1/28/19 1:53 p.m.


I've always, always wanted to build a $200X challenge car. I live in Colorado, and it's a loooong drive to Gainesville in October, so I'm not 100% sure I'll make it, but I'm building this car and keeping records so I could.

I used to autocross super-cheap, rusty, modified Datsun 510s in high school in the 90s, but I haven't driven an autocross this century.  For the last couple of decades or so my projects have consisted of cheap and fun daily drivers ('94 Celica ST, '98 Subaru Outback,' 04 Golf GL) for myself and my high schoolers, a couple of old motorcycles, and my 1981 Vanagon Westfalia that I swapped a Subaru engine into and did all kinds of mods.

So, I freaked out when I found an ugly, sad 2004 Mini Cooper S with a 6 speed on Craigslist for $800!  The PO never changed the oil. The timing chain tensioner died, and the timing chain started making bad noises until it stopped running. The PO dragged it to his 87-year-old grandfather (a super-nice guy who had worked on cars his whole life) to try to fix it. He bought a new timing chain set, and started taking it apart before he realized it was way beyond his skills and physical abilities to fix.  I bought it from the grandfather. Here are crappy pics from the CL ad:

I was stoked when I saw the JCW badge on the grille, but it turns out it's just a normal "S" with a poorly-bolted-on JCW badge.

In addition to the new timing set, it came with a second set of floor mats, 3000-miles-old tires that look new, and the PO got it aligned with the tires (and the shop hadn't complained that the front end was too hosed to align properly or anything)

On the other hand, when I got underneath and started working on it, I saw it had a ripped outer passenger CV boot.  I decided I'd worry about that later.

Veloandy New Reader
1/28/19 2:01 p.m.

I got the timing cover off and saw that the timing chain had taken chunks out of the back side of the front cover / oil pump, so I got a new, cheap front cover / oil pump from ebay.

It came with a new timing set, but pulling the crank sprocket was an incredible P.I.T.A! I first tried getting it with a rental 3-arm puller from AutoZone, but it was so tight in there that the puller would just pop off.

I bought a little bearing spitter and set up with a puller and a scrap of old timing chain around the sprocket to give it something better to grip. I had to use slightly smaller bolts with the splitter so I could angle it into position:

I cranked and cranked on the puller until the bolts bent and teeth started popping off of the sprocket:


So I ended up grinding that bastard off along the keyway with my Dremel with a tungsten carbide bit (and managed not to damage the crank) It only took about 10 minutes and popped right off:

I put some rare earth magnets next to where I was grinding that caught a lot of the metal shavings, but they still went everywhere and stuck to the oily face of the block. I washed the face off the block off with brake cleaner and then pulled the pan to get the metal shavings + bits of timing cover out of the engine.

The new timing set and cover went on with little drama.

Veloandy New Reader
1/28/19 2:27 p.m.

Pulling the pan was more hassle than I'm used to because both the A/C compressor and a motor mount bolt to the pan (so I had to loosen the whole radiator support to access the AC compressor bolts)

Here's the fun stuff I found in the oil pan (all neatly deposited in a pile right below the timing chain, so I hope that means it wasn't driven too much after the destruction) Keys for scale...mmmm gliiitery...:

I got the pan all cleaned up with brake cleaner and re-installed:

I crossed my fingers and ran a compression was GOOD! No bent valves!! 

So, I buttoned it up and went to drive it for the first time!

It ran freaking awesome, especially given the crappy ancient gas that was in the tank. It felt SO FAST! The supercharger whine is so great and addictive! After using the brakes enough to scrape off the copious surface rust they had accumulated over the last 18 months, they felt great. It felt like it handled really well!

<Angels singing>

So I loaded up my wife and 2 kiddos and went for a drive (which, incidentally is my entire Vehicle Rescue Crew). My wife flogged it and loved it. My 17-year-old son flogged it and loved it and drove us up into the foothills with a bunch of crazy fun twisty hilly roads and no cell reception.

Then the clutch went to the floor. 

"No biggie" I say...I've driven home sketchy cars with no clutches tons of times! So I pop in the driver's seat, crank it in first, and it kind of fires up but doesn't really like running at 500 RPM and stalls. Try to restart it...and nothing. The battery is weak from sitting forever, and Mini's BCM cuts power to the starter circuit if the voltage is too low, so they either crank super strong or you get nothing.

Crap. No clutch. No crank. No cell reception, and no one to come rescue us even if we had cell reception...

So, we get out, and as a family push it a zillion-point turn (Austin Powers style), so we're pointing downhill. (thinking I'll try rolling and trying to slam it in gear to push start it). Luckily a nice guy in a beat up old 4Runner came by and gave us a jump start (I had jumper cables, of course!). It fired right up.  I rolled down the hill, slammed it in gear, and drove in 2nd between 5MPH and 45MPH until we got into town and got stuck at our first light.

