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R53 Mini Cooper S cheap old shed project

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I thought id start a build thread on here as I do enjoy reading about peoples projects and someone might enjoy reading my current one.


So, it all started off 4 weeks ago when the wife announced that she wanted to get rid of her Ford Edge (Range Rover sized car for those who haven't heard of them) as it was costing her too much money & get something cheaper such as a Nissan Juke. (Quite funny really as i'm actually the one forking out for the repayments on the Edge anyway). We had a Juke when they first came out for 4 years and got on well with it, so it seemed a good plan now they are more like £6k rather than £26k.


Then i'm sitting at work and the wife sends me a message saying she has found a car....





Now I know what your thinking... that isnt a Nissan Juke and you would be right it isnt. :lol:


So I know absolutely nothing about new Mini`s and now have to quickly do some online research and talk her through what to look at & check. Absolutely amazingly, looking at the MOT history on this one, its never ever ever failed an MOT or even had an advisory. Interior even looked brand new. So after some coaching the wife haggled the price down by a hefty amount and now has a Mini Cooper Convertible.


Now I know what your thinking again, thats not a R53 Cooper S and your right but im coming to that...


Anyway, as you do when you buy a new car your not sure off, we set off on a 500mile round trip to Wales and back to try it out. Car drove like new and whilst previously I never really liked the new Mini`s as I was a Classic Mini bloke, I started to really like it. Sure, with its 120bhp it felt slightly "sluggish" compared to my 650+bhp 997 turbo, but it was actually nice to drive. Nippy around town, easy to park and yet happily cruised at 80mph without any problems. It was quite fun!


When we got back I checked it over and amazingly the service history was correct - it had new oil, new air filter etc. Quite a shock really as usually when I check these things even though it says FSH, you can clearly see it hasnt been done.


With the wife not yet having sold her Edge, I decided to pinch the Mini for my daily commute. After a few days I am ashamed to say I started having thoughts about maybe I should get one. A quick search revealed you can pick up early Cooper S`s for less then £2000. That coupled with watching an episode of Wheeler Dealers US where they tackle the massive 100,000 mile service on one only served to increase my interest. The final straw was when I phoned my insurance company and they said it would only be an extra £80 a year to add a Cooper S to my policy.


So then the search began.....


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So I started reading up on the Cooper S`s and the early ones were more appealing to me as they were supercharged. I've never had a supercharged car before and the idea (and quirkiness) was appealing. I also realised that there was an endless amount of them for sale all with 100k miles on the clock as the cost of the 100k service was apparently nearly as much as the car was worth.


I test drove a couple and my god it was an interesting drive. Whole car rattles like its about to fall apart, the car seemingly doesn't come with any suspension at all. At 100k miles they were certainly very "worn in".


In the end the wife found one just down the road. It hadn't been serviced in 7 years(!), had 100k on the clock and had been sitting in someones garden for a year. Sounded lovely! :lol: I checked it out and the first thing I noticed was that it had clearly had a shunt at some point in the front, but had been repaired reasonably well. But most importantly it was cheeeeeeeeeep. I checked out the coolant level as you do and it was empty. Not a good sign. I had to put 2 litres of water in it before I dare start it. Oil was black as your hat, cobwebs everywhere. Brakes & brake lines very corroded,  gear stick didnt self centre, drivers window didnt work, steering wheel felt notchy when turning..... and it needed the mega 100k service. Perfect!


Bit of haggling, £1000 and "old owt ya hand, we have just bought ourselves a Cooper S".



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Got the car home and immediately started hammering ebay & amazon ordering about a million bits. Plan was to first give it its major major service, which at this miles is not only oil, oil filter, air filter, pollen filter, but also includes stuff like fuel filter, plugs and the supercharger service. In order to get to the supercharger you have to take off the bumper, and all the front end of the car, including the radiator & condenser, as well as the intercooler, air box, throttlebody etc. So not easy but should be fun.....  The Porsche wasnt happy giving up its spot in the garage, but hey ho, needs must. Into the garage and up in the air she goes...




