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EricM SuperDork
8/29/23 9:35 a.m.


It ap[pears that the first gen Mini is nearing it's price low point.   How bad could it be?  A 20 year old Mini, right?  Like what would be the downside?


A lot of them coming up for under or about  $5K locally.   I guess the B-Spec race series is attractive now.



Mndsm MegaDork
8/29/23 9:43 a.m.

The good news? The r53 cooper S (First Gen, supercharged- likely the car youre after) is about as fun a front wheel drive car as you can hope to attain. I owned one for a while. Absolutely hilarious to drive. 


The bad news? Damn thing tried to nickel and dime me to death. They've gotten to the point now where if you wanted to own one and it was solely a toy- and you got an 04-05 S that had been well maintained, had the strut towers taken care of, had a manual trans and was a slick top- you'd probably be alright. 

Chris_V UberDork
8/29/23 9:51 a.m.

I got my 2nd gen at 50k miles, and now, almost 3 years later and another 15k on it, it's been fine other than needing a clutch after a really bad week of heavy DC traffic. :(


For the first gen cars, you want as new as you can get to avoid the early Midlands manual box, which was made from glass. They can still nickle and dime you, but A number of peopel in my club are over 150k miles with minimal issues on the '04-06 examples.

Tyler H
Tyler H GRM+ Memberand UberDork
8/29/23 10:01 a.m.

The R53 S didn't have the Midlands box.  They are like BMWs built to a lower price point, for all the good and bad that goes with that.   I would stay away from the shallow end of the price pool and buy the nicest enthusiast owned one that you can find.

I really enjoyed my R53, but it was both needier and more expensive to run than the E46 330i and E36 M3 that came after it.  I think that a 330i does everything better at a similar buy-in.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
8/29/23 10:02 a.m.

We have a buyer's guide if it helps:

[2002-'06 MINI | Buyer's Guide]

rob_lewis UberDork
8/29/23 10:26 a.m.

The Midlands box was put in the '02-04 standard Cooper models.  I believe there was a change somewhere through '04 to the Getrag 5-speed, but I don't know that there's an easy way to check.  Before I gave up on my MINI project (too little time), I was researching putting a Getrag 5-speed in an early car and from what I could tell, it was almost a swap for swap.  You can put the Getrag 6-speed in a standard Cooper, but it's a bit more involved.

I hope to have another one someday as a "fun" car.  I liked my standard slick top one and found it plenty fun to drive without the supercharger from the S. Plus, there were so many different options from the factory, I think it'd be a fun exercise to figure out which bits work best.  For example, supposedly, the cars equipped with the halogen headlights had a different/better spring rate than the standard bulb ones.

Since they were usually enthusiast owned, you should be able to find one that's been well taken care of. 


ojannen HalfDork
8/29/23 10:35 a.m.

The difference between the good years and bad years is pretty stark.

2005-2006 Cooper S is quick and the most reliable of the early gen. There was a mid cycle refresh for the 05 model year that fixed a bunch of problems.

2007-2010 non-S is the only one I would buy from that time period.  I believe this is also the B-spec car of choice

2011-2016 Cooper S is back to being on the expensive end of normal BMW reliability.

On the first two gens, remember you are looking at normal BMW problems: cooling system, high pressure fuel pump, window regulator, control arm bushings plus really weird mini-only problems: strut tower mushrooming, an undersized clutch, headers that just fall apart.

The thing with minis is they have a short wheelbase, weight around 2500lbs with standard track/autox mods, and generate 200 wheel horsepower with a tune and exhaust.  No hatchbacks really compete in that space.  There are a bunch of theoretical Honda builds that generally aren't street cars.  There are some mythical JDM cars that you can import for 4x the price.  Otherwise, you can go lighter and lower hp with an EF Civic or CRX Si (haven't driven one but sounds like tons of fun).  Or you can go heavier and larger with the same hp in the Corolla GTS, 8th gen Civic, etc.

If you want a small, tossable FWD hatchback and you like paying for maintenance, then the Mini is the answer.  Or maybe a Fiat 500 Abarth.

