WooHoo! Mod Day!

So today I made the pilgrimage to Thomasville, NC to “Mini Mecca” of the Carolinas – GrassRoots Garage. I had an appointment to have my two remaining pre-Dragon mods done – a 15% pulley install and a one-ball exhaust mod. I’ve done EVERYTHING else to Blimey myself. But these two are beyond my skill level… They are DEFINITELY not beyond Dan Zipkin’s…

If you’re not familiar with Dan and GrassRoots – Dan is a highly certified and highly rated BMW technician who was selected to be the first MINI technician in North Carolina, back when Flow BMW acquired their MINI franchise. Dan got MINI trained and certified, and performed prep and dealer option installs on almost all of the first year’s MINIs delivered in North Carolina. As Flow grew their staff of MINI technicians, Dan trained and supervised the team. Eventually Dan took an opportunity to move on to the area’s Bentley dealership – but remained in high (and growing) demand for off-hours work for the area’s MINI community as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced MINI mechanics around. Eventually Dan opened his own garage – GrassRoots – to service the growing MINI community. It’s now sort of a rite of passage for a MINI enthusiast here to go spend a day with Dan, have him take you for great barbecue for lunch, and leave with a more capable MINI.

Grassroots Garage – note the three MINI race cars in various states…

Blimey Lift

Here’s the man, the legend, Dan Zipkin…

Dan Zipkin

So – after that brief pause for a commercial interruption –

The Pulley!

Dan prefers CravenSpeed pulleys. Craven produced some special, very cool pulleys for Dan, laser engraved with the GrassRoots Garage logo. And RED – which we all know is the fastest color.

GrassRoots Pulley

After much consideration, I opted for a nice, conservative 15% pulley – this pulley is 15% smaller in diameter (and thus circumference) than the stock supercharger pulley. As a result, for any given engine RPM, it turns the supercharger (and water pump) 15% faster than stock. I’ve never heard of anyone having engine problems with 15% pulleys – but there have been some folks who have reported issues with smaller pulleys.

An interesting sidebar – Dan had a JCW pulley in the shop that had been removed to fit a smaller pulley. We took a pair of calipers to it and it was – hold onto your pants – 10.4% smaller than stock. NOT the 14.something% commonly thrown around as fact. The Craven 15% pulley measures 15% smaller than stock.

So… a pulley install is a bit more involved on an automatic transmission MINI than on a manual – and after watching Dan do it, I’m darn glad I didn’t try it myself. To access the pulley, Dan puts jacks under the engine and transmission, disconnects the mounts for these, and lifts the engine to expose the supercharger and pulley. Then a pulley puller is used to remove the stock, pressed-fit pulley from the supercharger shaft.

Here’s the stock pulley with the puller attached:

Pulley Puller

And here’s the engine with no pulley:


And here’s my nice, new, engraved, RED 15% pulley, with belt and tensioner re-installed!
Pulley Installed

See how easy that was? hehe

Dan did a LOT of steps before, after and in between these photos. One thing we did: there is a rubber grommet in the bottom of the stock airbox, with a hole that enables the airbox to get a bit of cold air from the cowl area. With the Dinan intake, this is still in place. The hole is probably 25% as large as it could be – the rest is covered by a useless rubber membrane that restricts flow. Dan cut away the extra material to effectively open my Dinan intake even more. Extra cold air for $0 – I like!

Next up….

The One-Ball Mod!

After a lot of studying available exhaust options, I chose to go with the aptly named “One Ball Mod” of the stock MCS exhaust. In the stock exhaust system, exhaust gases flow out the exhaust header, through the catalytic converter, through an almost-straight pipe to the rear of the car. Gases then flow through a resonator on the passenger side, through a muffler on the driver side, and out twin tailpipes. This modification removes the resonator (the big, heavy can on the passenger side of the exhaust system) and re-routes the exhaust pipe to the remaining muffler. The result is less weight (about 20 pounds), a little more volume and “growl”, less backpressure, and better flow resulting in more power. And MAYBE less “drone” at low RPMs and highway speeds. And the only cost is some labor to perform the cutting and welding required.