First I drain the oil out...




Yep, that clearly hasnt been changed for a very very long time!




Nice new filter & oil put in.


Now to start work stripping the front off.....  with this bad boy it wont take long..




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Will be reading your exploits with this as we have a 13 yr old Mini Cooper.

I find it bags of fun around town.

Consumables like brakes and tyres for the diddy 15 inch wheels have been laughably low compared to the Zed :lol:


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I’m in for the updates :thumbs:


looks like a good little project. 

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So had a very productive week on the car. Firstly stripped the whole front end off..




So bumper, crash protector, then once you undo the air conditioning condenser (seen here) you can pull that to one side and lift the radiator & surround off.


The radiator was all rotten along the bottom as expected which hopefully is why there was zero coolant in the car when I first checked it.




So a new radiator sourced (about £40). The radiator surround was cracked and showing signs of accident damage, so I also sourced a new one of them and swapped all the bits incl the fan over from one to the other...




Then put it to one side to put back on the car later.


So now I can get to the super charger. I did read that you can change the oil whilst its on the car. I tried and it just didnt work. No way could I get any oil into the right hand side of it without it just pouring back out. So off the car it came...




Now whilst the supercharger is off, there are several things well worth doing at the same time as they are so much easier to get to. Firstly the bypass valve. Now this is notorious for causing boost leak. Basically the butterfly valve inside it doesn't always sit properly and causes boost leak. Its about £60. I swapped this for one which had been adjusted to perfection from a mini specialist.




Then next was the water pump. The cars done 100k miles and this is clearly the original pump. Bearing in mind the car had zero coolant in it also, I wasn't sure if the pump was any good or not. So, for the sake of £40 or whatever it was, I just got a new one. 5 minute job to swap it over.




Now, I am one of these people who tend to keep a car or motorbike standard for about as long as it takes me to drive it home. And so here's the first of many mods...




A reduced supercharger pulley. Now I heard all sorts of nightmares about how hard it was to remove the old pulley, but a proper pulley puller & some heat from a blow torch soon had it off. The new one is a 15% reduction pulley and should give the car a healthy boost in power. I don't know the exact figures, but I think it nearly doubles the boost. 


Finally, whilst I can get to the front of the engine...




It makes sense to also change the crank position sensor seal which is on the front of the block. This is notorious for leaking and whilst the seal costs pennies, you can see how much work is involved in getting to it..




Not bad for a days work!


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Whilst the wife is (very suspiciously) not moaning about me vanishing into the garage I figured id crack on the next day and see what else I could get done. Firstly I changed the gearbox oil...




Again this stuff looked well black and horrible. Apparently its a "lifetime" oil and so never needs to be changed. Needless to say the gear change now feels super light. You may remember I said that the gear stick didnt self centre, but after changing the oil, lubing both the gear change linkages up and greasing the gear stick itself, it freed up  nicely and now springs back into position nicely. :thumbs:


Its good practise when changing the gear box oil to make sure you can undo the filler plug first (seen here above the one with the oil pouring out), as you dont want to be in the position where you have drained all the oil out of the box and are unable to put any back in. :lol:


I used a big syringe with a bit of pipe on the end to suck the new oil out of the can and squirt into the gearbox. Nice easy job.


Here are the gear linkages... they are hidden under the airbox..




Then I decided to modify the airbox. This is a popular mod and you can buy ready made airboxes already modded the same, however its easy to do yourself....




So what we have here is the stock airbox, but with a generic aftermarket k&n filter fitted inside it. The Cooper S has 2 air feeds to the box. One from the front of the car above the radiator, the other through a hole into the bulk head. I enlarged this bulkhead hole to about 3 inches. Again, nice easy mod, filter cost about £40. 


Next finally to change the super charger oil... again, its apparently a "lifetime oil", but its very common when you come to change the oil to find zero oil left in the charger! Fortunately mine had plenty in it which is a good sign, but you can see the colour difference between the old and new below.... 




