I’ve been thinking about making my own front splitter ever since I read this article in Special Projects Motorsports. This got me thinking that a good splitter should be: a). disposable and b). cheap. I then came across this thread about building your own splitter for the MINI. So I got the template and set […]
One of the most trans-formative mods to make to any MINI is to add a larger rear anti-sway bar (RSB). In fact, we list it in the top three: RSB, Pulley and Exhaust. Installing a RSB is a fairly simple DIY project for anyone with a basic set of hand tools, some jack-stands, and a […]
If your brake calipers have had multiple events where they’ve exceeded 450 degrees or any one event where they exceeded 500 degrees, many brake manufacturers recommend a rebuild. You also want to rebuild if you notice the dust boots have cracked or ripped like the ones in the photo above. Why take the risk of […]
For the most part, stock MINI brakes and even the beefier JCW calipers do a decent job of dissipating heat at the track. I generally advise students to run a higher temperature fluid and to get some better brake pads like Hawk HP Plus or Carbotech XP-10 and they should be good for most 20-25 […]
I always felt the MINI was missing two critical gauges: Boost and Oil Pressure. Back in 2005, I fabricated my first gauge pod and I’m still using it 10 years later. [Rather than fabricate your own if you have an R56, check out the CravenSpeed Gauge Pod for Gen 2 MINIs. We don’t list them […]
October usually marks the end of track season here in the Mid-Atlantic. Since the first event of the new year is normally in April, we like to swap out some of the go-fast bits that will take a needless beating during the winter months. That generally means swapping out track pads, removing the cold air […]
Here’s another easy DIY brought to you by Home Depot Racing. If you notice that you’re picking up a lot of debris (klag, cigarette butts, rocks, etc.) then you might want to consider adding a grille between the scoop and the air duct plate that attaches to the underside of the bonnet. That’s the easy […]
Sometimes a part comes along that you just want to have. The CravenSpeed Hand Brake Handle is one of those. It won’t make you any faster; it won’t save any weight; you don’t NEED it. But once you pick one up, you will WANT it. Installation takes about 10 minutes using common hand tools. Installation […]
At some point you’re going to want to do this mod. Will it make you faster, better looking or get the chickweed out of your lawn? No. You’re going to want to do it for one of two reasons: 1.) You’ve become obsessed with removing all the shiny bits from your car; or 2.) Your […]
Last summer we showed you how you could restore old headlights using Mequiar’s restoration kit. In this post, we’ll show you how to replace the headlights altogether. We chose a set of aftermarket headlights from Spyder. The process is not complex, but since you have to remove the front bumper cover, budget a couple of hours for completion.
If you think your current headlights are aimed in more or less the right direction, start off parking near a wall. Turn on your lights and mark the beams with painters tape on the wall. You’ll use these marks to adjust the new headlights later. Remove any trim from the backside of the lights. The headlights are held in with four Torx bolts. Two of the bolts can be reached from above with the hood open. The other two are behind the bumper cover.
To remove the bumper cover, start by removing the four Torx screws in each wheel well. You will have to remove the front grille to remove the bumper cover as well. Start by removing the hood release. Pry up on the metal clip, then pry the T handle off the latch mechanism. The grill pulls forward and up to remove. Remove the two Torx screws behind the main grille. Remove the lower grilles to get to the two Torx Screws hidden behind them. Remove the amber side markers by pushing in on the edge nearest the front of the car and carefully prying out with a screwdriver on the edge furthest away. Wrap the screwdriver in electrical tape to protect the paint. The bumper cover should now pull forward. You do not need to remove it completely, just expose the lower headlamp screws.
Pull the headlamp forward to remove and carefully unplug the connector. The plastic VW uses can become very brittle, so take care not to damage it. Clean the opening once the headlamp has been removed. Connect the new headlamp, slide into position and secure. Installation is the reverse of removal. Use a 6mm allen wrench to adjust the light beams to match your marks on the wall. If you’re completely lost on how to adjust them, start reading here.
Some additional thoughts: The replacement lights have built-in fog-lights. The standard US light switch does not have a setting for fog-lights (or even parking lights for that matter.) Upgrading to the Euro switch takes care of the switch problem, but does not provide wiring. You can get a wiring harness, however, that will connect your new switch to your new fog-lights. As soon as it arrives, we’ll add it to the post.
To remove the old switch, just push in on the knob and twist to the right. The whole switch will rotate clockwise and pop out. The wire you need to add goes into slot number 8. On the headlight connector, it’s slot number 2.
