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Journalist buys a car – part 3 (and likely the last)

May 12, 2013

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Making the MINI work:

When I bought my 2002 MINI Cooper (base) in January 2012, I knew it needed some TLC. The tires were bald, the interior wasn’t terribly nice and the exterior looked like the only water it had seen was from sprinklers. Two days after it arrived, detailing made the silver/black MINI look a heck of a lot better. Several weeks passed before the new tires arrived from our friends at Firestone, so finally the car was drivable.

It didn’t take long to figure out that 115 horsepower wasn’t going to cut it, even with a 2875-pound car. Heck, most Kia and Hyundai cars have plenty more than that! And it wasn’t just the power that bothered me, it was the delivery. The MINI just felt like it wanted and needed to breathe better. Since “breathe right” strips don’t fit across the nose, I looked to other means.

I’ve always been a fan of K&N’s Typhoon cold air intake systems – I had one on my previous car, a 2003 Mazda Protege5 – and liked the extra power and better mileage. So I contacted K&N and, once again, they agreed to help me out.

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Here’s the intake before K&N’s Typhoon was installed

While at the SEMA show in Las Vegas shortly thereafter, I also made contact with MagnaFlow, whose cat-back exhaust systems are endorsed by the legendary Mario Andretti, a guy I’ve worked with over the years.  Just like K&N, MagnaFlow wanted to be involved in my little project.

Here’s a question any sane person would ask – why on earth perform all these updates to a 10-year-old vehicle with well over 100,000 miles on the clock? The MINI ran (and runs) quite nicely; the good condition of engine and transmission were two of the primary reasons I bought this car. I knew it could take it.

Although I had hoped to get dynamometer readings before and after, the cost of something like that was well beyond my financial capabilities, so I’d have to figure out the gains the old-fashioned way, by seat of the pants.

Soon after SEMA, I had one huge box holding the exhaust system (about the same height as me) and another with the intake taking up a corner of my living room. Now I had to find a likely mad scientist to install the goodies. That became a trial.

But I have a friend – a real friend – who read the instructions in both boxes (and begged me not to tell on him – we all know guys don’t read instructions, right?) and said it looked pretty straightforward. We made arrangements to do the installation after my trip to the 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

On the appointed day, we showed up at Lomita 911 Service and the exercise began. Believe it or not, the most difficult part of the removal and replacement of these two items was the technician, Wolfgang, trying to figure out how to get the hood up! MINI has the cockpit release on the right side of the firewall, while you release to lift from the left side of the hood – confusing if you don’t know how it’s done.

Finally pal Larry and tech Wolfgang figured it out (with my help, obviously). As Wolfgang gently removed and replaced each piece, he completed it all in under an hour and a half.
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Doesn’t that look better and cleaner?

My first reaction was that the entire assembly was much quieter than I thought it would be. As a profoundly hard of hearing person, I didn’t want it to be obnoxiously loud, but I did want to hear and feel what was going on both under-hood and beneath the car. It all works.

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Wolfgang and Larry install the exhaust

After returning Larry to his nearby shop where he works on some of the sweetest Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the Los Angeles area, I decided it was time to test it all out.

The MINI has a redline of 6750 rpm; before this installation, the sweet spot was just over 3000, which is just under 70mph. Now the engine both feels and sounds happy at about 3250, or closer to 75mph. And it’s been tested, both in city and highway driving.

Getting around corners is much, much better and on-par with supercharged models of the MINI Cooper. Power application, throttle tip-in and overall balance feels so much more confidence-inspiring. Before this installation, there was so much lag off the line but now power delivery is near instantaneous.

What’s even better is that the added power hasn’t sapped fuel economy. In fact, during a trip in late February from my Long Beach home to Phoenix and back for the second NHRA race of the year (a six-hour flog), I got nearly 35 mpg using Premium fuel, which is what’s suggested by MINI.

In its former guise, my MINI got maybe 31-32 so we’re looking at an increase of about 10%. My seat-of-pants figures tell me we’re probably getting about 10% better power, too. The ride to/from Phoenix was very, very nice. The car ran like a champ, gave me sufficient power and, as I said earlier, better fuel economy. Does it get any better than this? Well, yeah it does. We passed California’s smog test with exemplary scores, not bad for a now-11-year-old car.
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Thanks to our sponsors!

Many thanks to these partners for making my daily driver a more complete vehicle. It rides so much better with the Firestone Indy 500 Wide Oval rubber (205 50R 16), the engine breathes finely with the K&N Typhoon cold-air intake system (in red) and with the big ol’ MagnaFlow exhaust pipe peeking out from under the rear. To say I’m a lucky person is just starting to state the facts.

By Anne Proffit – All photos ©Anne Proffit 2013

 

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