… and now I have a pair!

Yesterday I tore down Blimey and installed a pair of Koni FSD struts and Ireland Engineering fixed camber plates. I’ve been eyeing the Koni’s for a while, hoping to get a deal. A used set recently came up for sale on NAM and I grabbed them. I figured, while I had the front struts out, it was the right time to add camber plates if I was ever going to do it. So I ordered a new pair of Ireland Engineering plates as well. All this stuff sat in my garage for a couple of weeks before I could get time to install them.

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The Koni FSD struts have a special valve setup that makes them feel firm for cornering, but makes them absorb hard impacts like softer shocks. Many MINI owners swear by them for more comfortable street driving, while retaining good cornering performance.

The Ireland fixed camber plates add 1.25 degrees of negative camber up front. While the MINI has good adjustable rear negative camber – about 1.5-2.0 degrees, the stock front camber is only 0.5-0.75 degrees and non-adjustable. These cars corner better with a bit more camber in front than in the rear – many folks aim for street setups with 1.5-2.0 degrees of front negative camber, and 1.0 to 1.5 degrees of rear camber.

The install took most of the day, doing it solo, taking my time, breaking for lunch, and taking the time to make a special socket for the front struts. I used k-heuvo’s excellent how-to on NAM. While this writeup is for springs, swapping the struts is exactly the same procedure. The hardest part is removing and re-installing the front struts… it’s a bit of a bear getting the old ones out of and the new ones into the steering knuckle. But k-heuvo’s writeup provides some excellent tips for removal. For getting the new struts in, I had to reverse the procedure, using a stick and my jack to compress the spring/strut a bit and maneuver the bottom into the hole in the knuckle, then twist to get it aligned proper. CAREFUL! High risk of getting pinched here if you’re not attentive. I managed to keep all my digits intact. This would definitely be easier with two pairs of hands, though.

Here are the “after” shots.

Front:

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Rear:

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Top view of the camber plates. Note that the bearing dust cap in the middle is moved toward the right (toward the engine bay) by about an inch – this is what adds the additional camber. The Ireland plates also have longer studs than the OEM plates, which work better with the M7 strut tower plates! Sorry for the poor focus.

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Time for a test drive. Yowee! The new setup has SIGNIFICANTLY better front-end cornering grip than before. I have to try much harder to make the car push in corners. The FSD’s do NOT deaden the road feel significantly. Still have plenty of feeling of being in contact with the pavement. They just take the “edge” off imperfections in the road. I’m looking forward to feeling this difference on some rough expansion-jointed interstate highway soon.

Update 7/1/2008: Had my alignment done today at Performance Chassis in Cary. Mark Cooper – great guy (with a great name!) does lots of work for guys in the Tar Heel Sports Car Club, so he understands performance suspension setups. I now have -1.8deg front camber (+/- .1 due to the fixed front camber), -1.5deg rear camber, and zero toe all around. Car handles GREAT and is stable. Love it.  Note that adding the camber plates had the effect of creating a TON of front toe-in… so I’m glad I got a quick alignment before I wore our my front tires… very reasonable prices, too. Highly recommended!

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