When deciding the feature set of the first generation Cooper S, MINI USA decided not to make the rear fog light available in the USA. The rear tail lights of the 2002-2004 cars were actually wired for it, but from 2005-2006 the cars shipped with a blanking plate in place of the center mounted rear fog light. That always bothered me. It’s bad enough that the faux grill inserts in the rear bumper don’t actually do anything, but the center mounted plug is just stupid looking. Fortunately there a couple of options if you want to do something about it.
The light is MINI part number 63247166015 and it should cost under $30, including the bulb and socket. The plug is removed by using pry tools on either end from the back side of the bumper cover. You should be able to reach it without having to drop the exhaust, but do not try to pry from the outside until you pop the tabs from the back.
If you recall this post from the 2002-2004 rear fog light mod, you could just grab a diode and make it an additional brake light. Follow the instructions in that post, only route the wire down to your new light and then connect the light to ground. If you want to make it a stand-alone fog light, read on.
Besides the new fog light you will need to add a circuit for power, have a switch, and wire the light for power and ground. (The switch may have a relay as well.) I chose to wire the switch to a circuit that always has power. I used a Rigid Industries Lighted Rocker Switch wired to the left side of the parcel shelf under the steering wheel. The switch is out of the way so it won’t get accidentally engaged, but bright enough to see as you get out of the car if you forget to turn it off.
So why don’t you just add a switch in the blank spot on the switch panel? Because it’s not a mechanical switch panel. Those are actually electronic switches, so adding a switch to middle is not as easy as just drilling a hole and mounting it from the back. If you had one that was very shallow, perhaps you could, but I didn’t want to risk it.
Once complete, it’s also helpful to get people off of your bumper when needed as well.
I really want to get one of these Aluminum Skid Pans from Rennline, but cannot justify the cost at the moment. When installing the splitter this past weekend, I noticed the existing belly pan was broken. The MINI belly pan (part number 51757201782) is only about $57, but since we had some aluminum, fiberglass, and underbody coating left over from other projects, we thought we’d just repair the broken one and see if we could improve on it a bit.
The old pan was cracked on one side and the mounting tab had broken off of the other. Given the materials we were working with, we didn’t want to extend it back as far as the Rennline design, but though we could get a little additional aero improvement by filling in the middle. We creased the thin aluminum and then coated it with fiberglass to give it a little bit more rigidity and then coated it in rubberized underbody coating. I’m pleased with the way it turned out and if it sacrifices itself at the track, the replacement is still available from MINI.
Long-time readers of this blog may remember our Home-Depot inspired DIY splitter from several years ago. We’re still running it today. It’s had several coats of paint and a bit of body fill for some deep scrapes on the bottom, but in general it has held up well to several thousand miles of track use. Last Fall we added a set of Rally lights to the MINI so we had to find a new way to attach the splitter stanchons. If we were starting from scratch, we might redesign the splitter to eliminate the notch in the leading edge so we could place the stanchons in-board of the light-bar mounting bolts. But that would involve making a new splitter and buying shorter turnbuckles. And since we’re a.) cheap and b.) laze, we wanted to see if we could reuse our old parts armed with nothing but a Dremmel tool. Result.
Click the photo to see where we made the modifications. The lightbar attaches to the back of the bumper and passes through the grille. Given the length of our existing stanchons, we attached to the drop link and passed through the same opening in the grille. This involved modifying the bottom edge of the lightbar’s cross member. We touched up the modified edge with some paint and it looks pretty good.
When we picked up this 2004 Jetta last summer, we knew it had been neglected for a while. The last oil change it had was probably five years earlier. The engine was a mess, inside and out. We first tackled the grime on the outside then worried about the sludge on the inside. We knew the oil pan was dented, but since it wasn’t cracked or leaking, we decided to wait until the de-sludge-ifying was complete to repair it.
There are many schools of thought on how best to treat sludge ranging from the conservative (just do several normal oil changes in rapid succession) to the truly stupid (replace oil with diesel or kerosene). I received some advice from a trusted source who recommended ATF and it seems to have done the trick. (Do a Google search and you’ll find as many unqualified opinions that say it’s a bad idea as good. I just know it works.) The first step toward recovery is to admit you have a problem. If you pop the valve cover, and you see this, then you have a problem. Here’s how to clean it up.
Buy enough cheap oil and filters to do three oil changes, and also get three quarts of ATF.
Drain the oil and replace the filter.
Fill it up with your cheap oil and substitute a quart of ATF for a quart of oil.
