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.

BFGoodrich Tires
(864) 458-5000

Brembo North America
(714) 641-5831

Sube Sports
(Michelin rally tires)
(714) 847-1501

Motul USA
(909) 625-1292

The Tire Rack
(888) 541-1777

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