On the coolness scale from 1 to10, the new Mini Cooper pings off the redline. It's one of those rare cars that manages to blend aesthetics, utility and performance in a package that is universally regarded as hot (hot enough, in fact, to be attractive to both sexes).

The new Mini won't set any speed records, it doesn't possess organ-squeezing brakes, it cannot tow a building. Hey, man, it's just a car. But what it can do is put a grin on your face, the type that stays there so long others will think it's a tattoo just under your nose. The previous Mini has been referred to as a "smile car," an endearing moniker that clearly befits the new model.

What you're seeing on these pages is just the tip of what we think is emerging as a virtual industry unto itself-Mini Cooper Tuning. Something about the car just demands it, be it a set of fuzzy dice, an eight-ball shift knob or, in the case of Monster Mini, something a bit more radical.

Monster Mini is the brainchild of Dave Anderson and Jason Reich of Autobahn Designs (ABD) fame. ABD has been horking on watercooled VWs for more than a decade, combining German performance with classic SoCal style, a formula it hopes to apply to the Mini Cooper.

"ABD has a great reputation in Volkswagen tuning circle's," said Monster Mini President Reich. "I was actually an ABD customer a while back when Dave helped me correct the 'work' of another tuner. My new car was a total mess from the mismatch of parts. ABD suggested some options, fitted them to my Jetta, and it worked! I figure if we can do the same with the Mini, people will come. I know I would.

Indeed, if there is one key aspect lacking in the domestic tuning industry, it's customer service. Enthusiasts are often left in the lurch after modifying their cars (sometimes with questionable parts).It's a black-eye that has left many pondering the risks of messing with a perfectly good car. In the case of the Mini Cooper, it's a perfectly fabulous car, which makes it all the more perilous. If you're going to mess around with it, you'd better make sure the recipe for improvement is a sound one.

By its own admission, MM states the stock Mini is "damn good" but felt there was room for improvement. The MM treatment here includes H&R Sport Springs, which lower the chassis 1/2 in. According to Roland Graef of H&R, BMW...uh, Mini is still futzing with the spring perches, so future H&R products may be slightly different. Graef did indicate H&R would do a coilover system because the Mini's outstanding chassis deserves such treatment. ABD's larger sway bars measure 25mm in front and 19mm behind and tighten the already super-tight platform.

Running gear is comprised of TSW REVO wheels, massive units measuring 8x18-in. and shod with Toyo's all-purpose FZ4s, size 215/35Z-18. Who knew the Mini could swallow such stuff?

The body has been augmented with a Mini Motorsport aerodynamic package comprised of a front spoiler/bumper and rear valance/bumper, side skirts and a sport grille. ABD supplied the smoked side markers and taillamps. The items are wrought from the same polyurethane stock the factory uses, so they're tough. MM reports the fit was superb, a simple remove and replace procedure. MM interior trim bits include an exquisite leather seat conversion, stainless-steel door sills and MM steering wheel.

The 1.6-liter 16V motor has been modified with a MM Force Filter intake system, which utilizes the factory hood scoop for a type of ram-air effect. Though still in development, the MM's carbon-fiber engine cowling components looked good, as did its upper stress bar. The plug wires are 8mm units from MM's inventory, and the car was fitted out back with MM's stainless-steel rear muffler.

In a side-by-side comparison, the Monster Mini garnered far more looks than our pale yellow stocker-no big surprise there. The MM treatment looks factory-correct and respects the car's lines while giving it a singular appearance. The MM car looks mean and has a rippin' sound to boot-the intake and exhaust mods do a good job of uncorking the little engine. The Monster Mini gains sufficient torque to pull away from a stock vehicle, even with those heavy, heavy wheels. Still, with barely 100 hp on tap and some 2,700 lb to lug around, the Monster Mini feels like it's towing something. And that's a shame, because MM did a great job with the base material. The interior is gorgeous, the suspension rock solid. Gimme the same deal but with a set of 15-in. ultra-light running gear and some proper tires-those FZ4s are great in the rain and snow but lack dry grip.

The H&R suspension is great, the perfect blend of firmness without being harsh. Moreover, the MM was not so low as to cause worry to the aerodynamic pieces. There's nothing quite as bad as a good-looking car with scuffed "underwear" or bent wheels.

There's a sensation of connectedness behind the steering wheel, a real sporty feel that will no doubt send Mini owners into thralls of ecstasy.

Monster Mini is currently working on a Copper S, the model it wanted in the first place. "I think the S will truly rock," said Reich.

Stay tuned for Monster Mini's take on the more powerful sibling.

Monster Mini
2900 Adams St., Ste. B-27
CA  92504
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