Codes P1688 and P0107, WTF? Replacing Broken R53 MINI Crank Damper

I decided to take the MINI to work this morning to see if everything was back in order after recently replacing the motor mount. The engine seemed to be running a little rough, but I just figured the new motor mount was a little more firm than the old one. I got off the highway after one exit due to traffic and I got the dreaded CEL (Check Engine Light.) I hate that light. It might as well say, “Yo. Something’s wrong. I know what it is, but I’m not going to tell you. Here’s a hint: It’s under the hood….” And the car went into limp mode. Fortunately I still had my code scanner which told me it was code P1688. That’s handy. What does that mean? Ugh. I just turned around and headed home. I’d have to reset the ECU every 5 minutes, but it is a pretty hilly route so I could do lots of coasting. So what is P1688 you ask? Not what it seems.

P1688 is the code for “Electronic Throttle Control Monitor Level 2/3 Mass Air Flow Calculation”. Which would indicate a problem with the throttle body, but I also had code P0107 last week at the track which is “Manifold Absolute Pressure/Barometric Pressure Circuit Low Input”. With those two together, the car is saying that for a given amount of throttle, there just doesn’t seem to be enough boost going on. And on the R53 MINIs that usually means the crank pulley (or more accurately, harmonic balancer) is shot.

The stock part is about $200, but since this car gets lots of track time, better to upgrade to a more robust model. ATI Performance makes a Super Damper for about $350. As the old damper started to disintegrate, it took a good amount of the old belt with it. The old belt has had one rib sliced off. These two belts should be the same width.
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Once you get the right front up on a jack-stand, remove the wheel and fender liner, and use a belt tensioner tool to remove the belt.
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You can’t tell if the damper has gone bad by viewing it from the front, but when you look at it from the side, you’ll see a gap developing as the belt pulley separates from the damper.
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ATI includes basic instructions with the new super damper. Here are some tips to make it easier on you. (Use at your own risk.)

You can use a universal pulley removal tool if you’re careful. You will need to buy 3 M6 bolts that are long enough to work with your tool. Be sure to get the hardest bolts you can (10.9). First step is to remove the center bolt. Use some penetrating oil before you start. You may get lucky and be able to remove it just by putting the car in 6th gear and having someone stomp on the brakes. But for me, the crank still turned. I ended up using a brace to stop the crank from rotating. In this case, it’s a tool for removing a fan from an E30. Go figure.
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Now the real fun begins. If your tool did not include an appropriately sized center pin, then put the bolt back in and tighten, leaving about a half inch of threads showing. Attach your pulley removal tool. Have a helper hold the bolt with a wrench as the pulley tool will be pushing against the bolt and it will try to screw back in. When the bolt makes contact with the damper, you have to back it out some more and adjust everything and go again. Make sure the M6 bolts are not twisting. You should be able to compare the location of the damper to the other pulleys on the front of the engine to judge if you’re making progress. I ended up having to replace the bolt with a longer one to get the last quarter of inch of travel needed to remove the damper.
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Once it came off, you can see how badly damaged it really was. (Hint: this is supposed to be one piece, not two.)
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With the damper removed, you can see where it scored the engine as it oscillated. I’m surprised that didn’t make more noise….
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Update: Having had to do this again two more times here are two helpful tips: 1.) Replace the crank shaft seal before you put on a new damper.  See this post about that. And 2.) from that same post, heat the new damper in the oven before you install it.  Yes, greatly simplifies the process.

Installation is the revers of removal. No, not really. From the ATI instructions: Inspect the crank for any burrs or nicks. Blow out the threaded hole to free it of debris (and clean the engine before you start since you can’t really get to it once installed.)
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Start the new super damper by hand. Heat it with a heat gun or hair dryer if it doesn’t start easily. Use the supplied long bolt and washer to grab enough threads to pull it on most of the way. Continue until it bottoms out, then remove the bolt.
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Use a new OEM bolt to finish installation. Apply blue loctite and torque to 85 lbs. Reinstall the belt, taking care to route it correctly.
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Carefully release the belt tension using tensioner tool. Start the engine to check if everything is OK and the belt alignment is straight. Then reinstall the fender liner and wheel. Torque wheel to 87 ft lbs.

