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Thread: Mini Advice

  1. #1

    Default Mini Advice

    So, I recently bought myself a used Mini, and Phil invited me to talk to him and David for auto-x and track advice. So I figured I'd share the conversation here!

    I sold my BMW 330Ci almost a year ago now, and I've been driving... gulp... my older daughter's Chevy Aveo. You can imagine my pent-up car-guy frustration! Every time I got into the thing I pictured Mr. Incredible picking his little econobox up over his head in anger I must say, the only time I liked that car was when I pulled up to the pump every two weeks to put $29 worth of gas in it. That part was pretty good. Merging onto I95 for my daily commute, however, was not good. I eventually got used to winding the car out within an inch of its life on a daily basis, but I always felt guilty about it, the car didn't feel like a willing partner.

    I've been suffering through this indignity to save a few dollars to work on my '66 Mustang Convertible. My father brought this car home in 1982 when I was 14, with plans to restore and sell it. He never did- I bought the car from him in 1991 when I graduated college, and put a few paychecks into it replacing the floors and frame rails... then I met my future wife, and my paycheck priorities changed a bit. I managed to keep the car garaged all these years, and kept it running most of that time, up until about 8 years ago when the fuel pump started leaking, and I never got around to fixing it. This year it seemed like it was time to get things moving again, and my overly optimistic goal was to get it roadworthy and be driving it around this summer as a rolling restoration.

    The car fought back quite a bit. I had to clean the fuel system to get it fired up again, and it needed a full brake rebuild before it could roll out of the garage, and it needed new tires. I'd spend a day on it on the weekends, but it always seemed like I needed one more part, so it would be a week or two before I got back to it. I've made good progress, the car is mobile again, but it isn't ready to be a daily driver. Really kinda needs a new top first, among other things. My daughter is coming back from completing the Appalachian Trail, and she'll need her car back, and I'm outta time, so I had to pick up a reasonably priced used car that would satisfy my car-guy needs. This 2011 Cooper S is it!

    This is actually my 4th Mini - I had a 2008 Clubman (non S) that we bought new as my wife's daily driver, she toted the kids around in that for 4 years and it was very good to us. When my youngest got her license she set her sights on a Cooper S, and found a 2008 nearby in pepper white for a decent price. We surprised her with it for her birthday. It turns out 2008-2010 Coopers have a critical flaw with the timing chain tensioner, which was recalled twice before they got it right. This car had the first recall performed, which strangely made it ineligible for the second, and it began to have the timing chain "death rattle" after cold starts. I replaced the tensioner with the 2nd upgrade and solved the problem, but I never had any faith in the engine after that. Before she went off to college, we sold her '08 and replaced it with an '11 Clubman S Hampton Edition, which was an appearance package in a one-off color combo and some special trim and badging. The engine was revamped for '11 and has exhibited much improved reliability over the previous generation.

    So, enough with the history! Here I am with my own Cooper S, ready to do some auto crossing and track days. My first priority is traction- my daughter and I autocrossed her Clubman S, and it was plain to see that it had more power than it could put to the ground, and it's handling capabilities far exceeded the grip of the tires. Minis all come with runflat tires, which are just terrible in general- they're hard, don't have much traction, are very noisy, and don't last that long. On the other hand- my daughter is working in Boston now, and has already destroyed 2 tires in potholes on Storrow Drive. She was able to continue on to work (at reduced speeds) on both occasions, so in the end, for her, those runflats I hated so much were completely worth it in peace of mind.

    My car has Bridgestone Potenza runflats, and I can tell already they're significantly better than the other runflats I've had. On my local off-ramp grand prix, I've found that this car exits within a few miles an hour of what my BMW used to do on extreme summer tires. I think that's pretty impressive, and it makes me sure there's plenty more grip to be found. Top of my list is to pick up another set of wheels and pick some tires for events. I've never run R-compounds before, never had the luxury of another set of rims to put on my daily; think I should go for that? This car has a small hitch in the back, so I could transport R-Compounds on a tire rack and install them trackside. That's how I'm leaning.

    Suspension. I had coilovers on my BMW, and they made a significant difference in handling on the car. They were also much harder on the car in daily driving- I was always replacing control arms and sway bar links and strut mount bearings. I only get out for events a few times a year, and the additional stress on the car just wasn't worth it in retrospect. This Mini feels plenty stiff already, but I'm curious about some other typical mods, such as sway bars engine mounts, any recommendations there?

    Brakes. One of the things I really liked about my 330 was that it was overly capable in the brake department. I don't expect to do more than the typical 20-25 minutes trackday sessions, and I will definitely get some track-worthy pads for those events. I've read that Minis can have some heat problems, is that enough?

    Differential. Last on the list due to the cost of entry would be a mechanical limited-slip diff. I had an '02 Sentra SE-R years ago with a mechanical diff, and it rocked, especially in autocross. I *know* I'm going to light up the inside front while auto crossing; my daughter and I learned pretty quickly that the Clubman was faster with traction on than it was wildly flailing around for traction. My car should be noticeably better shod with R-compounds or even summer rubber, but will it be enough on track? I suspect I'd be willing to deal with the torque steer in order to get some real grip.

    So, looking forward to tips of the trade. I expect to hit my first track day in October at the new Club Motorsports track in New Hampshire.
    Last edited by Hutch; 08-02-2018 at 10:21 PM.
    Michael Kolar (aka Hutch)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Denton, Texas, United States


    I love this! Thanks for sharing this … going to elevate this story as well on the site !
    david anderson | champion motorsports
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