Here’s the “before” photo – with two “balls”:

Two Balls

Dan marked the exhaust at the location to be cut. then removed the cabrio-specific bracing under the rear of the car, the exhaust hangars, and unbolted the exhaust from the cat. Then he removed the exhaust from the car. Then the scary “point of no return” part – Dan started hacking up my exhaust with a reciprocating saw! I knew this was coming – but it was still a LITTLE unnerving… The first not-easily-reversible thing I’ve done to the car…

After the initial cut, Dan re-installed the straight pipe on the car, to assist in lining up parts to be welded. I bet this would sound NICE…
No Balls

Then Dan cut off the resonator, and cut out some pieces of pipe to use for the re-routing. Here’s the now-worthless resonator…


He then placed the muffler/tailpipe assembly back on the car and spent a while test fitting and modifying a couple of sections of pipe until he had the fit “just right” – then he tacked everything in place with the welder. REAL men fearlessly weld inches away from full plastic gas tanks…
Dan Welding more

Then he removed the whole assembly from the car, completed welding the joints, let it cool, and reinstalled the system. Here’s the result. Dan did a fantastic job getting this to line up – it’s straight, the tips are centered, and it’s solid.
One Ball

The re-routed, welded pipe – no holes, plenty of clearance in all the right places. Not as pretty as a brand new $700 stainless system – but for $100, it’s a thing of beauty to me!
One Ball Welds

I love the way this sounds – more growl, a little more volume, it amplifies the burble a bit, but it’s not obnoxious and not at all “ricey” sounding.

While Dan was working, UPS delivered a shipment of 12 rare, previously unobtainable Non-BMW-branded-or-priced NGK “JCW” plugs. Here’s proof:

NGK Plugs

These are the same plugs sold as JCW – just without the JCW price. They’re NGK number BKR7EQUP. These cooler plugs should help prevent pre-ignition and/or fuel “dumping” with the pulley. Soooo…. now Dan has 8 plugs left. The first 4 are installed in Blimey!

And, while I was there, I had Dan download my ECU to have an MTH tuner file generated. I have my first scheduled dealer service after the Dragon – after that, if they don’t flash the ECU, Dan will have MTH generate my tuner file and I’ll stop by for an extra “boost”… more to come on that later…

I drove the 2 hour route home – over some moderately twisty, open country roads. The pulley and exhaust, combined with my existing Dinan intake, are AWESOME! There’s significantly more pull and power from about 3000 RPM up to redline. And I LOVE the sound – both the added supercharger whine, and the improved exhaust sound. It’s all good! Blimey loves more throttle!

Let there be LIGHT!

So several folks on NAM scared the beejezus out of us newbies about Midnight on the Dragon. They basically implied – or said outright – that if you don’t have driving / rally lights, you’re going to be Dragon bait.

Not wanting to be Dragon bait, I researched what my options were. Factory driving lights are obscenely expensive. So I opted to shamelessly copy my buddy ImagoX and install Hella 2500 lights with Outmotoring.com brackets. ImagoX wrote up a fantastic how-to on NAM for this combo, and I like the look, features and PRICE of this setup – about $130 total including shipping and stainless steel screws & bolts from Lowes.

Matt’s instructions made this a pretty straightforward 2 hour install. I just had to splice about a foot of extra wire into the battery power lead – everything else is per Matt’s guide. I’m currently using the 3-way switch that comes with the kit, it snaps sideways into the knock-out on the euro parcel shelf. Later I’m going to rewire the angel eyes into my parking lamps and the driving lamps into my high beams. But for now this is good enough for the Dragon!

Here are the results – including Blimey’s UJ grille and custom mag stripes!

Hella 2500 driving lights - side

Hella 2500 driving lights - front

These things make some LIGHT too! I’m waiting on some 65watt high intensity bulbs from Daniel Stern for my high beams that supposedly put out twice the lumens as the stock bulbs. With this combo, I should be able to sufficiently light up the guy in front of me on the Dragon!

UPDATE: I rewired these tonight. Now the angel eyes come on with the parking lights. The switch allows me to turn off the driving lights, arm them so they come on with the high beams, or override so they’re on no matter what. Details of how I did this are on ImagoX’s original thread on NAM – see post #25.