MINI Broken Motor Mount

GeorgeCo spent the past weekend at the track in both the GeorgeCo MINI powered by Beano and the GeorgeCo Porsche. Why the switch? GeorgeCo ran all day Friday in the MINI until the tires were shot. Light rain in the morning made the first session loads of fun.

It dried out later in the morning and GeorgeCo got a couple of hours of track time. I love Fridays. Loads of track time and usually few cars out at any one time. The downside is that I usually get about twice as much driving in on Fridays as the rest of the weekend. Resulting in:
Corded Tire
Getting home, I also realized that I killed the upper motor mount running on the banking all day.
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For the 2005 model year, MINI switched from a rubber upper mount to a hydraulic mount. If you open the hood and see black goo seeping from the mount then you know it’s shot. Don’t keep driving because the left side of the engine (which is actually the front in a transverse mounted engine) will droop, causing all sorts of other problems throughout the drive-train. OEM motor mounts run about $100. We’re replacing this one with a more robust WMW/TSW Urethane Upper Motor Mount. They run about $200, but should require replacement less frequently, especially in a car that sees a good deal of track time.

Replacement is fairly straight forward. The only odd tool required is a T12 reverse Torx socket. Here’s how you do it:

1. With the car on the ground, loosen the lug bolts on the front right wheel.
2. Place the car on jack stands. You can do just the front right, but I like to raise the entire front since it makes it easier to work the jack under the engine later.
3. Remove the front right wheel and fender liner.
4. Place the jack under the oil pan, and use a piece of wood to gently raise it until there is pressure on the motor. You don’t want to lift it, just support the weight of the engine on the jack.
5. Remove the upper nut on the OEM oil filled motor mount.
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6. Remove the M12 bolt holding the engine mount stabilizer arm to the shock tower.
7. Remove the engine grounding strap from the motor mount bracket.
8. Remove the four bolts holding the upper motor mount bracket to the engine. These can be difficult to remove if they are corroded. A little PB Blaster may help.
9. Now you can remove the old motor mount. Remove the Torx T12 bolt from the bottom of the frame rail.
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Take note of which hole in the frame rail the mount was sitting (in case you’ve lost the plugs filling the other holes). This is a good point to take a break and clean everything up since the black goo is likely everywhere. If you’re using an OEM mount, then installation is the reverse of removal. (I love saying that.)

Installing the new urethane motor mount:
1. Place the new motor mount into the same hole in the frame rail as the old one.
2. Put a small amount of blue Loctite on the threaded end of the long Torx bolt; push it through the frame rail from the bottom; and hand tighten.
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3. The Torx bolt is a “torque-to-yield bolt” so you can tighten it once and then it has to be discarded. Tighten to 41 ft-lb of torque plus a torque angle of 90 degrees.
4. Place the rod end of the dog bone on top of the motor mount, then put the conical washer on as shown in the image below. Temporarily place the washer and nut on top of the mount and hand tighten.
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5. Adjust the threaded portion of the rod end until the other end lines up with the shock tower (notched side toward engine.) Thread the M12 bolt and washer by hand into the shock tower. Make sure the dog bone is not putting any stress on either the motor mount or the shock tower.
6. Back out the rod end locking nut away from the dog bone end and put a small amount of blue Loctite on the threads near the dog bone. Tighten the locking nut by holding the dog bone end with one wrench and use another to tighten the nut. It only needs about 30 ft-lb of torque.
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7. Remove the bolt and washer from the top of the mount and place the OEM upper mount bracket on the engine. You have to wiggle it in a bit, but it will fit between the engine and the new motor mount. Tighten all four bolts by hand, but leave some play for now so you can get the top bolt aligned.
8. If the engine has moved, use the jack to reposition the engine so the hole in the top of the mounting bracket lines up with the top of the mount. Thread the top bolt and washer by hand.
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9. Tighten the four upper motor mount bracket bolts to 60 ft-lb.
10. Tighten the 1/2 inch upper motor mount bolt to 45 ft-lb.
11. Check the M12 dog bone bolt to shock tower to make sure it will still back out (doesn’t bind). If it does bind, adjust the dog bone in or out and re-tighten the locking nut. The dog bone should not have any pre-load or you may get engine vibration.
12. Tighten the M12 bolt to shock tower to 45 ft-lb.
13. Replace the ground strap and tighten to 18 ft-lb.
14. Remove the jack from under the engine.
15. Replace the fender liner and wheel.
16. Torque the wheel bolts to 87 ft-lb (or as appropriate).
17. Lower from jack stands and you’re done.
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Here you can see the new DDMworks stainless air diverter as well. We broke the Alta diverter this weekend too…

