Everything in MODeration: 5 Wallet-Friendly R50/53 Mods

Driver's Side Cabrio Brace

With this article we are introducing our latest MotoringFile contributor Brendan Nystedt. Brendan has been a MINI enthusiast for quite a few years and currently owns a 2006 MINI Cooper (R50). Look for more from Brendan – especially on the topics of modifications and the R50/R53.

One of the greatest things about owning a MINI is the variety of ways to make the car yours.  Numerous vendors offer all sorts of add-ons from full chrome interior kits to skid plates to rear wiper delete kits. These five mods are my favourite mods which didn’t cost me very much and have added even more enjoyment to my 2006 MINI Cooper.

1. Front Cabrio Braces.

Originally developed for the R52 (first-gen Convertible), these braces fit between the lower front frame and the strut towers.  The engineers at MINI deemed these a necessary addition to the Convertibles due to the lack of a roof.   Now, they can be added to your MINI so you can take advantage of the additional structural enhancement.  They are cheaper than buying a full-blown front strut brace and have a stealthy, stock-like appearance.  Because the cabrio braces are a stock part, they may be ordered through your BMW parts counter or through various discount BMW parts houses on the internet (mention MotoringFile for a discount at sponsoring dealers).  Additionally, for those willing to pay a bit more, Way Motor Works offers them powdercoated in red or blue.  Out the door for a stock set I paid around $48 including shipping.  That gets you 2 braces and 8 torx-headed bolts with which to attach the braces.  Count on about 45 minutes to install.  It can be very tricky getting the bottom bolts lined up properly.

Caveat Emptor: Because these were developed for the cabrio, the mounting holes were added in the chassis to coincide with the Euro release of the drop-top MINI in 2004.  Cars built from approximately 2002 to early 2004 likely do not have the threaded holes with which to mount the braces.  Be sure to check for the tell-tale black plugs where the bolts thread into.  If you’re hellbent on installing the braces, early MINI owners have drilled holes and used bolts, nutserts and one even welded them his to his car.  Check around on North American Motoring and do your homework before attempting such an installation.

Where to purchase: Your local BMW Parts counter, Sponsoring dealers (Morristown, MINI of Manhattan, Otto’s MINI), Way Motor Works.

2. FES Auto-Up Circuit.

Picture courtesy of FES Auto

Sold by MINI patron saint Matt Richter, FES offers this time-tested design based off the original Ian Cull Auto-Up circuit.  What this device does is add auto-up windows to your MINI.  This means no more holding the toggles up while trying to shift.  Instead, a quick double click up on the toggles sends the windows closing of their own volition.  But, as they used to say, that’s not all.  The Auto-Up Circuit also includes a programmable feature called Track-Mode DSC.  This feature automatically disables DSC when the car is started.  FES advises that this only be used on a race track but I know of at least one speed demon who drives his MINI without DSC most of the time in order to avoid the dreaded electronic nanny.  On the latest version, there’s even more features than the version that I have.  The Auto-Up Circuit costs $50 and is available on FES Auto’s website.  The instructions are included and require a few torx drivers and some muscle to remove the knee bolster panel underneath the steering wheel.  Which leads me to my next mod.

Where to buy: FES Auto

3. Euro Parcel Shelf.

Courtesy of Moss Mini

Back when men were real men, women were real women and MINI drivers all waved at each other, BMW used to allow orders of this excellent part.  It’s a replacement for the flat, textured piece of plastic that goes underneath the steering wheel.  It gives the driver a great place to stick parking tickets and half-eaten crullers.  Because of the fact that the part isn’t Department of Transportation approved for US consumption, BMW no longer sells it on this side of the pond.  But fortunately, one company still stocks the piece and sells it– Moss Mini.  They charge $130 for the shelf and a rubberized mat which goes on top of the shelf.  A good one-two combo of mods would be to install the FES Auto-Up Circuit at the same time as installing the parcel shelf.  It could save the intrepid modder from having to remove the stock knee bolster twice.

Where to purchase: Moss Mini

4. CG Lock.

Taking corners quickly is just about a MINI’s favourite activity.  But, the problem is that the driver often will slide around in his or her seat, losing touch with what’s going on while trying to defeat the forces of physics.  This device lets the driver cinch down the lap belt, effectively pinning down the hips to the seat bottom.  The manufacturer mentions that their product offers most of the effective restraint of a full racing harness.  This is a great mod for those thinking about getting a race harness in their MINI.  Race harnesses just aren’t safe in street cars because the driver is pinned down in the event of a roll-over accident.  Race harnesses are meant to be paired with a roll cage, keeping the roof of a car from collapsing if it goes ass over teakettle.  But, in a street car the harness locks the driver’s torso into the seat so it cannot move to the side if the pillars collapse, crushing the driver.  CG Lock allows performance-minded drivers on road and racetrack an alternative to a harness while enabling clear communication between your backside and the road.  The CG Lock is available at many Pep Boys locations nationwide as well as direct from their website.  Mine set me back around $60.  Expect to pay between $40 and $60.

Where to purchase: Pep Boys, Helix Minisports

5. Aftermarket Air Filter

Courtesy of Outmotoring.com

Even if you’re not concerned about the performance of your MINI this is a great mod.  I bought a K&N filter as my first modification to my car.  BMW designed the MINI to use disposable, paper element filters which are not only wasteful but also lacking in the efficiency department.  By buying a cotton or foam filter you’re making an investment for the lifetime of the car.  In fact, the K&N filters have a million mile warranty and are washable.  K&N quotes horsepower gain but I feel the best reason to buy this filter is because you can use it again and again.  Make sure you order the right part for your particular model year and transmission.  Expect to pay around $50.  Also, in order to clean the filter you’ll need to spend another $15 on the cleaning kit which is good for many filter cleanings.  Be sure to take a minute to feel warm and fuzzy that they’re still (for the most part) made in the USA.

Where to purchase: Local chain auto parts stores, Outmotoring.com

I’ve found in my ownership of a MINI that some mods come with luck.  My best advise to the modder on a budget is to troll your local craigslist relentlessly.  If you’re not lucky enough to live in a place with many MINI owners, join a forum (the best for the US being North American Motoring) and start checking the marketplace section.  Many of the parts on my car were purchased from other MINI owners as take offs from their cars (suspension, sway bar, toggle switches, stainless exhaust).  You never know what kind of great deals and eccentric parts and pieces you may come across.  Make friends, mod your car, learn new and interesting things.  That’s what motoring is all about.