took out the stock sway bar and replaced it with an Alta adjustable 22mm. Even on the softest of the three settings I can feel the change in handling. The MINI always had minimal body roll in corners, but now it’s really flat. It also had a tendency plow, but now it’s neutral.

The installation process is fairly straight forward. Here’s a couple of helpful hints though: Attach the bar to the subframe before you re-attach the subframe to the chassis to save your knuckles and remove both struts makes it much easier to fish out. Total time for two people who have never done this before on a MINI was about 3 hours.


The other change is even harder to see, but easy to feel. I went into Behe Performance to get a brake flush and found out they were having a Pulley Special: A 15% Reduction Pulley installed for $235. I couldn’t pass that up and what a difference it makes. If you are still sitting on the fence about a pulley upgrade you should jump in. I cannot imagine any other single mod you could make that transforms your car as much as this.

So you may be asking yourself why doesn’t the car come this way from the factory in the first place? So far, I’ve ditched the “S-Lites” with runflat tires for R-90s with Goodyear F1 GS-D3’s. I got $600 for the S-Lites which is what the R-90’s cost so the net cost was the price of the new tires, which after rebates was about $500. I bought a Cold Air Intake which I installed myself. ($125). MTH Car tune ECU remap (I got it when it was only $60). Madness Pulley installed ($235). EBC Greenstuff brake pads ($170). And finally the Alta Rear Sway Bar ($169.) Grand Total: $1369.

I’ve reduced un-sprung weight by 48 lbs; improved the ride quality, handling, braking, and acceleration; my gas mileage has improved by 3-4 MPG; power comes sooner and the engine revs more freely and I’ve increased horsepower from 163 to about 185. For another $700 I can get a free flowing exhaust and push horsepower up to 190. Compare that to the JCW kit that was made for my car: It didn’t include the air intake, suspension, or brake upgrade and increased horsepower by 37. The improved JCW head probably still wins on improved torque, but look at the cost: It’s almost $5K without the 10 hours of labor required to install it compared to everything above for about $2,000.

Imagine the problem from MINI’s Perspective. You could have added better brake pads that weren’t made of chalk for a minimal cost, say $50. $75 would get you a cold air intake, and I’m sure you could have requested a smaller diameter pulley at no cost. Software changes would cost nothing, and larger pipes in the exhaust would be minimal, but let’s say $200 for the sake of argument. A beefier sway bar might also cost $20 and it wouldn’t kill them to add adjustable camber plates in the front for another $200. What would you have? A nearly 200 hp Cooper S that costs only an additional $600. The problem would be that this car would have about 200 hp and there wouldn’t be enough of a gain in the JCW package to justify the additional $5,000 price tag. So ultimately it isn’t a matter of cost or performance, but positioning. If you want to sell 3 cars, one at 115 hp and the other at 210, you need to position the third in the middle, which is right where the stock Cooper S turns out to be. Not because it isn’t capable of more, but because you can’t justify the middle car being $5,000 less than the JCW and $5,000 more than the Cooper if you choose otherwise.

Gauge Pod DIY

I’ve always been curious about when the super-charger actually kicks in. How do you know if some other modification is actually adding power? There’s always the “butt-dyno” but that isn’t very reliable. I thought it would be nice to see boost pressure and see what happens under various conditions. I started looking at what was on the market to add some gauges around the tachometer. I found many offerings online offering a gauge pod which sells for about $150 by itself, a couple of gauges, and the necessary wiring harness. Since I’m always mucking about with the electrical system of the car adding or changing one gizmo or another, I thought it would be nice to have a voltmeter as well. The complete kit was selling for about $380 and dealers are charging a couple of hours of labor to install it, so I set off to see what I could do for less.

I found was the Autometer Ultra-light series of gauges. They fit in nicely with the MINI gauge design. Autometer sells black mounting cups which are possible to attach directly to the back of the tachometer (with slight modification for the 2 1/16 inch size cup mounts) but I wanted something more secure. So I built my own mounting bracket.


The tachometer has two screws in the mounting holes in the back that have to be replaced with longer ones to hold the mount. A word of caution here: the mounts are just plastic so don’t over tighten. I decided to angle the mounting cups to get them a bit below center axis when viewed from the front.