Update: After a couple of weeks, we hated the Urethane motor mount and swapped in a new OEM style mount. Will just have to keep an eye on it to prevent future failure.

MINI Front Swaybar DIY

Front Sway-bar Replacement: The R53 subframe design is a wonderful example of compact packaging. Unfortunately the tight confines of the front end makes replacing the front sway-bar a time-consuming activity. It is not particularly difficult, just time-consuming, especially if you don’t have access to a lift. The process outlined below will allow you to drop the front subframe enough to remove the sway-bar. As usual, this description is a general explanation of the process. Refer to your Bentley Manual or other workshop guide before taking this on yourself. Disclaimer: These instructions are provided for general information. Use at your own risk. No wagering.

1. Safely support your MINI on jack stands and disconnect the battery. Set the jacks high enough to work under the subframe if necessary.
2. Put the front end into service mode by removing the front bumper cover, wheel liners, and front lower skid plate.
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3. Remove the front bumper. Remove the front crash tubes. Use penetrating oil if necessary. Be sure not to misplace the plastic inserts once the crash tubes are removed. (While the bumper is off, clean between the radiator and condenser.)
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4. Slide under the car and remove the power-steering fan and unplug it from the power-steering pump. Reaching to the top of the power-steering pump, carefully unplug the two electrical connections to the pump. If you are just lowering the subframe far enough to get to the sway-bar, it is not necessary to unplug the top plug.
5. Working from the top of the engine, open the clamp holding the power-steering reservoir and make sure it can drop into the engine freely as the subframe is lowered.
6. Disconnect the sway-bar from the lower drop link that is attached to each strut.
7. Using a ball-joint separator, separate the tie-rods from the front wheel hubs.
8. Above the steering rack toward the firewall is the steering knuckle. Turn the steering wheel to position the nut so you can remove it from the bolt. Fold the knuckle back on itself.
9. Disconnect the control arm bushing bracket from the body frame on each side.
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10. Place your floor jack under the subframe at the circular opening and support the weight of the subframe with the floor jack.
11. Working behind each strut, disconnect the subframe from the body.
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12. Disconnect the lower engine mount.
13. Remove the six bolts holding the rear of the subframe to the body shell.
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14. Using the floor jack, lower the subframe far enough to reach the four bolts holding the sway-bar to the top of the subframe. Spray penetrating oil. If necessary, use a block of wood to wedge between the subframe and the body to get enough room to get a ratchet on the sway-bar bolts. These bolts are torqued to 122 ft lbs of torque so it will take some leverage to loosen them.
15. Carefully slide out the old sway-bar and replace with the new one.
16. Installation is the reverse of removal.

Notes: Be sure to torque all bolts to the required spec. The captured nuts in the body for the control arm bracket bolts torque to only 48 lbs not the 63 lbs specified in some manuals. If these nuts are stripped, try rethreading by boring the holes to 25/64th inch then thread to 7/16th inch (20NF pitch). If that doesn’t work, they will have to be cut out and new nuts welded in ($$$).

Torque Specs in FT LBS
Sway-bar end link to sway-bar 41
Tie-rod to steering knuckle 38
Front subframe to chassis 74
Crush tubes 74
Sway-bar to subframe 122
Lower engine mount 74
Power-steering pump 14
Rear subframe to chassis 74
Control arm bracket to chassis 48
None provided: PS Reservoir bracket; Steering arm knuckle

