For the last several months, I’ve been waffling over replacing my exhaust. I had Dan Zipkin at Grassroots Garage perform the “one-ball” modification on my stock exhaust about a year ago. And for a while, I was quite happy with it. But as I started to see more cars with nice stainless exhausts, I became less satisfied…

Well, I finally spent some time attempting to think rationally about it (yeah, like anything I do regarding this car is RATIONAL…) and realized that I like the way the one-ball sounds (except when it’s cold, and that doesn’t last long), and I don’t expect to get a big performance improvement with a different exhaust, and I like the fact that the one-ball is paid for… I just didn’t like the way it LOOKED…

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While I thought the OEM “beer can” tips were cool and understated for a while, I’ve been longing for some more attractive, aggressive slash-cut tips. And I realized the one-ball itself is UGLY… usually some dingy shade of silver/rust/tan, hanging down asymmetrically on the left side…

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So I decided to do something about the aesthetics of my one-ball (takes a brave man to say that out loud) without spending the several hundred dollars a replacement exhaust would cost.

Step one – The Stealth One-Ball

After seeing some of the new aftermarket exhausts coming in a “stealth” flat black treatment, it made me wonder – what if I did that to the one-ball? So I got a can of Dupli-color 1200deg “high heat ceramic” flat black engine enamel, a free afternoon, and went to work.

I put the car on four jack stands and removed the battery box skidplate and the cabrio rear chassis brace, then dropped the exhaust. I took the exhaust into my shop and cleaned it thoroughly with a Scotch-brite pad and some industrial metal cleaner I use for my sculpture work, then rinsed it well. Then I applied several light coats of the paint. Frankly, I was amazed at the results…

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While I was at it, I decided to take care of a few other visual distractions. From a low-angle view of the rear of the car, you also see the edge of the battery box skidplate, part of the battery box heat shield (behind the exhaust tips), and the galvanized lower suspension control arms.

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The skidplate and the heatshield got the same engine paint treatment as the exhaust.

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For the control arms, I used a can of brush-on Dupli-color brake caliper paint. I prefer the G2 2-part paint for calipers, but this stuff should work fine in this application – and it’s cheaper and a LOT of it comes in the can, so I have lots left for other projects. I cleaned the arms well before applying the paint to the rear side and bottom edges. If it doesn’t stick well, I’ll strip them later and use some primer specific for galvanized metal… but the caliper paint is pretty “sticky” stuff, so I’m optimistic that it will last, and it’s easy to touch-up as needed.

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I reinstalled the exhaust, and I LOVE the significant improvement it makes to the rear view of the car. It’s one of those things that very few people will notice, because now it just looks “right”…

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Step Two – Exhaust Tips

I spent weeks looking for the “right” exhaust tips. I found some that I liked that were a couple hundred dollars EACH… crazy, IMHO. I found lots of cheap stuff that I didn’t like. I really wanted some nice slash-cut tips, approximately 3″ in diameter, but on the MCS, size and installation are a challenge because of the bend and clearance of the stock exhaust. The stock tailpipes end flush with the rear bumper fascia, and are only straight and level for about one inch, then bend in different ways to head to the muffler. These pipes are about 1.75″OD. So you need tips that are VERY short (if you don’t want them extending several inches beyond the bumper), and you’re probably going to have to do some fab work to make anything fit (other than the MINI aftermarket tips, which don’t turn me on).

I finally found a tip design that I liked, at a price I could afford – Thermal R&D model 3246A. These are beautiful 3″OD, 6″ overall length, 2.25″ID slash cut double wall polished stainless tips. I bought a pair from JC Whitney (the only place I could find them) for $50 each. I knew I’d have to do some work to make these fit.

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I pulled off the beer cans and took a look at how the new tips slipped on. The OEM tailpipes bend up just behind the bumper – so I decided to notch the top of the inlet of the new tips to clear these bends. Since the OEM pipes are 1.75″, that’s the size of the notch.

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I measured and marked lines for the cuts, making sure to get them ON THE TOP of the inlet tube. Then made the initial rough cuts with my plasma cutter.

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When both were done, I ground down the slag from the cuts, cleaned them up a bit, and test fitted both of them to determine how far they needed to slide on, to see if there were any other interference issues, and to determine the relationship of the tips to each other when installed. I determined that the black bumper fascia has a thick “rim” along the inside that was hitting the tips, and preventing them from being level. So I trimmed about 1/2″ off the inside edge of the fascia just above the tips. You can’t see it unless you’re looking up at the tip area from underneath.

Then, after some more test-fitting, I took the tips back to the shop and fired up my MIG welder. I did a spot weld at the back of the outer shell where the two tips touch to hold them together. Then I made a plate from one of the notch cut-outs and spot welded this between the tips to make them into one single, solid unit.

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At first I was going to put the plate on top – but decided that I didn’t want to risk clearance issues, or the possibility of seeing it recessed beneath the bumper. So I put it on the bottom. No one will see it unless they’re on their back under my car…

Did some final test fitting, and determined that I could mount them for now with a couple of stainless set screws up from the bottom, 1/4″ back from the end of the inlet tubes. As these screws were tightened up, the tips rotated right up to level and were nice and centered. Got a few scratches on the tips while fabbing them, so I’ll take them back off and polish them out at some point… they extend 2.5″ beyond the surface of the bumper. I could probably adjust them half an inch shorter if I wanted.

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The Final Result

The new rear view of the car is MUCH different – and MUCH better – than before. The mechanicals under the car “disappear” and the ridiculous OEM beer can tips are gone… I LIKE it…

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