If you want to bring down a big man, call his car "cute." It hurts worse than a surprise nut trample or swift blow to the solar plexus. So when the wife called the Cooper S "cute," I decided to return the insult by taking her on a little drive. In a blaze of tire smoke I threw european car's long-term MINI through a series of high-g maneuvers, maniacal brake runs and general vehicular insanity. She no longer thinks the MINI is cute. I, on the other hand, am sleeping on the couch.

That the Cooper S is a great car has already been established; the trick is making it better, a bit of magic the crew at BMP has conjured with the deft hands of experts.

Following the massive 2002 SEMA Show in Las Vegas (where MINIs were everywhere), we hooked up with BMP's Al Hafner on a patch of desert and did what Al told us to do: "Drive the snot out of it."

The first thing apparent about the PROMINI is power--this car makes gobs of the stuff. Unless care is taken with the clutch, the PROMINI will fry the tires in the first three gears. BMP modified the engine with its slick air-filter kit, more aggressive camshaft and engine software. The exhaust is a beautiful stainless-steel unit from Supersprint and includes a racing-style header and high-performance metallic cat. Al did a special dual tip for this system, and although it's not in the PROMINI catalog, it should be--it's exceptionally cool.

Ultimately it's fairly basic stuff, but the results are amazing. The engine takes on the characteristics of a demonic Blend-O-Matic kitchen appliance--the thing sounds really pissed off! I'd liken it more to a 500cc superbike than a car. The PROMINI pulls hard almost a grand sooner than a factory vehicle--around 2500 rpm things start happening really fast. And from what I gleaned from the tach, the PROMINI makes power until it pings off the rev-limiter at around 6850 rpm. Although the PROMINI makes some great noise during spirited driving, it is fairly quiet when not under load. Cruising at 80 mph, I could hear my whistling nose hairs.

The underpinnings includes H&R adjustable coilovers with MAK 8.5x18s shod with 225/35ZR-18 Bridgestone Potenza S-03 tires. This sizable running gear seems counter-intuitive to such a sporty suspension, but it works nonetheless. The PROMINI rides about 1 in. lower than a factory vehicle and provides a ride some 20% firmer. For additional chassis rigidity, the engine bay was crowned with a PROMINI upper stress bar. BMP engineered the gorgeous piece with what it terms EPL, or "eccentric pre-load." Basically, it allows you to place additional load between the towers as you tighten the bar. It's a good idea and works great--the PROMINI had the chassis dynamics of a bank vault.

Visible between the spokes of the MAKs are Tar-Ox 10-piston calipers squeezing 318mm slotted rotors. The rear system uses the original factory calipers bolted to a special adapter to permit the use of the larger custom rotors. Increasing rotor diameter to 323mm increases the stopping leverage of the calipers.

Although I don't fully understand the science behind this multi-piston setup (seems a bit complex), I can attest to their excellent performance. Brake-pedal modulation felt great, and the PROMINI stopped better than any MINI I've driven so far. BMP carries Tar-Ox brakes for cars with 16-, 17- and 18-in. wheels. If you're considering pumping more hp into your MINI, it's a good idea looking for ways to stop better as well. You could do worse than consider Tar-Ox binders.

The cabin includes PROMINI's boost and oil pressure console, an ingenious bit of engineering that puts critical information right where you need it. The car also includes PROMINI's center console fitted with additional instrumentation, including oil temperature and boost gauges.

The body was augmented with factory athletic wear: front air dam, side skirts, rear valance and rear wing. Grafikdezines provided the striking custom war paint.

Besides being what is arguably the most handsome Cooper S we've seen so far, the PROMINI also took the prize in the "most fun to drive" category. If I were going to modify my own Cooper S, this is the path I'd currently choose.

But make mine Racing Green with 17-in. wheels. Then it would be perfect.

PROMINI
(800) 648-7278
www.promini.com

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