UPDATE to the update: I received and installed my 65watt Osram high-beam bulbs from Daniel Stern – these things are BRIGHT. With these, plus the Hellas, plus the Xenons, it’s like Blimey has aircraft landing lights when the high beams are blazing… su-weet.

UPDATE 5/19/2007: My Hellas got some WATER in them (not sure how it soaked in there, but it did) so I took them off, dried them out, and put them back together with copious amounts of silicone sealant to keep the water out. While I had them apart, I cut and ground the “extra” mounting protrusions off the back of the light housings. It was pretty soft cast aluminum so it was pretty quick and easy. Cut them down with my air cutoff tool, then broke off some small pieces with pliers, then ground with my die grinder and a coarse rotary file, then sanded them smooth with my little “power file” belt sander. Painted the modified area with black Testors acrylic model paint I had lying around – a good color and gloss match. Here are the results. They look MUCH better this way I think… Still plan to make some better brackets – I bought some steel but haven’t had time yet…



Has Al Gore banned Halon yet?

After seeing how HOT MINI’s get… at least compared to, say, Hondas… I’ve gotten a bit paranoid about spontaneous Blimey combustion. So I broke down and bought a 2.5 pound Safecraft Halon extinguisher. Then after experimenting for a while and determining that there just plain isn’t a good place in the cockpit to put this thing otherwise, I broke down and ordered the Brey-Krause seat mount to put it on the front of the passenger seat. And because the standard wire-and-strap mount for the thing just seems flimsy, I ordered the Safecraft billet mount. I’m still waiting on the billet mount, but here it is on the standard mount…

Brey-Krause mount and Safecraft Halon extinguisher

While it looks like it might be in the way for the passenger, it really isn’t – it’s well behind where your feet typically go when riding or entering/exiting – and it still allows unobstructed access to the seat adjustments. It slides fore-aft with the seat. Very solid and very cool.

Why not just a plain old cheap red fire extinguisher in the boot?

1) “Plain old” fire extinguishers contain corrosive chemicals that can ruin the parts of your car that aren’t damaged by the fire…

2) I want it QUICKLY accessible in case I need it (and I hope I NEVER do).

3) Would make a pretty good glass breaker or weapon in a pinch…


Oh yeah, and I know that production of new Halon 1211 has been banned since 1994 as an ozone-depleting substance. But you can still buy “reclaimed” halon… kinda like “carbon credits” – you can have all the halon you want, as long as you don’t manufacture any more of it from scratch… actually, that’s a lot better than carbon credits, which don’t really do anything except redistribute wealth.

Blimey wants 30’s!

Someone posted a couple of pix on NAM of some donks…

30indonk.jpg donk-28lawless.jpg

So I was thinking – Blimey needs 30 inch rims!!!

That may be my look for MOTD6 next year.

Think of the BRAKES you could have with 30s. I’d have six of you Dragon tailgaters stuck under my car when I go from 70 to 0 in like 4 feet on a corner. That would be awesome.

And nobody would make jokes about my “cute little car” anymore.

And the size of the freakin Union Jacks you could get painted on a 30″ wheel…

So COOPERation (the god of MINI toons) mocked up an image for me. I LOVE it…

Blimey with 30s


A virgin no more…

I’m reclining in my “deluxe” room in the Robbinsville Microtel, basking in the afterglow of my first Dragon slaying. Ahhhhh.

I had a meeting in Asheville this afternoon. The weather was perfect. I had time. So I scooted over here for a quickie… Wow, what a road… it’s everything your buddy (or older brother) described it to be… and more… DOING it is way, way better than hearing about it – or looking at pictures of other people doing it… though I’m not quite sure I did it the right way, because I’m a little sore…by the time I was halfway back down, I was getting a little queezy… kinda like realizing during the second round that, even though your best friend’s mom is hot and cooperative, your buddy is BOUND to find out, sooner or later…

And boy, does my right elbow hurt… us old guys should do special exercises before and take some dramamine before submitting to the Dragon… or risk Dragon elbow and motion sickness… Getting old bites the big one…

I actually feel like I kinda “sowed my wild oats” so to speak, and got it out of my system. I pushed it – pretty hard – on the way up. I’m glad I didn’t do that with my family in the car… I think I can drive it much easier, more calmly, more smoothly and a little more slowly now that my masculinity doesn’t have to be proven… thank goodness for DSC… I don’t want to make a habit of relying on it to save my butt… but I’m glad it was there today…