I was able to use the syncros in the transmission to coax the car to walking pace to get going and then slam it into gear to limp home. Not the best for transmission longevity, but we made it back!

It turns out the PO had snapped a clutch slave cylinder mounting lug off the transmission (which is super-common on these cars apparently), and the stock, plastic slave cylinder flexed when held on with just one bolt and failed.

The coolest part, though, was that I got mad respect from my 17-year-old and wife about staying calm and collected and driving the car home like that. My 17-year-old went to a concert that night and told all his friends, and now when they see me, they start the conversation with "I heard about your drive home...woah.". Mad respect from teenagers is worth a lot.

SVreX MegaDork
1/28/19 4:19 p.m.

Very cool!

I was the first to bring a MINI Cooper S to the Challenge, and I am thrilled to see the prices continue to drop and more show up!

I didn’t do much to my car- underdrive pulley, new tires, and some good adjustable top mounts. I also opened up the intake and exhaust, and shed what simple weight I could (while still wanting to return it to the street). Placed 2nd in the Autocross.

BTW, they respond really well to reducing weight up high. I had a busted windshield and (temporarily) replaced it with Lexan. I could feel the difference instantly from the driver’s seat!

Good luck!

Ovid_and_Flem SuperDork
1/28/19 4:22 p.m.

In reply to Veloandy :

Nice score...great start.  Street cred for dad.

Welcome to the hive.  Do try to make the challenge.  Its a hoot.  You look headed for winning the Gsstropod class!

Ovid_and_Flem SuperDork
1/28/19 4:24 p.m.

In reply to SVreX :

What you were feeling was wind leak from your makeshift windshield.cheeky

Veloandy New Reader
1/28/19 6:01 p.m.

In reply to SVreX :

Thanks for the warm welcome! I figured Minis are pretty BA auto crossers out of the box. If I make it look OK, hone my driving skills at a few local auto crosses, and add drag-race-oriented mods, I might do all right!

They respond really well to reducing weight up high

Totally good to know! My headliner is sagging and my car has the dual panoramic sunroof. When I get the headliner out, I’ll have to see how hard it would be to temporarily remove the sunroof assembly and glass!

I had a busted windshield and (temporarily) replaced it with Lexan. I could feel a difference instantly from the driver’s seat!

Well my windshield is broken! Did your Mini get flexier without windshield glass? I was shocked by how the roof and A pillars turned to jello on my high schooler’s mk4 Golf when my windshield guy was almost finished breaking the old windshield seal with his chisel/scraper/electric jackhammer tool. Even he commented on how integral the windshield was to the structure of the car.

Veloandy New Reader
1/28/19 7:15 p.m.

It turns out one of the clutch slave cylinder mounting lugs was snapped off my transmission, causing the flexy plastic stock slave to fail. I repaired the mount using a $10 stainless steel exhaust flange from Rocky Mountain Westy.

I replaced the clutch slave with a steel Chevy slave cylinder (instead of the flexy, more expensive, failure-prone stock plastic one), built/ran a new steel hydraulic line to it. 

At first I mounted it with the bleed nipple low and accessible...but of course it doesn't work to bleed air out of the lowest part of the slave (duh in retrospect). So I flipped the slave so the bleed nipple is on the top, kissing the transaxle, and built a new hard line to it. Bleeding it was a pain because I had to remove the slave to put a bleeder hose on it. Whatever, I FINALLY got the whole mess bled properly. It’s rock solid now: 


Now clutch is slipping! Argh! I made double-darned sure the Chevy slave is retracting far enough. So I need to do a clutch. I must have finished off the old tired clutch driving home going 5mph-45mph in 2nd.

It has a dual mass flywheel, and it’s unclear if it can be be turned, so I ordered a cheaper, lighter single-mass flywheel and clutch conversion kit.

Doing a clutch on that car is non-trivial. I have to pull the front end totally off, drop the front subframe, and it’s easier to reach the trans mounting bolts if I remove the supercharger. With the supercharger out it makes sense to change the supercharger oil, and the water pump mounts to the back of the supercharger so I might as well replace the water pump and thermostat too. Since I’ll have the hoses all off, I might as well replace them all with silicone hoses. It has a ripped CV boot, and the axle will be super easy to access with it all apart.

Oh well, I wanted a project...So I ordered $400 of parts last night.  I still have $615 left in the $2019 budget for a windshield (maybe), minor aesthetic fixes and performance mods. 

Now we're up to date! It might take a week or two before I have any subsequent real updates. Hopefully it goes well!

noddaz SuperDork
2/11/19 4:39 p.m.

Sounds like an epic adventure in the making!

I have read this thread a few times and this line still has me shaking my head.

"and the stock, plastic slave cylinder flexed"

I guess they don't make them like they used to.




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