Hella Fog Lamps

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 intake and splitter, and eventually putting on winter tires. Since we removed the stock fog lights to use the openings for brake ducts, this also meant we would drop the bumper cover, remove the wheel liners and put the lights back. But this year, we thought we’d try something different. Since we had a few of the Alta Rally Light Bars in the shop, we thought we’d see how difficult they are to install.

The Alta Rally Light Bar mounts to the rear of the bumper and protrudes through the lower grille. It has four light mounting points, but we only used the two outer positions. If you’re adept at removing the bumper cover and bumper, this project could be completed in about an hour if you are using the exiting fog light wiring. Double that if you are wiring up a new switch, and double that again if you’ve never removed the bumper.

Follow the instructions included with the bar, though you can probably use a smaller drill than the 7/16 inch bit they recommend. Just be sure your bit is slightly larger than the bolts used. Also note that the bumper is curved. Once installed and tightened, you will need to use a large philips screwdriver to get leverage to bend the mounting points back toward each other in order to fit the cross member. Do this before you place the bumper back into the cover to decide where you need to cut the grille for them to pass through.

Since we know we’ll be removing the lights to install the splitter again in the Spring, we added quick-connects near where the wire comes through the grille, and attached the other end of the wire to the connectors for the stock fog lights. This way we use the stock fog light switch, and the fogs dim when the high-beams are activated. The Hella lamp kit includes mounting brackets, wire, a relay, and a switch. The lamp kit is available with either fog lamps (short, wide beam) or driving lamps (long, narrow beam). We chose the fog lamps and also optional yellow lens shields.

For about $200 plus a couple hours of your time, this kit provides ample lighting and is quite a bit less expensive than the stock kit. You do have to remember, however, that the lamps sit a couple of inches in front of the front bumper.

view from side view from front Locate holes to drill lightbar-e1446050987921

MINI X-Ray Vision

Driving on the track in the extreme cold, I noticed how the supercharger really responded to the cold. I did some research and found that the stock intercooler and diverter has a thermal efficiency (TE) of only about 65%. Before paying a lot of money for more surface area, why not try to improve TE?

There are a number of design compromises that affect TE. First is the location of the intercooler on top of the engine, left of the centerline of the car. You pick up ambient heat from the lump itself and the flow through the intercooler is compromised by forcing the air to make a 90 degree turn from the mail-slot in the hood.


To solve the heat gain, I’ve placed some heat shielding on the intake manifold, and along the interior surfaces and edges of the intercooler. My semi-scientific tests found about a 20 degree reduction in surface temperatures between the insulated and uninsulated parts. The next step was to replace the stock air diverter with the Alta Diverter. The Alta diverter seals better to the hood and channels the air from the right side more efficiently than the stock set-up. I removed the stock heat shield and used some thermo tech which increased the volume of space between the intercooler and hood, but still sealed well with the Diverter

I always new the MINI intercooler wasn’t in the center of the car, but it wasn’t until I made this composite image that I knew how far off-set it really is.


In this side view, you can see how far forward the diverter actually sits on the engine. You can also see how high the air filter sits. I’m also getting a good seal from the CAI box against the hood. I added some insulation to the outside of the CAI box as well. As measured inside the box when the engine was up to temperature, the side that was insulated was significantly cooler than the front that wasn’t insulated where the difference was about 50 degrees (so I added some heat shielding there as well).


Alta MINI Exhaust DIY

This past long weekend I picked up a new Alta Performance Exhaust. The cat-back exhaust is a relatively simple DIY project if you don’t mind getting under the car. If you have a lift or a pit, I’d say it could easily be done in a couple of hours.

The exhaust ships in two boxes. The larger square box has the rear exhaust section and a longer box with the mid-pipe and first muffler. It might fit in your MINI with seats folded, but I took the Volvo to get it. The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it’s beautiful. Not something you usually associate with mufflers and exhaust systems, especially if you take a look at the one that just came off the car. The stock Cooper S exhaust is actually one very long pipe with a resonator on one side and a muffler on the other in a single path. Although it flows fairly well, its heavy and not particularly sporty.

old_exhaustIt wasn’t until I got the old exhaust off of the car that I realized that the coke-can tips were hiding some rather small pipes. The stock exhaust also goes from small to larger sized pipes a couple of times in it’s rather long length which I’m sure can’t be good for exhaust flow. Without the brackets which I hopelessly mangled during the removal, it has a weight of 46 lbs, with the majority of the weight at the rear. The new system had two parts each weighing 16 lbs. That’s a loss of 14 lbs. plus a shift forward in the center of mass of the car. Plus it looks really cool. That’s got to be good for 5 VHP (visual horse-power).

Instructions came in the box and you can download them from the Alta website. You can also find several good guides end_pipeonline if you search in the usual places. Here are a couple of tips I didn’t find listed in any of the instructions I found:

  • Working without a lift is a real pain in the neck. No really. My neck was killing me. I had the car on ramps in the front and jack stands in the rear. Working with about 15 inches of clearance I was contorted and twisted but was able to maneuver where I needed to be.
  • The Alta Exhaust now ships with two sets of gaskets and bolts as well as adjustable brackets for 02-04 and 05-06 cars. Make sure the orientation of the clamps match the brackets you are using on your car.
  • The brackets I had used a retaining clamp that requires a 7/64th allen wrench. Check to see if you have it before you start. The ones on the rear muffler are actually 1/8th inch.
  • Extra jack stands, jacks or just plain boxes are handy to balance and hold the exhaust when you are removing the old one and installing the new one. Make sure you have enough adjustment that you can actually position and center the new exhaust before you tighten everything down. This helps center the system.
  • If you plan to reuse the stock exhaust bushings, have a plan B. You will rip one of them.
  • rustyAnd finally, before you start, check the condition of the bolts to the OEM exhaust right where it comes off of the cat. After three Mid-Atlantic winters, mine were severely corroded. The lower nut had lost so much mass it was almost 1mm smaller than the other one. It looked rounded and stripped before I event put a wrench to it. Be sure you have plenty of PB Blaster, WD-40 and a stripped nut extractor before you start.


Impressions: It is louder than stock, but doesn’t drone or sound like a certain unnamed cars. I had to bend some of the heat insulation away to avoid rattles at certain RPMs and the battery tray skid shield won’t fit back on without lots of modification. The car seems to rev even more freely and has a very pleasant burble upon deceleration. I’m very pleased with the outcome and look forward to seeing (and hearing) how it does on the track.