The obligatory “been there, done that” photo:


And, just in case you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about… here’s what 11 miles and 318 curves of bliss looks like from space…
Dragon Sat

Kids say the darnedest things…

So I now have my USS and H-Sport rear swaybar installed, and have gotten used to what this lets me do…. A few days ago I met my wife and kids for dinner, then drove the kids home. It was dark, and we were heading home up a cool dragonesque uphill stretch with 4 or 5 nice twists – I always ask the boys (7 and 10) if they want to go fast on this stretch, and they always scream YESSSS!!!!!!

This time, thanks to my new mods, we went CONSIDERABLY faster than usual. The boys were hootin’ and hollerin’ all the way up (e.g. “AWESSSSOMMMME!!!”)…

As we near the top, my 10 year old yells from the back seat, “THAT WAS AWESOME!!! THANKS FOR PIMPIN’ YOUR RIDE, DAD!!!”…

I almost laughed myself off the road… That phrase had never been used in my household before… ah, television…

Blimey says “MORE THROTTLE, BLOKE!!!”

I installed my H-Sport 19mm rear sway bar today. Details on how are below. But now, between that and the USS, Blimey is BEGGING for more throttle in the twisties. The more throttle I give him, the better he carves his way around the corners (oh yeah, and he goes faster, too…). It’s a little creepy, like the car has developed a mind of his own. But I LIKE it. “Yeah, baby!”

I ALMOST held off on this. I ordered the H-Sport bar the same time I ordered the USS – about a month ago. But the bar was on backorder and I just received it this week. After reading a LOT of posts about how hard the sway install is on a cabrio, I came really close to just holding the bar until I took the car in for pulley and one-ball and letting Dan the Man do it. But I re-read all the cabrio-specific instructions I could find and decided that you only live once and I needed to sprout a pair and tear my car apart in the garage and hope for the best…

It really wasn’t that hard. I used Randy Webb’s How-to along with the H-Sport provided instructions (which are almost identical). Then I used tips from a number of different sources on the cabrio-specific issues, and improvised a bit on my own. Here are the keys that I think helped make it easy and uneventful:

* I unbolted the rear end of both gas tank straps. This allows the bar to slide a bit up between the tanks and the chassis – which helped a lot.

* I removed the two bolts and two washer-nuts (four different points) holding the middle-rear exhaust heat shield (the one that runs from the middle of the car back to where the exhaust turns toward the resonator/muffler). Then I did some creative heat shield origami to get that shield out from under the shield on the forward end – which let me slide the shield far enough forward to free the edge of the rear shield (the one over the mufflers). Then I could bend that part down and access the cabrio-specific center bolt of the subframe. I did this BEFORE removing the other subframe bolts – so once this step was done, everything else works just like the hardtop install. Using the heatshield origami approach not only provided a relaxing creative exercise, but also prevented any cutting or destruction of the heatshields, which some folks have resorted to on the cabrio. I was able to completely reverse the moving and folding of the heatshields when complete.

* I removed both rear struts completely. This was easy, and the extra clearance makes fishing the bars in and out much easier.

* Whenever I needed to lift the subframe, I used my race jack to do it. Made things go much easier than trying to fight it by hand.

    Here’s the unbolted gas tank strap. The bolt is “captive” – it doesn’t come out of the strap. Removing these (one for each tank) allows the bar to move forward between the tanks and the chassis – a big help in my install.Gas Tank StrapHere’s a photo of the heatshield origami. This photo is hear the middle of the straight exhaust pipe, where the two heat shields overlap. The bottom of the photo is toward the rear of the car. The upper (forward) heatshield is originally “on top” of the other one (it’s actually under it, but when you’re laying on your back, everything is kinda reversed) – preventing it from sliding forward. I carefully folded the edge of the forward shield down and forward, and slid the rear shield back as far as I could – this allowed me to get the rear (bottom) shield out from under the forward one and then slide it forward far enough to free the edge of the rearmost (muffler) heatshield. Note the stud on the right side of the photo – this and it’s twin on the other side (obscured in the photo) are what the nut-washers thread onto to hold the heatshields in place.
    Heatshield Origami

    Below is the view of the rear heatshield, as seen from the driver’s side of the car. The corner that is bent down is actually the forward edge of this heatshield, which was trapped behind the rear-middle shield before it was moved forward. The hole is where one of the bolts that secures this heatshield goes.
    Rear Heatshield

    The cabrio-specific 5th subframe bolt is up under there, you bend the heatshield away to access it. You’ll need a 16mm socket and a universal joint and an extension – or you can fight it without the universal if you misplaced yours (like I did).

