The MINI Cooper S is the hottest car around right now. We were ecstatic when MINI USA told us we were going to have one for a year. Then it added that the car needed to be modified and shown at the SEMA Show in November. That was July. We got the car at the end of August, and had two months to build it. What you see on this issue's cover is the result of 6 weeks on the phone in between making magazines and 2 weeks in the shop from late morning until early morning.
Normally, I'd start a project by making a squawk list of faults, begin by fixing them, then go after performance. The SEMA Show is different. Nobody really cares how a car drives. All it does is sit on carpet. If it looks cool, it's good. If it looks well thought-out, it's better. If it looks like it should go really fast, that's great.
The european car staff wanted to build a car that would pay homage to Mini's past, without making the new car a caricature of the old. WRC is about the coolest form of racing there is today and the old Minis are most famous for their performances on the Monte Carlo Rally, so we decided to make our MINI look like a tarmac rally car. We accomplished our mission of dressing up the car for the show, but in the end, we reinforced our belief that race cars are for the track and street cars are for the street. There's a lot of ground to cover before we can explain what worked and what didn't. The project will begin with one thing that does work: the brakes.
The stock MINI brakes are adequate, and MINI, like BMW, is not shy about a little brake dust on the wheels if that compromise allows better performance. However, charging down a mountain road or driving on a racetrack, they will fade. Normally, our first run at a problem like that would be slotted rotors, braided stainless lines, more aggressive pads and good fluid. However, modern tarmac rally cars have huge brakes. We worked with The Tire Rack to choose a wheel and ended up with 7.5x18-in. SSR GT1s to clear a 13-in. brake upgrade, fit the tires we wanted to use and fit the car. The Tire Rack was able to guarantee the wheels would clear the calipers on Brembo's 332x28mm kit, so that's what we chose. Brembo threw in a set of slotted rear rotors in the stock size to complete its package.
Begin the installation by putting the car on jack stands. That may be the trickiest part, as there are only four officially sanctioned lifting points, and you are trying to put stands under them at the same time you lift the car. This is your first clue that MINI intended this car to be worked on by dealers, not owners. If you have a friend with a lift, buy some refreshments and borrow it. If not, it may be easiest to lift only one end of the car at a time.
You'll have to get used to the strange fastener sizes on this car. I'm pretty sure my 16mm socket had never been used in the 10 years I'd had it until I started this project, and my combination wrench set skips that size. Buy a set of Torx bit sockets, too.
Changing the rear rotors was just like replacing the stock ones, only I had never seen the car and didn't have a manual. If you happen to have a 3 Series manual handy, it may be of some use, but I didn't. Remove the caliper from the bracket, rather than the bracket from the control arm. The outer brake pad drops out of the caliper, but the inner pad has a spring clip to hold it to the piston. A special tool can be used to turn the piston back into the caliper, but I've always had success using the tips of needle-nose pliers.
When changing the front brakes, take some time to read the Brembo installation instructions before you begin. Plan ahead, making sure you have everything you'll need before you start.
When finished, bed in the brakes according to Brembo's instructions to guarantee good operation. Our kit was the second Brembo setup installed on a MINI, the first from the first production batch, and we ran into a couple snags. They were minor, and Brembo stated the drawings have been changed to ensure they won't occur in the future.
We haven't had a chance to test our kit and get numbers yet, but the pedal is firm, and the brakes haul the car down from speed very quickly. As soon as the rest of the car is sorted well enough for it to matter, we'll let you know the official results.
Brembo North America
(Michelin rally tires)
The Tire Rack
Everything but brake fluid is included in the Brembo kit: two-piece rotors, calipers, lines, brackets and hardware. Brembo included a set of its slotted rear rotors in the stock size just to complete the package.
Everything but brake fluid is included in the Brembo kit: two-piece rotors, calipers, line
We found light corrosion on the centering surfaces made the Brembo hats a snug fit on our MINI's hubs. I used stock lug bolts and spacers made of oversize nuts and washer stacks to gently and evenly draw the hat into position before tightening the flat-head screw that holds it in place with the wheel off.
We found light corrosion on the centering surfaces made the Brembo hats a snug fit on our
The bracket, caliper and braided stainless-steel brake line are now installed. Everything went together easily. A metal drip pan under the car helps catch brake fluid that will be released; having the new parts ready to go before disconnecting the old minimizes the quantity lost. Be careful to follow the torque specifications included in Brembo's instructions and use flare wrenches on the lines.
The bracket, caliper and braided stainless-steel brake line are now installed. Everything
Motul RBF600 Factory Line brake fluid has a dry boiling point of 593*F. It's not as affordable as what you'll find on the shelf at your local Parts Monkey, but it's cheap insurance when considered against the cost of a track day wasted by overheated brakes. It's likely that any streetable pads will fade before this fluid boils. We bled carefully, tapped the calipers gently with a soft plastic mallet to dislodge any bubbles, and bled again to get a solid pedal.
Motul RBF600 Factory Line brake fluid has a dry boiling point of 593*F. It's not as afford
The Speed Star Racing GT1 7.5x18-in. wheel supplied by The Tire Rack weighs only 17 lb, thanks to its semi-solid forging manufacturing process. Our overall impression of its fit and finish is of the absolute highest quality. The precision-machined centering rings are held in place with wire snap rings and are a close fit on both wheel and hub. At 42mm offset (stock is 48mm on the MINI), this GT1 has plenty of caliper clearance for the big red Brembos. We initially mounted BFGoodrich Scorcher T/As in 215/35-18 to go to Euro Tuner Fest, rather than chewing up a set of real Michelin tarmac rally tires before the show. The BFG and Michelin each weigh 21 lb. With the wheel, they save 2 lb versus the stock MINI Cooper S's 7x17-in. wheel and 205/45-17 Goodyear NCT-5 tire.
The Speed Star Racing GT1 7.5x18-in. wheel supplied by The Tire Rack weighs only 17 lb, th
A look ahead: After outlining the installation of KW coilover suspension, we'll show the insanity unleashed on the interior. The stock 56-lb sunroof is gone and the 47-lb stock seats were replaced by these 15-lb Cobra Sportline composite race seats. MOMO shift knob, Schroth competition harnesses and a Mini Mania bolt-in cage aren't the end of it.
A look ahead: After outlining the installation of KW coilover suspension, we'll show the i