Start the car and let it idle for 2-3 minutes.
Drain the oil and notice how dark it is.
Change filter and repeat process with new oil, ATF, and filter.
This time idle the engine until the temperature starts to rise (but not up to full temperature).
Drain, note the color of the oil, and change a third time with ATF and new filter.
This time drive around the block, drain again.
By the third flush, the oil looks mostly like new, colored by the additional ATF (a little reddish in my case.)
Change the oil again, this time using good synthetic oil and a larger capacity oil filter (VW part #068115561B).
Drive the car as normal for 1,000 miles and change the oil and filter one more time.
Drive the car as normal for 3,500 miles and now you’re back on a normal interval.
That’s where we were today: Time for another oil change and a good time to finally replace the dented oil pan. When I picked up the new pan, I also got a new oil pick-up tube, since I figured it would be pretty clogged given the condition of the top side of the valve-train. Good thing I did. Here’s what we found:
Not only was it clogged, it was dented and bent. Compare that to a new one below.
The old one was bent by whatever dented the pan; smushed up against the dent; and clogged with sludge and bits of orange plastic from the dipstick tube. Just look at the mesh.
It’s a wonder that the car hadn’t been starved for oil. That must speak volumes about how robust the lubrication system really is. Good thing too.
I guess it’s actually a sad commentary on our consumer society, but I’m always pleasantly surprised when a product actually works as advertised. We started carrying Sonax car car products last year after we dropped a more expensive brand, and I’ve actually been impressed across the range of products they offer, including the Full Effect Wheel Cleaner. It has three things going for it:
It changes from green to red as it cleans
It is environmentally friendly
Spray it on. Let it sit (but not dry). Rinse it off. Wipe away anything that stays behind. No scrubbing.
If you have read through this blog, you know we’re huge fans of using data and video to improve driving performance. In this post, we’ll look at options to get OBDII data from your car to your phone. If you are planning to use Harry’s Laptimer, we also suggest you start your shopping journey there. Harry is a great guy and he keeps the recommended accessory page updated (separate pages for iOS and Android.) Let’s take a look at three products that represent the spectrum of options available.
At the low end are what I’ll categorize as the “plug and pray” devices. You plug them in and prey that they work because they’re really cheap. You can find them on Amazon or ebay, often under $20 and you get what you pay for. They may work to allow you to clear some codes, but generally they are not going to maintain a secure connection long enough or fast enough to get the flow of data you’re looking for. If you found one that refreshes at a 4hrz or faster rate, then consider yourself lucky. If you’re on a tight budget, the up-side is you could buy about four of these before you spend more than the next device on our list. Our general recommendation is to stay (no, run) away from these and support the companies making an investment in this space.
Next up are the WiFi connected devices. Several good devices fit into this category and our favorite is currently the OBD Link MX by ScanTool. In fact, I wish I could carry these in our store, but haven’t found a distributor yet so search on Amazon for a deal. The data link is fast. The connection is reliable (though all of these devices take several attempts to form a connection.) It comes highly recommended by Harry and it supports a wide range of protocols. Wifi does have some disadvantages compared to Bluetooth such as complication of forming the connection (unnecessarily complex password that’s printed on the device so write it down before you plug it in) and the fact that you can only form one wifi connection at a time. You also need to disable the “ask to join networks feature” once you have a connection, or you phone may lock-up trying to connect to the paddock infrastructure hotspot as you circulate on the track. I used it for my last track weekend, plugged it in on Friday, made the connection, then forgot about it all weekend and it worked like a charm. They also make a Bluetooth version which I haven’t tried. There are more expensive recommendations on Harry’s page, but for my money, this is the sweet-spot in the market right now.
PLX Devices recently started selling the KIWI3, the latest iteration of their popular KIWI line of adapters. On paper, it offers some attractive features: high data transfer rates, easy connectivity through Bluetooth 4.1 (low energy), and good power management. The form-factor is the best of the three tested, and we like the low profile. We just couldn’t get it to work. We tested 10 devices with iPhone 5S, iPhone 6s, and Galaxy 5. We got one to connect sometimes to the iPhones. (There is a firmware update available for Android 6 users but not iPhone yet.) The price is about $20 more than the OBD Link MX. If the firmware update gets published for iPhone it may be worth it. They also announced an updated version of their old device called the KIWI2+. It has the technical specs of the old cabled device (photo right), but offered without the cable and in the new case of the KIWI3. Not sure about price and availability though. When we went to their website to grab a link it wasn’t there, so stay tuned. If you’re an Android user, it might be a slightly less expensive alternative for you to consider.
