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My other car: a Mini Cooper S R53

I'm just waiting to get the car inspected, and then we'll figure out how to install the Sparco Evo2 on sliding rails, and get the car ready for a summer of track work, on that side of things.

We've booked a track day at the PorscheRing (formerly Pà¤rnuRing) in Pà¤rnu, Estonia, along with a cottage for a weekend in early June, so that's something to look forward to. One of the new guys to the group is rocking an M3 Convertible, so that'll be fun to chase down. Hopefully we can all make it onto the ferry without too many awkward noises and scrapes.
A couple of updates to the little MINI thread.

First, I managed to get up to Ahvenisto for a season opener; for a first day back, it went well, and I got my groove back. I re-installed my race bucket, but it won't go in on rails without some serious hacking of the Sparco sidemounts and I'm a bit wary of compromising their integrity. But at least my son claims to be able to drive from that seating position - even if it is fixed.

Sadly none of my buddies could make it, but that only meant that I could chase down BMWs instead, including a new M2 which appeared to be out for a Sunday drive on a Saturday and who got out of my way on my cool down in-lap. Nice chap.

Second, I still need to re-install my big brakes. Standard JCW stuff with Pagid street pads don't hold up.
In early June, we got together and effectively gate-crashed an Audi event (they don't require actual ownership of an Audi...) at Pà¤rnu in Estonia, which is now called the PorscheRing. We booked some space on the Viking XPRS ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn and convinced the loadmaster to put us on the lower car deck (as lowered cars struggle with the ramps to the upper car deck); he didn't take much convincing as a stuck car causes trouble for all...

It's less than a couple of hours from Tallinn to Pà¤rnu, and we'd found and rented a nice cottage just a few minutes from the circuit. It was an excellent track, quite flat, but very quick (we're deep into 5th on the two long sweepers), and such a joy to drive on a new track - first time in a long while. I'd definitely want to take the 997 around as well, as there's plenty of space and run off.

I had some great sessions, and once up to speed, got past a couple of Ford STs, an S3, a big Audi avant of some sort, a 3.2 Boxster, and a 996. The RS4, RS5 and R8 V10+ were pretty quick (especially the RSs in a straight line) and came wailing past on the straight. The nice 991 with buckets and cage didn't come out at the same time, so no comparison was available...

It wasn't all good, as an inner CV joint rubber failed puking grease all over the place and a lower rear control arm joint failed with a godalmighty bang mid corner at the end of the main straight but (a) I didn't crash and (b) I made it home. New parts have been ordered, but the poor MINI has been off the road as we then went off on summer holiday.

And I still need to source some hard-to-find hardware for the BBK as my temporary set up overheated a bit; I was just wanging the car into corners and relying on the mechanical grip (which is pretty good with Nitto NT01s.)
My Sparco EvoII fixed bucket seat in M - there's only one, as I tend to go out solo; it's a bit of a squeeze as the shoulders are pretty close to the door car which fattens as it reaches the B pillar.

You can see that the bolstered 'sports' seat in an R53 isn't good enough; the optional Recaro's are nice but wide and heavy. I don't have a cage or harnesses at this point, but they're on the list of course.


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We wangled a new drivers' side driveshaft into the MINI on Saturday; as ever, it's the disassembly that takes the time, especially the lower ball joint which took some persuading. Despite some 145k (km) of hard driving, the old driveshaft doesn't have any play so we'll refurbish the cv joints with fresh boots, give it a bit of paint and add it to the stash - just in case.

It's ridiculous that an OE BMW/MINI marked part is nearly 500eur when aftermarket parts range from say 60-100eur ... I got a Starke for 110eur including shipping from Germany. A friend has been running Starke in his Sprintex equipped track car (>290hp), and it hasn't failed yet so it makes you wonder. I didn't think that there was a MINI tax, but maybe they're learning from the Porsche tax. So much for budget track work.

Anyway, we'll be at the track on Sunday 25th September for the season-ender, and we'll have a sauna night on Saturday, hopefully it'll not be too wet and we can get some heat in the tyres even if it's not going to be too warm.