MINI Suspension Compliance

Passengers in the GeorgeCo MINI often complain that they are just but one pothole away from losing a filling. With the stiffer lowering springs and beefy swaybars fore and aft, the effective spring rate was probably in the neighborhood of 450 lbs. By way of comparison, the stock spring rate is somewhere around 200-220 lbs. A stiffly sprung car is great for a smooth racetrack, but can be torture on the street. Having spent a few days at the track in the Porsche with a completely stock suspension, I have come to the conclusion that the MINI doesn’t need to be so stiff. (Remember the early posts about this car when I said I wasn’t going to turn it into a track car. Well, wrong…)

After some additional critical reflection I thought I could achieve 3 objectives by designing a suspension with more compliance: 1.) Improve the ride as measured by the right-seat passenger dyno; 2.) Keep the modifications that correct the glaring deficiencies of the geometry (under-steer and lack of front camber); and 3.) Be cost-neutral. It turns out, there was an unexpected bonus as well: reducing un-sprung weight.

First a recap. Starting with a Stock 2006 Cooper S:

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Make the following modifications: Bavarian Autosport Performance Lowering Springs (2″+ drop); Bilstein Sport Struts/Shocks; Eibach adjustable camber plates; JCW Sport Brake Kit; Madness Lower Brace; Powerflex Control Arm Bushings; H&R 27mm Front Swaybar; Alta adjustable endlinks front and rear; Alta 22mm 3-way adjustable swaybar; and HR Sport Camber Arms. The result:

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Slammed, stiff, and neutral. No hint of under-steer. Even front tire wear. About 3.5 inches of ground clearance (problematic). Harsh under rapid compression of suspension (pothole). Wonderful at the track. Not so much fun on the freeway. All of the modifications except the front swaybar are quite conventional. The stiff front swaybar really transforms the way the car turns-in under heavy braking, but at a cost. If the front end isn’t loaded, steering became somewhat vague. Definitely not to everyone’s taste.

I decided to keep the bits I liked, sell off the rest, and use the money to buy anything that I didn’t reuse from stock. Gone were the BavAuto springs, replaced by H&R Sport Springs. I Swapped the front swaybar back for stock and got a screaming deal on a 19mm rear bar to better balance the front. I Sold the adjustable endlinks since they aren’t needed with the H&R Springs (the drop is only 1.25 to 1.5 inches so the links don’t really need to be shortened.) Gone was the Madness bar. JCW brakes were replaced by stock along with new stock rotors. I kept the Powerflex bushings and Bilstein struts, but swapped the Eibach adjustable plates for Ireland Engineering fixed camber plates. What I lost in adjustability I more than made up for in comfort. I broke even on cost and shed 26.5 lbs in weight (21 lbs unsprung) and all but 1.5 from the front.) Ride height is somewhere between the two extremes:

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So if you superimpose them over each other, you get the picture at the top of the post.

 

NCC BMW CCA HPDE Summit Point, September 2012

I can tell you exactly when summer ended this year. It was at 3:23 PM on September 8th when this photo was taken. Friday at the track was hot and humid. Saturday was miserable, wet, and wonderful. And Sunday was a gorgeous autumn day.

There were some really cool cars at this event, including this beautiful blue Ferrari 458 Italia seen below. It was good to see that the owner of this car a.) drove it to the event; b.) drove it at the event; and c.) drove it home. The previous owner drove this car only 750 miles in two years of ownership. The current owner drove more than 3,000 miles just bringing it home after purchasing it. I never really appreciated the styling of the 458 until we got out on the track. Even at 100 MPH, we were able to have a conversation with the windows down. That says something for aero efficiency. (You listening MINI?)

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The inside even smells good. It smells like that brand-new baseball glove you got when you were a kid. The one you put a ball in and slept with it under your pillow to break it in. (OK maybe not everyone has that memory….) I took some video from my helmet cam as we lapped the course. I was fascinated by the speed of the gear changes and the great display graphics that emulate analog gauges. Unfortunately, you can’t see the gauges very well in the video.

458 Interior

If you look just about 6 inches to the left of the “458 Italia” logo there’s a depression in the leather. It is sort of forehead shaped. That got me wondering about the survival rate of previous passengers. This car accelerates so quickly, just holding my head off of the headrest gave my core a workout.

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The GeorgeCo MINI powered by Beano was of course in action as well. In this photo, it’s powering through turn 7. The suspension work paid off and the car was very well balanced, level, and had tons of grip, even in the rain.