At some point, a light bulb is going to burn out on your 996 instrument cluster. My money is on one of the three bulbs that back-light the mileage on the left, speed in the middle, or oil level/time on the right. In my case, it was the left one. The bulb you want is Porsche part number 999-631-303-90-M97 [beige base], and amazingly, they only cost about $1.25 each so pick up some spares while you’re at it. (If you want one of the warning indicator bulbs, they’re part number 999-631-302-90-M97 [black base] and also the same price.) The procedure to replace the bulb will take about 20 minutes. In addition to the appropriate bulb(s), you will need a Torx T20 driver and pry tools, as well as a 10mm wrench to disconnect the battery. And a flashlight helps too. Below are the steps I followed — use at your own risk. The procedure is also covered in the Bentley manual.
Disconnect your battery. Better safe than sorry. Make sure you have whatever radio codes you need before you do however.
Use your pry tool to carefully remove the round plastic microphone cover on the left side of the instrument cluster.
Carefully remove the Torx T20 bolt. The bolt is recessed so be careful not to drop it off of the driver once you remove it.
Push the emergency flasher button so it is in the up position. Carefully remove it using your fingers if you can, pry tools if you cannot. The center button will pop out.
Remove the plastic surround from the emergency flasher button with pry tools. Be careful not to mar the dash.
Now comes the hardest part of the entire procedure, remove the flasher switch by pinching either side. You may be able to grab it with your fingers, but more likely will have to pry from both sides at the same time.
Carefully remove the Torx T20 bolt from the flasher switch opening.
With the two Torx Bolts removed, the entire cluster lifts straight up. Carefully work your finger tips to get leverage and pull up. It’s held in with several clips so you can give it a hearty pull.
Rotate the cluster so it is face down on the steering wheel column.
Looking down from outside of the car through the windshield, locate and release each of the three electrical connectors by pinching the catch and sliding the release.
Slide the electrical connector for the emergency switch out of the bottom of the cluster.
Lift the cluster free of the car for repairs.
Locate and replace any burned out bulbs.
Installation is the reverse of removal. Pause before pressing the cluster back into the dash to be sure everything is working.
I had the MINI at Summit Point this past weekend on the extended Jefferson circuit and it ran great. I really like the new Bilsteins. Very predictable weight transfer, good grip, and nice ride-height. Currently riding about 40mm lower than stock in the back and 50mm lower than stock in the front. Could go another 10mm lower but don’t see the need currently. (Interestingly, the current height is 20mm lower than H&R Sport Springs on Konis.) The car isn’t slammed and the tires aren’t rubbing, but it is fairly low. I did have to not use the 5mm spacers I normally run on the street to avoid rubbing the rear arches (the wheels are 17 x7 with offset 37.)
Two years ago, we tried using the budget-priced Speedtech coilover suspension for MINI at the track. The suspension is the bargain cousin of the KW v1 coilover. Similar spring and (non-adjustable) dampening rates, a bit heavier construction, and a limited 5-year warranty. On paper, it’s a good trade-off of function vs price, but it wasn’t robust enough for heavy track use. We blew out the right front damper the first season, and the left front the second. For the street performance driver who wants to significantly lower the car without a harsh ride, we would still recommend it, but not for a car that will see a lot of track time.
Our favorite non-height adjustable suspension for the MINI is a set of B6 struts over H&R Sport Springs. By far, that’s the best combination of predictable track performance and road comfort. The only major limitation for a trackcar is the size of the front springs which limits the amount of negative camber that can be dialed-in. The spring perches on the Bilstein struts are a bit lower than Konis so the car sits about 10mm lower on the same springs. Since we wanted to go just a bit lower than that, we started looking for heigh-adjustable coilovers.
This season we’re trying the Bilstein B14 Performance Suspension System (PSS). Bilstein offers five suspension options for the first generation MINI and the B14 PSS is second from the top (but the top is almost double the price). At the low end, are the B4 struts for use with stock springs; followed by B6 struts to use with stock or lowering springs; the B12 kit which are B6 sport struts with Eibach Sportline Springs; B14 PSS described here; and the top of the line is the B16 PSS10 Adjustable Coilover Kit. The goal of this experiment is to see if we can dial-in just the right set-up using just height-adjustment, camber settings, and adjustable swaybars.
The car goes for an alignment on Tuesday then it’s off to the track on Friday so we’ll post an update next weekend.