Per Schroeder
Per Schroeder SuperDork
7/23/01 7:46 a.m.
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Ever since we first drove the new MINI Cooper at Import Carlisle last year we knew we needed to have one. We immediately contacted BMW, the parent company behind the new Cooper, and asked about the feasibility of a long term test car. As the folks at MINI very much want to see the new MINI in grassroots motorsports activity, they granted our request for an H-Stock autocross Cooper. Finally after what seemed like an endless wait, MINI called us and said they had a car ready for us to pick up in New Jersey.

It was a base model with only two options, automatic air ($300) and the chrome bumper package ($120). With destination charges this cars lists for $17,270. This is not exactly the way we would have equipped the car if given a choice, but it is close. MINI USA allows customers order cars a la carte. Had we had the choice, we would have dumped the automatic air and ordered the sport package and cruise control/multi function wheel (cruise is nice on those long road trips to events). This would have brought the total cost of our car to $18,570, still very reasonable.

Later that week we drove our MINI to Michelin Proving Grounds in Laurens, S.C., for more testing. We drove our MINI and a friend's MINI, which was equipped with the optional Sport Plus suspension and larger wheels and tires, back-to-back on one of Michelin's autocross course. Our impromptu testing showed that the combination of the stiffer springs, anti-rollbars and bigger wheels and tires was worth a full second on a 40 second autocross. We'll be doing some more testing to confirm this with the benefit of sticky autocross tires.

From Michelin Proving Grounds it was on to our first public display and meet for our new Project MINI. Gordon King and his gang of Mini wackos was hosting the Mini Meet East event in beautiful Charleston South Carolina that weekend.

On Saturday of the Mini Meet, we stopped by the portable chassis dyno set up by Abacus Racing. We watched as a new supercharged MINI Cooper S made 155 horsepower at the wheels in the nearly 100 degree heat. These cars are rated at 163 bhp at the flywheel. Interesting... either the new MINI is the first car ever to have virtually no driveline loss (typical loss is 15-17 percent) or BMW is underrating the new MINI from the factory. Curiosity got the better of us and we loaded our MINI up onto the dyno. Son of a gun, we made 109 bhp (@ 6000 rpm) and 103.7 lb.-ft.. (@ 4800 rpm) of torque in the same 100 degree heat. As our car is rated at 115 bhp @ 6000 rpm at the flywheel and 110 lb.-ft. @ 4500 rpm of torque we began to understand why these new MINIs are so quick.

As our booth was right next to New MINI tuning wizard Mini Mania, and they had all their go fast goodies on display, and the portable dyno was just across the parking lot, the urge just got to be too much.

The Mini Mania Stage One kit includes lowering springs, adjustable 19 mm rear anti-rollbar (stock is 16.5 mm/sport suspension is 17.5), a beautifully crafted stainless steel cat-back exhaust system with a truly sweet note, and a replacement cold air intake box system with a reusable high performance air filter. The whole Stage One package costs $1495 but only the cat-back exhaust system is legal for SCCA H Stock autocross competition. Our plan was to start by just doing a test on both the exhaust and intake upgrades and then test individual items later on our own dyno when we get more time.

On our next dyno run with the intake and exhaust installed we went from 109 to 112 bhp. Maximum torque went from 103.7 to 104.5 lb.-ft. What was interesting is that while peak torque and hp received only modest gains (let's face it, most manufacturers, especially the BMW guys behind the new MINI, are pretty good at getting the most out of today's cars) at about 5000 rpm we had real seat of the pants improvements. The dyno graphs showed that at 5100 rpm horsepower was up from 96.4 to 99.7 and torque jumped from 99.3 to 102.7lb.-ft.

The Sunday morning autocross presented us with our first public test. Despite having no sport suspension and the truly awful (at least for autocrossing) standard Continental CH95 tires, we were ready. When the dust settled we had the fastest new MINI time and the second fastest time of the whole event. Wow, this new MINI agrees with us.

Smug with success we headed back home to Florida. After getting stuck in traffic for an hour, we realized we no longer had any gear in the tranmission other than second gear. We limped into the next service station and in behind us, by complete coincidence comes Downtown MINI (Orlando, Fla,) salesperson Mike Priest with his identical Chili Red MINI.

We explained our predicament and Mike asked us if we wanted him to fix the problem. As it turns out, the early MINIs have had a some problems with shifter cables popping off the transmission. A revised cable is now available from dealers. If you have the early style shifter cable, the only modification needed is to install a retainer clip on the shifter end that takes the stress out of the ball and socket and keeps it positively attached to the trans lever.

Mike showed us how to take the battery and battery box out of the car and get to the shifter cable underneath. Simply pop the shifter cable back onto the transmission and tie wrap it on. While we plan to get the new shifter cable installed this week, we have driven the car several thousand miles with the temporary fix and even autocrossed it with no further troubles.

After our shifter cable incident we arrived home safely with more than 2000 miles on our new MINI. We averaged about 30 miles to the gallon (93 octane fuel) with a best of about 35 mpg at fast highway speeds.

Follow along in the next year as we learn, test, race and just plain motor in our new MINI Cooper.

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