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The telemetry system is still a work on progress. The GPS is not very accurate with the iPhone in its current position so the track map is all over the place. (It looks like I’m taking a grand tour of Delaware.) The corner and straight speed indicators seem to be off too when you compare them to the large central speedo. G meter, throttle position, and RPM seem to be working, but the gear indicator doesn’t seem to go above 3rd. So there’s some work to be done, but the technology is cool. Fast forward to the session time of about 11:50 and again at 13:17 and you’ll see why we spend so much time on the skid pad in this program.

In case you had $229 to $295K sitting around and were wondering what you would get for your money. The answer is at least 3 seconds a lap. That’s the difference in two laps chosen at random from my video of this past weekend. Both were on Friday as we refamiliarized ourselves with the track. The only difference is that in my case, I’m pushing the MINI about as hard as I’m willing to go. There’s a little bit left, but not much. The Ferrari is going maybe 6/10ths on the straights. Alternately, you could take $13-$27K, buy yourself a low mileage 2006 MINI Cooper S, and buy a house with the rest. Just saying.

If you can start the two videos at the same time, they both start at the same point on the track. You want to have the sound playing on the Ferrari video however. (I’m working on editing them into one feed that shows both side-by-side but haven’t figured that out yet.)

More Comp Tire Goodness

It’s been a busy year since we first bought this car. Our goal was to find a low mileage ’06 Cooper S that could eventually be modified for club racing. Keeping in mind that the cost difference between an R53 Cooper S and JCW is about $5,000, we wanted to make this car better than a JCW model, without completely sacrificing creature comfort as a daily driver until we were ready to gut the interior and install a cage. I think we’ve brought it right to that edge: It’s stiff, but not jarring. And it’s fast.

Given that the majority of R53 Cooper S cars were sold with sunroofs, finding the right car proved harder than you would have thought. We found a 45,000 mile car, with heated Punch Leather seats, a factory limited slip differential, and fog-lights — no other options or packages. This August we replaced the clutch, ball joints and rear main seal just to baseline the car, but it really was in terrific condition. The boxes above contain the last phase of our initial sorting: getting power to the road through light-weight wheels and grippy tires, in this case Nitto NT-01 R-comps which we’ll scrub-in at a test-and-tune autocross event in Frederick and then we should be ready for the track coming up in two weeks.

To recap, here’s what we’ve done to date:
Handling — We added an H&R 27 mm front roll-bar with Alta adjustable end-links and Powerflex control arm bushings. Previously we installed an Alta 22mm adjustable rear sway-bar (now set to the stiffest setting to compensate for the bigger front bar) and adjustable end links. Suspension consists of Bilstein Sport shocks and struts over Bavarian Autosport Performance Springs. We have Powerflex shock bushings in the rear and Eibach adjustable camber plates in the front. Suspension settings are 1.7 degrees negative camber in the front, 1.5 degrees negative camber in the back. (That’s the most negative camber we can get in the front without binding the springs.) Front toe is neutral, slight toe-in for the rear to increase straight-line stability. In the rear we also have H-Sport adjustable control arms to compensate for lowering and to beef-up what’s normally a weak link in the MINI stock suspension. To increase chassis stiffness, we have a strut-tower brace in the rear, Madness Lower Stress Bar in the front, and MINI OEM Cabrio cross braces. To improve braking, we added JCW brakes up front, stainless steel brake lines all around, and brass bushings to the rear brakes.

Power — MINIs have the aerodynamics of bricks so power improvement isn’t ever about top-end as much as it is about mid-range torque. We have a Madness 15 percent reduction pulley, Screamin Demon Coil, MSD plug wires and NGK Iridium plugs. On the intake side, we are using an ALTA intake and intake hose along with an ALTA intercooler diverter. On the exhaust side, we’re using a Scorpion stainless steel free-flow exhaust. The Scorpion exhaust is lighter weight than stock and has a nice deep tone without droning. Behe performance provided the custom tune to take advantage of all the changes. Currently, this car dynos at about 198 whp. We could increase it to get above 200 by increasing the rev limit setting, but frankly we’re more interested in power from 4500 to 6000 RPMs than we are watching pieces blow through the cylinder walls at 7200 RPM. We want this lump to last 200K miles or longer.