EricM SuperDork
8/29/23 10:53 a.m.


lol, "how bad can it be?"  well, it can be "BMW" bad, lol.



DeadSkunk  (Warren)
DeadSkunk (Warren) UltimaDork
8/29/23 11:00 a.m.

I bought my '03 R53 in 2007 and still have it. These aren't economy cars, whatever you might save in gas will be eaten up several times over in repairs, and they need 93 octane.......but dayum they're a fun drive. I just bought a second one I expect will be a bit needy..it looks neglected. I've owned several FWD vehicles over the years, but nothing was as fun as a MINI.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/29/23 1:07 p.m.

Wonderful cars to drive.

Expensive cars to own.  Most aftermarket parts do not fit, so OE is your only option.


Last year I had the idea to buy an R53. Call it a case of Stockholm Syndrome.  They all seemed to be in the $12-15k range.  Hard nope.

Trent PowerDork
8/29/23 1:24 p.m.

I daily an R55 Clubman S. the later turbo version. I have had pretty much all the common problems and a few not so common ones. Timing chain guides vaporized, passenger seat occupancy sensor, coolant leaks, LCD screen dying, control arm bushings, swaybar end links plus a bunch of others I can't remember right now.


I still can't think of another car I would replace it with, which is the only reason I still have it. Love the handling, love the size, it is way quicker than it has any right to be.

I wanted a hot hatch but was burned by VW too badly to go back to a GTI. I like BMW's so I figured their version would fit the bill. I like it more than I expected to but, I also know I am driving a grenade with the pin about to fall out.

The missus hates the ride quality. It has that Bilstien sport jiggle. I don't mind it, but I see why it bothers her.


JoeTR6 Dork
8/29/23 3:27 p.m.

I had a 2006 Cooper S from new, and it was decent for 5 years and 45k miles.  After that, it was somebody else's car.  It did need some repairs, some under warranty (oil pan gasket, timing chain guides, O2 sensor), and some by me (leaky thermostat housing).  Not a terrible car to work on.  As everyone has said, it's a blast to drive.

I now have a Fiesta ST with pretty much the same age and mileage as the Mini when I sold it.  It's about as fast, but IMO is just as fun to drive.  But it's different.  It's certainly had fewer issues.  Overall, I liked the Mini better for the interior but would rather drive the Fiesta long-term.

ChrisTropea Associate Editor
8/29/23 3:31 p.m.

I need to stop looking at this thread before I get bad ideas. 

Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter)
Paul_VR6 (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
8/29/23 3:38 p.m.

I dove head first into one of these when I got an 06 Cooper S vert from a friend. "needed a waterpump" turned into some very interesting things, but thanks to the hive I got enough spare charger parts on the cheap it's still 1k under challenge legal. I'm letting my daughter learn manual on it and then I'll figure out what to do next. Probably one of the most fun stock FWD cars I have driven. 

If you are wrench handy and have an account for wholesale parts it's not so bad. [edit: I have owned VW, Audi, BMW and Land Rovers in the past and feel I am fairly calibrated to misery]

1988RedT2 MegaDork
8/29/23 3:41 p.m.

I know a couple of people with these cars.  We've talked about them, and they both really like them.  More noteworthy, they both have had them for quite a number of years.  Neither is hurting for money and can drive what they like.  The conclusions draw themselves!  laugh

Chris_V UberDork
8/29/23 4:13 p.m.
1988RedT2 said:

I know a couple of people with these cars.  We've talked about them, and they both really like them.  More noteworthy, they both have had them for quite a number of years.  Neither is hurting for money and can drive what they like.  The conclusions draw themselves!  laugh

Yeah, I've had over a hundred cars, many of them fun cars and performance cars, and my JCW Roadster is probably the most fun I've ever owned. It's the first car I've owned that I could see keeping even if I won the lottery and could buy anything.

myf16n GRM+ Memberand Reader
8/29/23 4:13 p.m.

I was talked into a 2007 S (R56) project for $750. It needed a head gasket and a clutch. I didn't have the time or desire to either job, so I paid a shop to take care of it for $5k. The only modification I've made since then is a rear swaybar.