Id also been reading about how the header tank for the coolant has a tendency to split, and they are cheap, so I fitted a new one just to be on the safe side....




I must be coming over as some sort of mini expert, but honestly i'm not. I didn't know a thing about them until a couple of weeks back, but its amazing what you can learn through just googling! :thumbs:


Next I changed the spark plugs....




Its recommended to go with a colder plug if you have changed the supercharger pulley as more boost = more heat. The pulley usually comes as a kit - you get the pulley, the plugs & the smaller drive belt. Its worth noting you also need a special mini tool to release the tension on the belt tensioner - but luckily this only costs £25, and its always nice feeling to find another tool you can buy! :lol:


Now with the supercharger oil changed and all the other little bits I "just" need to put it all back together again!!!!

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The key I got with the car looked like this...




Pretty beat up, and the buttons didnt work. So I bought a replacement shell (on the left) from ebay cheaply, swapped the insides over and hey presto...




Now works perfectly! Only hiccup is that its the only key I have for the car and a replacement key is apparently over £200 from BMW.. so not sure if I will bother getting one or not yet as that's a lot of money!

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Surprisingly re-assembly of the supercharger and all the bits I took off the car really was the reverse of getting them off and surprisingly I didn't have any problems. The only issue I had was one of the wheel arch liners didnt 100% line up with the new radiator surround panel - more than likely due to its previous accident. However, I managed to bolt it all up.




I noticed the top radiator hose looked like it had been rubbing on something, so what better excuse to swap it out for some funky orange ones.




New radiator fitted.  Its worth noting I looked at whether it was worth getting a "performance" radiator, but the general opinion was that a cheep £40 OEM one was more than enough. I flushed all the cooling system out with a hose pipe, then put new coolant in and.... yep, she fired up straight away, without any problems. Always a very nervous moment. Let her run up to temp, bled the coolant and kept a very careful look out for any fuel, oil or coolant leaks. Fortunately none.


The orange hoses got me thinking and before you know it...




We have an orange theme now going on. The wing mirrors were originally chrome.




The seat-belts I had a local place re-web them in orange and they really stand out now!


I am debating whether to tango the wheels as well, or whether that might be too much.


But at least the car is now running. A quick test drive and the engine is miles more responsive now and feels a lot smoother. Apparently the ECU can "relearn" and change the cars fueling etc automatically, so after a few days of wringing its neck, it should drive even better.


However the steering feels a bit ratchety, the brakes are useless and the suspension handles terrible. Im not sure how much of it is simply because its been sitting for so long, or if stuff is knackered. Brakes are cheap so I will replace them anyway. A popular upgrade is to fit the newer R56 Cooper S front brakes as they had bigger calipers & bigger discs, but bolt straight onto the earlier cars. Euro Car Parts have 50% off their brakes, so ive just ordered all the bits I need. They should arrive shortly and in the meantime I will make sure I have my RAC card to hand and use the MINI for work over the next few days....

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1 hour ago, veeg33 said:

Tango wheels......YES!!!!

Amazing everyone i've asked, even the wife agrees, so as soon as the weather picks up its tango time!!!


Although I need to get some new tyres first. This has Dunlop runflats on it and my god, absolutely zero grip. Its a death trap. Thinking of some Michlean's as I get on well with them on the daily.



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If orange wheels are too much how about orange calipers and roof? Any pics as it is of the whole car?


Love the seat belts, how much as I’d love red on mine

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14 hours ago, LRF4N said:

If orange wheels are too much how about orange calipers and roof? Any pics as it is of the whole car?


Love the seat belts, how much as I’d love red on mine


This is how it looks atm...




I did see one the other day which had some orange stripes running down the middle which looked good. I think orange wheels would look pretty good. You can also see the pile of brake parts ready to fit next. Ive got new calipers & discs all round, with the bigger R56S Cooper S discs & calipers for up front. Got some stainless HEL front bake hoses too. I also noticed the front brake lines are heavily corroded and I expect there will be zero chance of undoing the old brake unions on the pipes, so ive bought some copper brake pipe & a flaring tool so will make my own brake lines to replace the old original ones.