Information Management — We’ve brought over the FES-Auto shift-light from our previous R53 and added a new telemetry system this year. We’ve outfitted the car with a PLX devices wireless network adapter that feeds telemetry data to an iPhone. Now we can log data as well as add telemetry data to in-car videos.

Cost total: Excluding the clutch and ball-joints which were just routine maintenance items, we’re just $300 shy of our $5K budget. That’s pretty good considering all of the changes we’ve made so far.

Things that go Wump in the Night

Driving home yesterday when it was 110 degrees, the guy ahead of me swerved at the last second and served up a chunk of cast iron pipe for me to drive into. It was a broken piece with an end-cap, perhaps eight size inches in diameter and six inches tall. My car is only 4.5 inches off the ground. Concrete center divider to my left, traffic to the right, I could only choose where to hit it, not if: Straddle it and risk puncturing the oil-pan; hit it with the wheel, cut a tire and bend a rim. I went for the most clearance — between the wheel and the center-line of the car.
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Most of the impact was taken by the lower stress brace. The darn pipe turned up as it wedged under the car, pitched me about 20 degrees to the left (fortunately I was approaching an intersection by then with an empty turn lane on my left) lifting the right-side of the car off the ground with a big “Whump”. D’oh. Not good. I pulled over expecting to see oil or brake fluid gushing from below. Everything looked good and the car still tracked straight so I headed home.

Getting under it today I could survey the damage. The brace sacrificed itself and took most of the impact, but the sub-frame was dented as well. I know the sub-frame on these cars is pretty stout.
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So here’s the question: Do I worry about the sub-frame damage if the car is otherwise still in alignment? Replace or just weld a reenforcing panel if otherwise straight? It looks like the sub-frame (Part #31106763721, “Front Axel Support”) runs about $600 (and involves dis-assembly of the entire front end of the car). If I go down that route, anything I should upgrade at the time? I need a new clutch anyway and was already thinking about replacing the control arm bushings with powerflex bushings. Is it easier to replace the front swaybar if everything is out? In for a penny, in for a pound… Any other bushings which I should look at? Or can I just pull the crease and weld on a patch panel to add some strength and not worry too much about it?
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Update 7/22/12: I finally got the replacement lower stress bar from Madness Motorworks (formerly MINI-Madness). The good news is that the mounting holes still line up. That means that the bar deformed under the impact but didn’t deform the sub-frame along the way.
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Now that I’ve changed the suspension (again) to Bilstein Struts, the ride-height is slightly higher. Hopefully the extra 10 mm in higher ride-height will keep me off of speed-bumps and road debris, but the bar is still the low point in ground clearance. At least for now it’s easy to spot….

MINI Adjustable Camber Plates DIY

I had been using Bavarian Autosport lowering springs for about a year.  I like the drop in ride height resulting in a lower center of gravity and less body roll, but the struts were overpowering the springs resulting in a harsh ride.  I had also been using Ireland Engineering fixed camber plates which gave 2.7 degrees of negative camber up front.  The problem with this combo was that the front air-dam was was only about 2 1/2 inches off the ground, and the driver’s side spring would bind at lock.

So I figured it was time to rethink my entire suspension set-up.  I needed to dial back the negative camber slightly to prevent binding and improve tire wear; I wanted to increase ride height by about 10 mm to better clear speed-bumps and road debris; I wanted to better match my struts to the spring rate of the BavAuto springs to improve the ride quality; and I’m slowly adding Powerflex bushings to reduce deflection in the suspension.

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Starting in the rear, I added new Bilstein Sport Struts which have a lower spring perch resulting in a similar ride height as before, but longer suspension travel.  I topped them off with Powerflex rear strut top bushings.

front-strut

The Bilstein Sport Struts in the front raise my ride height by about 10 mm when combined with the Eibach (SPC) camber plates.  This set-up is still about an inch lower than stock.

