"Think Different" is a slogan Apple used a few years ago to differentiate its hardware and operating system from ho-hum PCs. It would be an equally apt slogan for M7 Tuning, whose MINI tuning products address some issues other tuners haven't even considered.
Not being a "me too" traditional tuner comes easily to M7 Tuning's Swedish-American founder, Peter Horvath, who was a professional photographer. "Looking at the business from a customer's point of view has distinct advantages," says Horvath. "I fell in love with the MINI from day one, but also noted its shortcomings.
"I started designing and producing what I wanted. And not always the way a traditional tuner would. I went at it from the angle of an informed enthusiast with exact goals in mind rather than a company wanting to sell particular 'expected' products to its customers." This personal approach is M7's USP; would-be customers liked what they saw and the business took off from there.
As someone trained in the visual arts, Horvath is a stickler for design and quality, so it's no surprise that M7's parts look good and are manufactured to the highest standards. Items like the Under Strut System, for instance, are CNC-machined from solid aluminum billets and then anodized. It's a shame that they remain hidden from view. However, the complementary front strut tower brace is there for all to see and the plates that reinforce the factory metalwork (also available separately) evolved from client feedback when cars suffered from distorted strut tower tops because of poor road surfaces.
As a hobby tuner, Horvath gets extremely upset when a part he buys needs specialist tools or plain doesn't fit. He assumes people just want to get on with fitting the parts and so supplies explicit instructions with good photos as a guide, along with the relevant Allen keys or drill bits required. M7 parts are installed using original factory attachment points, so everything is easily reversible when the car goes up for sale.
Those were impressions I gained when I first visited M7 in 2007 to drive the Los Angeles-based MINI tuner's fully tricked-out R53 Cooper S. At the time, Horvath had just taken delivery of a new R56 Cooper S and had only got as far as fitting larger wheels.
In early 2008, Horvath acquired a powerful new quad-core Apple workstation and a computer-controlled prototyping machine that allows him to make a resin mock-up of a new component. This saves a lot of time and money since the full-sized dummy part can be positioned on the car and checked for fit and clearance. Using this machine, Horvath came up with new components that helped boost the R53's engine to well over 200 hp. But what really took my breath away was the sequential shifting system.
Some purists will never give up their manual gearbox, which they believe gives the most control and purest driving experience. However, a clutch becomes a real pain in the butt when stuck in traffic. Even on track days, it's easy to miss a gear and over-rev the engine in a red-mist moment.
M7's sequential shifting system for the R53 and R56 (not Convertible) uses an electro-mechanical arrangement to select ratios in the existing manual gearbox. It doesn't need to interface with the car's ECU, which can cause problems with the latest generation of ultra-sophisticated software.
The clutch is still operational, but gears are shifted either by a steering wheel-mounted paddle, or the CNC-machined aluminum racecar-style gear lever, which M7 calls a Bump Shifter. This takes the place of the normal gearlever. Both may be installed, which is the arrangement on Horvath's demo car parked on these pages.