Will be a busy weekend!


The seat belts were £60 each. The place I used re-uses all your original fittings and changes the webbing to whatever colour you want. They do a lot of work for people like Aston Martin and people send them their belts from all over the world. They did a 24hr turn around which I thought was good. I have seen cheaper on ebay, but dunno how they compare. They do certainly set the interior off and make it a bit different.

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Loving the work - that Mini has had more TLC in the last few weeks than in the last few years :lol:  :thumbs:


PS - Tango the wheels :thumbs:

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I have been driving the Mini quite a bit this last few days and the more I drive it, the better it feels. The ratchety steering seems to be vanisihing, the sluggish throttle response seems to be better and the engine now seems to rev higher so much more easily. Its true what they say, cars need to be driven.


First of the jobs this weekend was to change the fuel filter. Now these are another "lifetime" component, but you can see from the pics below how filthy it was. Even the fuel in the filter canister looked more like oil it was so black.




New one..




This was probably the hardest thing I have done on the car so far. It was so fiddly. The filter is under the back seat and sits within the tank. Luckily the tank was pretty nearly empty, but you cant remove the whole canister from the car, you have to do it in-situ and its so awkward with you physically being wedged behind the drivers seat, hunched over the thing trying to get it undone. The big seal you can see on the left above goes around the lid to seal the lid of the filter housing against the body of it. Unfortunately I think this isn't sitting properly - apparently easily done - as when I filled the car up, petrol is now leaking from around the top of the housing. So I will have another fun job later in the week re-doing this again. Boo!


Next was the brakes...


Back brakes before..




And after..




Nice & easy.


Now the fronts..



Not as easy! The carrier bolts just wouldn't undo. The impact gun just rounded them off, so in the end I had to smash a smaller sized socket onto them, use a pry bar with a length of scaffolding attached and plenty of heat. And eventually they came undone. What an absolute mission. Fortunately on the other side, they came undone easy as anything.




I also had to make up some new brake lines as the old ones were so badly corroded there was no way the union would undo... I was actually quite surprised they weren't flagged as an advisory on the MOT, which along with a few other items I've noticed, leads me to be  bit sceptical about how honest the MOT actually is!




Another easy job... I used copper lines as so easy to bend into shape. And finished off with some HEL braided brake hoses. So the car now has the gen 2 Cooper S bigger brakes fitted. New discs, calipers, pads, hoses. All came in at about £250 so very good value..




And a bit more tango on the new brake calipers!


I finished off by pressure bleeding all the brakes. I don't think the fluid has ever been changed as it was black.




This pressure bleeder is a great bit of kit, first time I've used it. Makes it a very easy 1 man job. I also used some decent brake fluid..




I bled the brakes through, making sure plenty of new stuff went through the lines. Then left it over night, and did it again the next day to make sure.  1 litre of brake fluid was more than enough and I have some left over.


On the road, you can really feel the difference. The car stops so much sharper now. The only pain is that the Mintex pads I used squeal like a pig when your not braking. I am still in the "braking in" period, so I really hope they do get better. Apparently Mintex say no hard braking for first 200 miles, but reading online, doing a few good emergency stops apparently cures the squealing, so I will see. The pads even came with anti-squeal shims so I can only assume its the pad compound. Still they were cheap enough, so if they don't stop I will just bung some different ones on.


Now the car goes well & stops well, the next stop is handling. Something is not right with this car as it handles horribly. Mega under-steer, tyres skip over the road, its very scary. The Dunlop runflat tyres wont be helping, and the 100,000 mile old suspension is heavily corroded so I think its due replacement. I also think its got some sort of after market lowering springs on, but I need to measure a stock car really to compare the ride height. The car rides lovely when your cruising at 80 or 90 with no pulling so I think its all straight and I think just a suspension refresh & a few upgrades hopefully should sort it!


My postman will have a few more heavy delivery bags this week!