    The new bar in place, before reassembly. The H-Sport stickers are good for at least 5 hp.

    Rear Sway Bar

    I did the entire install in about 3 hours including cleanup. Completely solo. I never felt like I needed another set of hands to pry or pull or lift – I was easily able to do it all with just the jack. And since no local MINI owners volunteered to come supervise and help, it was MORE BEER FOR ME…

I’m not a stud… yet…

My other project for this weekend, while I had the wheels off, was to install my Texas Speedwerks M14-M12 stud conversion. I really like how studs ease wheel changes. I don’t plan to use non-stock wheels anytime soon, so I don’t need the other benefits of studs (fit wheels and aftermarket brake hats with smaller bolt holes, longer length to support spacers for aftermarket wheels with different offsets).

So I did a test fit without LocTite on one wheel. The Muteki nuts don’t seem to contact the entire seat of the stock 5 spoke bullet wheels – they seem like they ALMOST go through the holes (though I’m sure this is just me being paranoid).

But the biggest issues I have is the length – the studs protrude almost an inch beyond the nuts – and well beyond the face of the wheel. Here’s the length compared with the stock lugnuts.

Lug Stud

So I’m checking to see if I can get M14 studs that are both fatter and shorter. Otherwise I guess I’m sticking with the lug bolts (argh).

Update: Jeff at Texas Speedwerks says the M14 studs are the same length, but the nuts are much larger and longer. So I’ll still have some stud exposed, but maybe it won’t look as “odd” to me… I ordered one stud and nut to test it. Stay tuned…

Update to the update: I got the M14 test stud and nut – it’s still a bit longer than I need / want, but it doesn’t look as “freaky” to me – because it’s fatter and the nut is larger/longer, it doesn’t *look* as long and “spikey”… and the larger nuts seem to completely fill the 60 degree taper like they should… so I shipped back the M12s and Jeff is cross-shipping replacement M14s to me. He says he’ll be recommending the M14s for stock wheels from now on. He’s been great to work with through this – very good customer service. I’ll post pics when I get them installed next week.

Painted Calipers go faster!

I’ve been wanting to paint my calipers for a while. For my driving needs, I’m pretty happy with the stock brakes (with Hawk Ceramic Pads). I may do the bronze bushing upgrade and maybe SS lines – but I don’t need a Big Brake Kit – at least no time soon. But I DO like the bling factor of painted calipers. And I thought red calipers would make some of my Union Jack wheel accessories “pop”.

Here are the “before” pix…

Front Brake Before Painting

Rear Brake Before

So a while back I bought a G2 Red Caliper Paint Kit. I’ve been waiting for a weekend where I had enough time, and the right temperature range, to do this (G2 recommends 56F-70F for proper paint curing speed). Yesterday all the planets aligned.

G2 Paint Kit

The G2 kit includes paint, stir stick, brush, brake cleaner and paint hardener. It’s important to get the brakes VERY clean, so you’ll also want a wire or stiff nylon brush. You need to get everything clean and masked before mixing the hardener with the paint, because you only have 2-4 hours of working time once these are mixed. I chose the G2 kit because the reviews I’ve read suggest that the colors stay bright and last a long time. Folks have reported that other paint kits required periodic re-painting…

First you need to get the car up on stands and all four wheels off. A lot of folks have posted questions about how to get on four jackstands. I use a race jack with a 3′ long piece of 2×4, and lift under the sill, between the two jack points, then insert stands on that side. Then I repeat on the other side. Takes 2 minutes and is VERY easy… Here are the results – shine courtesy of Prima Epic…