I'll echo that they are fun to drive. I drove it almost exclusively on twisty mountain roads for 50mi a day. It was a whole lot of fun. In the end, I need more interior room and I wanted a bit more power. Car is up for sale on CL in the Santa Cruz area. I'd sell it to a GRM member for $5500.


rattfink81 Reader
8/29/23 4:28 p.m.

Had a 06 S I bought in 2012, really enjoyed that car and it was box stock.

I put a ton of miles(120 mile round trip commute) in the 2 years I owned it then it got beat up by hail so I took the check and sold it for break even money.

I've had a 2011 GTI and currently on a 2017 GTI.  Which are a bit roomier, better mileage, more power but don't feel as fun to drive and probably just as maintenance/repair heavy.

bobzilla MegaDork
8/29/23 4:34 p.m.

Fun to drive cars. Great cars to co-drive with. Not great cars to maintain. I've watched a lot roll through the various shops and every single one nickled and dimed people to death. Parts prices were stupid (coming from older Korean cars it's like triple to quadruple), and being german I don't have enough tools to work on one. 

Chris_V UberDork
8/29/23 4:52 p.m.

Interesting about the German car comments. BMW owns them, but until the F series cars in 2014, few parts on it were German or even BMW. Engines were Chrysler/Peugeot/Prince units built in the UK at Hams Hall, Birmingham (exception: the later 2nd gen diesels, which were BMW engines). Transmissions were either British (the early Midlands box) or Getrag. All the body and chassis was fabricated and assembled in the UK, as were the suspensions. There WERE some BMW parts in the infotainment on those that had it (my '13 Roadster has the BMW CiC with iDrive style joystick), but the vast majority of it was all made around Oxford/Swindon/Crowley.

Which is why I spend so much time at British car meets and not BMW ones.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/29/23 6:00 p.m.

In reply to Chris_V :

All of the connectors and electronics in the R53 are BMW.  I say this with a small amount of authority smiley  Suspension is built a lot like an E30 with ball joints instead of bushings at one end of the control arms and a lollipop on the other.  The rear mounted battery has the same squib on one of the terminals to disconnect it in a hard enough collision.  Etc.

The stuff that is not "BMW" are BMW suppliers like Bosch, ATE, Getrag.  The master cylinder looks interchangeable with an E46.  Heck the front frame horns look like E46 parts rotated 90 degrees.


Small amount of authority: have spent the last year and a half or so performing drivetrain reassignment surgery on an R53, which entailed completely stripping the wiring harness down, which entailed a lot of research into what each connector is for.  An amazing number of components flat-out have BMW roundels moulded into them.  Between that and the overall philosophy of design with respect to chassis and such, as far as I am concerned this is a front wheel drive BMW in all but badging.


This is why they drive so nice!

DrBoost MegaDork
8/29/23 7:54 p.m.

I have a 2005 R53 (cooper S) that has lots of tasteful, but serious mods. I'm looking to sell. If you're interested let me know.  
I'm only selling it because I need a truck.  It's been more reliable than I expected. 


Adjustables all around, performance pads and rotors, stiffened chassis, upgraded intercooler, supercharger pulleys, etc. It's an amazing car, and a better handler than a FWD car should be.  


Steve_Jones SuperDork
8/29/23 8:32 p.m.

Random fun fact. I was the first person BMW delivered a MINI to in the USA. It was an 02, non S in blue with a white roof. I've got a letter congratulating me and a t shirt with the odometer set at 000001 packed away somewhere. I've had 6 since then some S, some base. They just seem to find a way back to my garage throughout the years. My daughter bought a 2011 as a 2nd car a few months ago because it was a cool color and good deal. Her husband was surprised when she just showed up with it, but he seems to drive it more than she does. 

EricM SuperDork
8/29/23 9:27 p.m.

In reply to Steve_Jones :


bobzilla MegaDork
8/29/23 9:35 p.m.

In reply to Chris_V :

I can tell you from the body shop side these are fwd bmw. Everything comes in bmw packaging, almost all the parts have bmw stamps etc. 

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