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Good news is the squealing brakes were down to me not clipping the rear brake pads to the brake piston. Not something I've seen before, but a 5 minute fix. 


Bad news is during some 5th gear power runs from 70 upwards the clutch started to slip. So it looks like gearbox will have to come out and new clutch fitted. Annoyingly I have to strip the car down again and remove a lot of the bits I took off before, but hey ho.


Researching clutches and theres 2 camps. One says ditch the heavy dual mass flywheel and go for a lightened alloy one with a sprung clutch. Others say the stock one is fine for 270bhp and cheap so just use that. I'm still not decided. Car is fine from 0 to 80 with no slip so it's not urgent but something on the list.

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Not done much this week on the Mini as I havent had time, but still managed to do a couple of things.


First was re-gassing the air conditioning. The air conditioning wasnt working, and I noticed when I took the radiator off that a wire going to the air con compressor was not connected. I have re-connected this and have now re-gassed it, so hopefully that will fiix it.




Secondly, the intercooler on these cars is very small! Its about the size of a packet of cigarettes compared to the beasts on my 911. With running the 15% pulley & more boost I figured more heat will be created so it would be worth upgrading the intercooler. Its also positioned directly on top of the engine - so not ideal heat wise. Bit of research and there are various after market off-the-shelf intercoolers, all around the £500 mark, which baring in mind I only paid £1000 for the car I am struggling to justify that sort of outlay. However, you can get cheap Chinese intercoolers off ebay for round £80 which seems much more attractive. So I got one and fitted it.


Heres a comparison between the standard and the new one.




And a pic of it fitted...




Fitting was fairly easy - as expected it didnt line up 100% but a bit of grinding down on the inlet manifold and modifying the hose clamps seem to have done the trick. Ive not leak tested it yet, but it feels like its okay. The cars pulling 14psi and intake temps in this hot weather havent gone above 36 degrees yet according to my data logging.


Next on the list is suspension replacement & fitting a load of powerflex bushes everywhere.

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2 hours ago, StormWhite said:

I can't help but think this old shed project has cost you quite a bit.

:lol: surprisingly not really. Normally this year/model would cost about £2000 for a half decent one, which you would still expect to spend a bit on parts. I got this for £1000, so basically the money I have saved is going towards fixing it up.


Bits are pretty cheap - like the new bakes, about £250 all in for new discs, pads, calipers, hoses etc. New radiator was £40, waterpump £40, brake fluid change was £13.99, spark plugs £8, full service cost £50, gearbox oil change was £24. So not a lot of money for standard parts really. All off ebay or ECP using their discount codes.


If you were paying a garage labour rates then definitely it would not be worth doing as bits like the super charger service which whilst the oil only cost £14, the labour charge would be ridiculous. 


Where costs can soon add up is on mods, which in general you don't get your money back on, but even then I've tried to not go too silly. The 15% pulley was about £100 incl new aux belt which the car needed anyway, the K&N air filter was £40,  The suspension refresh will be the biggest cost so far, but even so, going for aftermarket coil overs is cheaper than going for stock shocks/springs. Fortunately the car already came with a sports exhaust on it, which has saved me £400.


So far I've only had 2 surprises which I didn't spot before I bought the car which will be additional cost. The clutch... but if I do that myself the clutch is only £75 or £250 incl the flywheel. And the other is that the exhaust manifold which is blowing. Not sure what to do about the manifold yet. I could get a cheap one and fit myself, or could go for a janspeed one. I may have to see what comes up 2nd hand to save some cash.


I have set a budget of about £3000 in total, including cost of buying the car, which isn't a lot and it should be an awesome car with lots of new bits for that money. So far I'm under that (i think!), but I will get a spreadsheet going of all the costs and post up at some point to give people an idea.

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Yea with you being able to carry the work out yourself you’re quids in


Interesting with this though, a lot of buyers panic when a car his missed a service or 2 but you’ve showed even with the history of this it’s been rescued for not a lot of cash. Obviously it’s helped with you buying it for cheaper but definitely enjoyed reading this thread so far. Keep it coming 

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