Four Jack Stands

Cleaning is important. I just changed my pads a couple thousand miles ago and cleaned the calipers pretty well then. Look how much gunk came out with the brake cleaner!!! You definitely want to put down some paper to catch this stuff… because you’ll end up with a small lake of brake cleaner fluid and brake dust (oh yeah, and you want good ventilation, and no flames or sparks…). I removed the pad retainer springs because I didn’t want those painted (or glued on by the paint).
Brake Gunk

Here’s what you want your calipers to look like before painting… nice and clean…
Front Brake Clean

I chose to mask ONLY the small parts on the caliper that I didn’t want painted (brake bleed nipple, rubber guide pin cover, brake line, parking brake hardware on rear). The brush allows good control during application. So as long as you’re willing to go slow and careful, you can avoid a lot of masking of disks and pads.

Rear Brake Masked

Painting first coat took me about 10 minutes per caliper to make sure everything had a nice, thin, even coat with no accidents. By the time I finished the first coat, it was ready for second coat which only took a few minutes per caliper. Here are the results – pretty clean…

Front Brake Painted

Rear Brake Painted

It’s VERY important (did I mention that it’s VERY important???) to let the paint cure for the full recommended time (or pretty darn close to it) before trying to reinstall the springs or wheels. The paint is VERY susceptible to marring with the springs before it fully hardens. So do NOT get impatient (like I did – twice) and try to put the springs back on the same day. Wait until tomorrow. Use great care and two pairs of pliers to get the springs back on without scratching your new paint job. I still ended up with a couple of little spots that I touched up with model paint…

But with the wheels back on, it looks GREAT, at least it does to me… The color looks less “orange” than the flash here makes it appear. It looks like the same red as the “S” logo on the side vents.

Front Brake Finished

Rear Brake Finished

I’m VERY happy with the results. Adds just a little bit of bling and dresses up the wheels and the side view of the car in general. It was a “must” for my Union Jack scheme. Anyone can do this – just takes a little time and patience – and a jack, and stands, and lug wrench, and pliers, and a brush, and paper to catch the gunk, and masking tape, and lots of paper towels, and more patience.

Consumer Reports pans MINI…

Drops from #11 to #28 in expected reliability – or something like that…

Some people swear by Consumer Reports – but not me.

I mean, the majority of Consumer Reports writers, reviewers, analysts (and a heckuva lot of subscribers) still live at home with their mothers….

OK, that was uncalled for. They just all still have Sunday lunch with their mothers….

I lost all confidence in them 20 years ago while working in the bicycle business. Used to have customers walk in asking for the specific models CR rated highest in their latest issue. Then I had to explain to disbelieving CR subscribers that the particular model in the mag hasn’t been available for 2 years… which was true. Context-challenged CR reviewer got pegged as a sucker by a bike salesman and got sold an OLD model, tested it, wrote the review, and never bothered to check if it was currently in production… geesh.

OK as a source on which toaster to buy. And maybe on which minivan to buy – maybe….

But worthless for information on enthusiast products of any kind, IMHO. Even for the products that capture reliability/satisfaction data from their reader base, I find that their reader base isn’t a representative cross section of Americans or humans in general (you are likely to have some particular tendencies to subscribe to CR – not 100% of the time, but more often than not). And it certainly isn’t representative of “enthusiasts” or “early adopters”. I filled out my Strategic Vision survey for my new MCSC tonight. There are many questions on there where I said I was “Delighted” or “Very Satisfied” that would register a “Failure” from someone less “enthusiastic” about my car (ride comfort, NVH, etc). Context matters A LOT in these areas. Reasonable convertible owners expect their car to (a) cost more to purchase (b) have more mechanical issues (c) be noisier (d) eventually cost $$$ to replace a top out of warranty if they keep it long enough… so when all these things come true, will I pan the car for low reliability? No. Would someone with different expectations? Probably.

Any magazine that pans Corvettes for going “too fast” or a Lotus because the rear end comes around when you let off the gas in a corner, does NOT share MY context, or understand my priorities… and doesn’t get a vote in my buying behavior…

But for folks who find that CR’s outlook on the world is reasonably aligned with their own, I highly recommend you follow their advice.

I have friends and family who tend to be commerce robots – CR is a key tool in their very mechanical process of choosing to spend money. My household doesn’t work that way… and we have a LOT more fun…