I had to build my own wiring harness and route the vacuum hose through the firewall to pick up the vacuum/boost pressure at the pressure regulator under the intercooler. It pulls power and ground from the cigarette lighter plug. It is also hooked into the dimmer loop so the lights of the gauges light and dim just like the rest of the instruments. I picked up that line at the cigarette lighter plug as well.


So what was the total cost? I was able to buy the gauges and gauge pods at Summit Racing. (They even gave me a free hat.) The pods were $13 each. The voltmeter was about $35. The boost/vacuum gauge was $52, but I got a $20 off coupon in my first order for the voltmeter, so effectively it was only $32. I spent about $4 at the hardware store buying aluminum stock and various fasteners. Excluding shipping costs, that makes my total $97.

MINI Scoop Grille DIY

I found that the intercooler hood scoop tended to scoop up leaves, bugs, and cigarette butts. Maybe it was just because I was doing a lot of driving in NJ (sorry). I saw a MINI catalog featuring a grille and thought I might try to make one myself. Putting a screen to keep the junk off of your intercooler will sacrifice a certain amount of air-flow and I suppose there is some risk of having snow and muck block it as well, but if it’s that cold out, I don’t think it will matter. I much rather have to stop to unclog the scoop than pay for a new intercooler. (And as I would later find out at the track, it helps keep the rubber klag out as well.)

Remove your air scoop by removing the two screws and two bolts that hold it on. Take care not to let the trim piece fall from the hood. There is a gap between the scoop and the trim piece that seems to have been built for this purpose. Trim a piece of cardboard to get the right shape then cut out a grille from a piece of $2 Gutter Guard from the Home Center. Paint the edges with flat black paint to prevent rust. If that’s too complicated for you, send me $5 and I’ll mail you one. Motor on.

Rear Brake Light Mod for 02-04 MINI DIY

Updated: January 2015: The mod comes courtesy of Richard Lin, aka OctaneGuy. He used to maintain a website called Littlemini.us and the instructions and photos below are from an archive of that site since it isn’t active anymore.

Minis sold in Europe come equipped with rear fog lights. MINIUSA didn’t think the U.S. market would want them, so the U.S. spec cars didn’t have them, even as an option. Cars shipped to the U.S. were prewired for them and since it’s easier to not have to customize your manufacturing process, they also have the light sockets (including bulbs) in the regular rear light housings, just no switch and no programming to operate the lights.

After some intensive lobbying from loyal Miniacs, MINIUSA authorized a retrofit. So by replacing the toggle bank with the one having the missing switch, U.S. owners can have their cars reprogrammed to have functioning rear fog lights too. That works out to something like $200 for the switch bank and $50-$100 to have installed and programmed. And if you want to install the switch bank yourself, you have to figure out which of the 12 versions listed in the parts catalog is the right one for your car. Another option is to use the lights for another purpose such as to double the amount of brake lights available from 2 to 4 lights.

For less than $2 and about 10 minutes of your time, you can place a diode in the wiring harness that will switch on the unused fog lights when you activate the brake lights. The neat thing about using the diode method rather than merely jumping the wires, is that you do not lose the fog light functionality if at a later date you want to add the extra toggle and reprogram for the lights. If you merely jump the connection, then when you activated the fog lights you would also activate the brake lights. That would be bad…. Below are the instructions originally from Richard Lin’s website. It works on all Mini’s through the ’04 model year. If your back-up light is NOT integrated into your tail lights, this will work.

Like all other guides on this website, this is intended as a general reference. Proceed at your own risk. This should take you about 10 minutes to complete.

You will need two diodes, some electrical tape, and some needle nose pliers. The diode is a 3amp 50 PIV diode from Radio Shack, part #276-1141 $1.59 (for 2)

In order to make this mod, you need to remove the rear access panels in the boot. You then want to unplug the connector for the brake lights. There is a release clip that you need to pinch in order to remove it.

diode wrapped

Hold the straight diode up to the connector. You will want to bend each end 90 degrees to make a U shape with the width in between the bends approximately the distance between wires 1 and 4 on the connector. If you bend the diode leg after the 90 degree bend into a Z pattern and push the Z into the connector it will hold better. Wrap the diode in electrical tape before inserting it.

/\/\== [diode] ==/\/\
bend ^ rt angle ^ two places, then install.