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Using the instructions that come with the Eibach Adjustable Camber plates and your Bentley manual, the installation is pretty straight forward.  You can actually install them without removing the axle shafts from the transmission or separating the tie-rods.  Just lower the entire strut by removing the 3 nuts to the upper shock mount (it won’t pull out completely); compress the spring by using a spring compressor; put the upper shock mount back into the cavity; remove the upper shock mount; then the strut will pull out the side.  Finish removal as per the Bentley manual.

top-plate

Installation is similar.  Attach the strut to the hub; place the spring on the strut while it is still compressed; and attach the Eibach lower plate.  At this point you can remove the spring compressors.  Slide the strut and top plate into the cavity and attach the top plate through the circular opening. Use a lever to stop the top plate from spinning on the shaft so you can tighten to torque spec.  Finish by attaching to the adjustable plate.

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When the whole thing is installed, you can adjust camber to maximize negative camber while avoiding spring binding.

Cold Winter Days

January is a great time to turn up the space heater and hunker-down in the garage, dreaming of warmer weather and open track ahead of you. We took advantage of the warmer than usual weather in December to complete most of the prep work on the Red MINI for the upcoming autocross season, so it’s time to turn our attention to back the Blue MINI.

Blue MINI is being prepped to be sold. The goals of the refresh are fairly straight forward: reduce harshness of the ride; reduce cabin noise; and install a more traffic friendly clutch. The suspension has been returned to stock; the stock flywheel has been resurfaced and is ready to go back in as soon as the clutch kit arrives; so this past weekend we turned to the issue of cabin noise.

Interior cabin noise in the Blue MINI exceeded 110 db on the highway with the old exhausthttp://www.georgeco.org/garage/cold-winter-days/. Though not quite painful, it tended to drone and cause ringing in the ears after long drives. Not a problem with the windows down and helmet on at the track, but not conducive to conversation on the highway. The current Ireland Engineering exhaust is much quieter, but still not as quiet as stock. The road noise was a combination of factors: large tread-blocks on the max performance summer tires; the cold air intake transmitting intake noise; the single-mass flywheel rattling at idle; and the exhaust being louder than stock. A change of tires took care of the first issue. Switching back to the stock intake cured the second. When the new clutch is installed we will switch back to the stock flywheel eliminating the rattle. That just leaves the exhaust noise.

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We put five sheets of Hushmat under the carpet in the boot to provide a little additional sound deadening from the rear mounted muffler. (It adds weight to the car, but it adds it low and in the back where it’s needed.) When we got out on the highway and up to speed, the overall cabin noise is down significantly. Putting a new exhaust on the car when you don’t have a lift in your garage is a literal pain in the back, one we’re hoping to avoid with the Hushmat.

Update:  The Hushmat turned out to be a terrible idea. It did help with the sound, but when we accidentally spilled five gallons of water in the back of the car, we had to pull it all up to get all the water out. Don’t do this.

Last Motoring Event of 2011

Saturday brought the last motoring event of the year for GeorgeCo. It was a very nice late Autumn day of sliding and sloshing on the skidpad at Summit Point with the other instructors from the local BMW club. GeorgeCo got a chance to test out the Red MINI’s new suspension and even got to drive a friend’s 911.

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I’ve instructed in a Porsche a couple of times and really enjoyed the opportunity to drive it on the skidpad. I’d like to say I instantly mastered oversteer, but that would be not true. It’s a very different experience to feel the car rotating around you at a point somewhere in the middle of the rear seats. Most of my MINI tricks didn’t work (ie more power in oversteer) and the balance just feels wrong. It wasn’t until later in the session that I finally figured out to ease up on the wheel, let the wheels straighten and keep steady power and it sorts itself out. You can’t lift suddenly and more power just speeds up the spin, but steady power seems to do the trick. That was fun.

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The new suspension on Red MINI proved to be a good choice. The middle setting on the Alta rear swaybar took out most of the understeer, but didn’t make the car tail happy so as to induce oversteer on sudden throttle lift. It’s very neutral with a slight bias to understeer which is the way I like it. We set up some cones and got a chance to practice a little scandinavian flick action. The IE fixed camber plates provide a much less harsh ride than the adjustable plates in the Blue MINI. I think I’m going to like this set-up.

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The track was quiet all day. I don’t think I’ve been here before when there wasn’t some sort of event going on. The run-off area in turn one had a certain zen garden quality to it. Be the curve.