And by the end of October at the latest, we'll be back on winter tyres.
The track day was well-attended and a lot of fun; we burned through a whole tank of fuel and the front brake pads (though to be fair, they lasted for three track days).

Even if my MINI is track-prepped, it isn't a race car, and it was fun to see how it went compared to an actual race-prepped MINI (depending on the series); they have less weight and better tyres (or full slicks), so they will ultimately be able to get past, especially under braking. Still it's good fun to have a bit of a haggle through a few corners.

Since the local Mini club is part of the wider British car fraternity, a few other British cars will rock up, and it was especially fun to see a TVR Cerbera 4.5 out there on the track this year (obviously a UK import as right hand drive with the obligatory Pistonheads stickers). It is a beautiful thing, and it makes a wonderful noise, but it doesn't appear to be very quick anymore and as the cornering speeds were radically different, we just sailed past.
It was a bit of a premature call on the winter tyres, as it was only last weekend that I got around to mounting them, but it has been a dire autumn, warm and wet, and barely even a single frost, and I'm not driving the old thing - the brake pedal is way too soft right now.

We did give the rears a bit of an overhaul with some new sliding pins (as the calipers were sticking slightly) and I'll install some PBS ProRace (carbon ceramic) front pads and replace the brake fluid before heading out again.

The problem is, at this time of year, there's always so much to do outside in preparation for the winter, and there's so little daylight.
Really enjoyed reading through all that, what a brilliant car you have created.

I have always wanted a cooper S but never got one as every time i read about them the internet is riddled with horror stories of reliability issues...

So i have just had another look on autotrader to see what the prices are looking like...

I think 3k seems a reasonable entry point into an R53... but the same applies as always i dont know anything about these cars so would need a bit of knowledge before taking the plunge...

Wheni i last looked i ended up buying a Civic Type R FN2 instead mainly because its reliable and fun, iv been on a track day but i use the car mainly for taking the 3 tiny kids to school (i have a 911 and an Etron Gt for everything else) but do genuinely enjoy driving the civic it handles so well but does lack a bit of low down poke...

So i could swap the Civic for an R53 (i like swapping to try diff cars out) but dont want to end up with a lemon either!

Anyone have any buying guides or specific pitfalls to watch for with rough kitty needed to mitigate?

Thanks for the kind comments; this little car has probably provided more smiles per mile than any other.

What I don't really understand is why people don't remember that Minis (and MINIs) have been giant killers since the 60s, small, cute maybe, but capable of some serious point-to-point pace. Still, it doesn't get old to overtake ostensibly 'faster cars' at the track – even if they might eventually get by on a straight. Some guys will come over and ask, others will get angry, red-faced and leave.

If you're interested, there is a huge community (and not just in the UK, but the US, Netherlands, Italy...) and tons of garages and suppliers, but these cars are getting old nowadays (the 1st gen R53 Cooper S ran from 2002-2006), and tend to suffer from owners with no brain, no budget and no garage, a lack of proper maintenance and unsympathetic mods. You just need to start reading.

I don't think the cars are unreliable as such. The only times we've been stuck have been when we've been at the track and some mod has let go. And even then most of the time we've been able to fix it in the pits. The underlying car is solid, with a very strong gearbox, a robust engine 8that can produce a lot of power with a few mods) and a good set up out of the box.

I'd say yes, budget 3k for a decent one from a specialist, and then budget another 3k to sort out the delayed and accrued preventative maintenance over the next 12-18 months, and add some essentials. It will have oil leaks, it will have rusty subframes, and maybe some rust around the rear lights, but it'll fundamentally be OK unless there's been some water ingress and a ruined BCM, or it's been run dry.

There's little point in holding out for a John Cooper Works at this stage (unless you're a collector and it's 100% certificated original), as it's just a bit of marketing; all fast MINIs have had almost all the JCW parts stripped off and upgraded (although you would keep the airbox and catback), the rest is just frills. The only part my car doesn't have is the slightly ported JCW head; but if I'm sourcing a new head, it'll be a big valve job, not something with a bit of light dremeling.

So, if you're minded, and you like a bit of whine from a supercharger, get a MINI (probably the facelift from 2005-2006 with xenons, better rear lights, better dash) from a specialist, get some decent brakes (R56 at least) and – this is critical – make sure it's on decent suspension (as the original suspension was cheap crap with the ride quality of a roller skate) and let rip.
The R53 is back on the road after a bit of a break, and it now has fresh front PBS pads and Motul fluid, and we un-seized the Carbotech rear pads which had stuck themselves to the discs over the winter.

We also dropped the oil, put the car into front-end service mode (basically all the front down to the crash bar and rad gets loosened off for access) and eventually removed the sump (lots of things appear to be connected to the sump, air con on one side, lower engine mount on the other), so we could fit a baffled sump. Because obviously it needs it, at the speeds we reach ...

I was really pleased to note that the sump and crankshaft were completely free of any debris or oil sludge - the aluminium sump came clean with a squirt of Brakleen and a wipe. It seems that regular oil changes and good oil do make a difference, even on a tracked car. It's been about 50,000 (hard) km since the sump gasket was replaced (along with a bunch of other gaskets and o-rings and whatnot). My sump will now go off for a proper clean and some baffles to be welded in, and we'll do it all again on another car in the team. 4.7l of fresh 5w40 Castrol added of course...
This year's track work needs a bit more work.

First is the fix to the right lower adjustable control arm which has failed - I have some new rose joints to be installed but we reckon that the old bolts will have to be cut off the rear subframe, and we'll replace both joints on both lower arms to ensure proper articulation. And then the old 53 will need a new alignment, as it doesn't need that much rear camber (always the danger with a lowered new MINI). Now that I think about it, I wonder if I can find some little rubber boots to protect the joints?

Ideally, I'll be able to collect the missing hardware and reinstall the BBK at the front with the fresh two piece Reyland discs, refreshed six piston calipers, new Carbotech XP8 carbon-ceramic pads (ooh matron) and a full brake flush with Motul 600 for some serious stoppage :)

I'll also be looking for some fresh semi-slicks in 215/45-17 to mount on some white painted 17x7 OZ Ultraleggera's, so I can sell on my old ugly JDM-spec Enkei SC15s to someone in that 'scene' and free up some space in my garage, but the motoring budget has been damaged a bit by some unforeseen bills with the Discovery3 (ie rear wheel bearings and new brakes all round this February). :sad:
I finally removed the 'temporary' R56S OEM brake set up (essentially the gen2 front brakes with bigger calipers and discs) - it was on the car for 2 years, in part so my son could learn to drive with normal brakes. They were OK with Pagid street pads, and far better with PBS ceramic pads (as it should be, those things are £165 a set).

And I finally re-installed my K Sport BBK with a 304mm two piece disc and 6 piston calipers (it's about as much as I can fit under 16s). I ordered new discs from Reyland and a set of Carbotech XP8 carbon-ceramic pads at great expense, and had some trouble with the right hardware, but now the R53 stops as it should with a very firm pedal and great feel. The after-service from K Sport is a little lacking. Next time, I'd go with a better brand such as AP or something.

I still need to do the rear lower control arms as the rose joints have perished, although I did manage to distract myself with ideas of installing new lightweight alloy trailing arms, it seems that the rear subframe is a little crusty and could do with a proper refurb, along with all the other crusty parts, which seems like a winter project.
some track work at the PorscheRing Pärnu

I have now acquired a somewhat less crusty rear subframe for the R53 (from a later car), which I will hopefully be able to clean up and repaint over the winter. The plan is to replace the subframe, and trailing arms (adding lightweight alloy trailing arms), and new rose joints for the upgraded rear control arms. I'll also take the opportunity to do some rust-proofing of the underbody. Let's see what else makes sense, once I'm in there. I suppose the fuel tank straps, heat shields and what-have-you can all be renewed. And ideally, next winter, we'll do the same to the front subframe, although that's better protected by engine oil.
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A replacement rear subframe has been sourced, and is getting sandblasted and painted, so that project is underway; I also want to sort out some body rust around the rear lights. In the meantime, I picked up some sticky Nankang AR1s for next season's track work. Priorities right?

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